What is certification


One of the most often questions we get from race directors and participants alike regards certification of routes used in particular races.  Race directors want to know about getting a course certified while participants want to know if it is.  For those not familiar with this concept, I thought that I would briefly describe the process.

Certification is not very hard but is very time consuming.  The first part is the tool used to measure a course.  There are a few tools that can be used, but the industry standard is a Jones counter.  This is a small sprocket wheel that attaches to the front wheel of a bicycle.  GPS can never be used as there is no way to get the accuracy needed.  Measuring with a car of course is completely out of the question.

Once you have the counter, the next step is to set a calibration course.  This is done by taking a long tape measure and measuring out a long course such as a half mile or event further.  The idea is that when you ride that course, you know exactly how long the calibration course is so that you can determine how to calibrate your bike against the actual distance.  This process is described in the USA Track and Field (USATF) specifications.  A measurer rides the calibration course and comes up with a number that is then used to determine how many wheel revolutions it takes for a given mile or kilometer.  For example, a measurer might find that it takes 11000 revolutions to go a mile.

With the calibrated distance in hand, the measurer then rides a given course multiple times to figure out exactly how far the course is and also to see where the given mile markers, start and finish line should be.  If it is desired that the start and finish are in exactly the same location, then the measurer has to figure out where to add distance on the course to make that happen. Even for a simple 5K, it can take several hours of riding and measuring to get it right.

After the measurer does all of this, there is a document from USATF that the measurer fills out with all of the requisite recordings along with a well-defined map.  This is designed so that anyone can pickup the document and be able to figure out the exact same course given the map.  Once this has been filled out and a map drawn, the measurer sends it to the state certifier and hopefully will get a certificate stating that the course has been certified.  This now means that the course is accurate and can be used  for qualifying races.

So why is certification important?  Most races don't go to the expense or time to worry about it.  As long as the course is close, most people are happy with the results.  Where it becomes really important is in distances such as the half-marathon or marathon where times can be used for qualifying races such as the Boston Marathon.  It may also be important to a race director so that they can assure their participants that the course is measured and accurate.

One of the problems we see sometimes is when a race director will claim that their course is certified when in fact it is not.  It may be measured properly but without the actual certificate from the state certifier, it is not certified.  For example, on our hometown of New Braunfels, we have several 5K courses that have been certified and the half-marathon course used for Orange Leaf is certified, but that is it.  There are no other half-marathon courses in town that are certified and guaranteed to be accurate.  This includes any of the courses used on our famous River Road.  For most of you it probably doesn't matter.  For those of you who care, it may be a big deal.  You can always verify if a course is certified simply by going to the USATF site and searching their certified course database.

Hopefully this description of certification has helped and you are now informed about the actual process.   If you are ever in need of a course certification, Athlete Guild has the tools and expertise to help.


See you at the race!