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Course Measurement and Certification Procedures


Certification of road race courses in the United States is done under the auspices of the USATF Road Running Technical Council (RRTC). Courses certified by USATF are also recognized as certified by the Road Runners Club of America. For a mark to be eligible for record consideration by USATF, it must be achieved on a USATF-certified course. If an entry fee is charged for a road race, runners have a right to a properly measured course. USATF certification is an assurance to the runner that times will be based on a properly measured distance.

The rules and guidelines set forth in this booklet represent more than thirty years of experience in measuring road courses accurately. These procedures are now used by IAAF and AIMS as well as USATF. Much of the pioneering work in the United States was done by Ted Corbitt, who started the certification program in 1964 after extensively researching methods of measurement. The program was initially run through the RRCA but later transferred to the AAU, which was then the US governing body for track & field, long distance running and race walking—the role now played by USATF. Corbitt served as the nation's chief course certifier until 1984.

Credit is also due to Ken Young, who oversaw the establishment of official US road running records, adopted in 1983. At the same time, he helped upgrade course certification with more rigorous standards to support the needs of record keeping, including a system of “Verification” measurements (see below) which put real “teeth” in the program. Young also served as Editor of the first edition of this manual, published in 1985.

The new certification procedures adopted in the early 1980s included important changes in measuring philosophy. Previously, the object was simply to produce "accurate" courses. We still try to make courses as accurate as practical; however, to meet the needs of record keeping, we've added a new emphasis: Now we try to make extra sure that courses are not short. Specifically, we try to make sure that the shortest possible route (SPR) through the available roads is at least the stated race distance. This is intended to guarantee that every possible path a runner can take through the course is at least the stated distance.

Although there are many ways to measure a course, experience has shown that the calibrated bicycle method is superior to all others because of the speed and accuracy with which it can be performed. Please note that automobile odometers, aerial survey maps, and electronic distance meters (EDM) are not suitable for measuring road courses for certification. An EDM may be used for measuring a "calibration course" (the course used for calibrating the bicycle), although steel tape is also entirely adequate for that purpose.

Historically, several kinds of bicycle wheel revolution counters have been used in the calibrated bicycle method. Currently, the standard counter used for this purpose is the Jones Counter, a remarkably simple and reliable mechanical device invented by Alan Jones in 1971 and later enhanced by Paul Oerth and by Tom and Pete Riegel. The latest version is called the “Jones Counter model JR” and is available at More information about this and other acceptable counter systems can also be found on the USATF website at Additional Tools.

The basic method of measurement is to compare the number of revolutions of the bicycle wheel needed to cover the course with the number of revolutions needed to cover a standard calibration course. Once you understand the method, it is simple and direct, but there are many important details that need to be done correctly in order to have an acceptable measurement.

In all probability, your course will not be checked. It is up to you to be sure it is right. Follow the instructions carefully, and you will obtain a reliable measurement. If an open record is set on your course, it will be re-measured by USATF (this is called a “Verification” re-measurement). For a mark to be accepted as an official record, the course length must be at least the stated distance. If your course is found to be short of its advertised length, the record will not be accepted, and certification will be withdrawn. Follow the instructions carefully and do your best.

This booklet is organized in "stand-alone" sections. Read the statement of requirements to obtain an overall picture of the procedures. Then study the particular section(s) you need for the task you have chosen to perform next, such as laying out a calibration course. Refer to the appendices as needed for clarification of points in the main text. If you are unsure of any aspect of the process, please contact your regional certifier before attempting the desired task. It will save both of you a lot of time.

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