Friday, September 6, 2019

Measuring a Marathon Course

If you have been following my IG journey you know that I spent that last week in Maui. Some of you have asked if I was there for work or just for fun.




 The truth is, a little bit of both. No, I did not work a flight there, but I did some work while I was there. I have a friend that is a Race Director and he was asked to measure the Maui Marathon course. 




 He had asked for my assistance and if I could come out. Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go to Hawaii. The first few days I took advantage of the beautiful weather and plenty of beach time. But the day of measuring was all business.…..all day long!  We started at 6 am and went to about 5 pm that evening. I didn’t realize how much actually goes into measuring a marathon course. Here is a summary of our day and what takes place into measuring a course. 



All certified road race courses around the world are measured using the same techniques, tools, and processes. We first installed a "Jones Counter (named after the inventor who developed the mechanical counter some 50 years ago) on the the front of our bikes . We calibrated the counter on a 1000-foot course that had been previously measured by stretching a 100-foot steel tape 10 lengths. Once calibrated, we knew the number of each of our counts per mile, adding a one tenth of one percent short course prevention factor (approx. 5 feet per mile). 



We could then start measuring from the finish line, riding the course backwards to ride with vehicle traffic, stopping at each designate mile or 5 km split, marking, and narrating so the Race Director can place his signs on race day. 

A certified course is either ridden twice by one person or uses two persons riding together to get two sets of data. The data is compared and the shorter of the two courses is used. This is where my help came in. If he was doing it by himself, he would have had to ride the course over again the following day to compare his numbers. 
Follow-up work includes creating a map and a certificate with a list of all marked locations, the highest and lowest points of the course as well as the elevation at the start and finish, and the separation between the start and the finish. 


This is one of the many areas of an event most runners take for granted. Measuring a marathon is often a time-consuming and laborious process that can take all day or several days depending on the nature of the course or adjustments that need to be made. Thanks to the many hundreds of measurers across the U.S. and the world for making sure the races we run are accurate and fair!   -L





18 comments:

  1. How fascinating! But seriously, I'd say nice work if you can get in Maui. :)

    With all that double checking, how do courses come up long or short, because no matter how much RDs say they aren't, we all know it happens?!

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    1. Yes it was a lot of fun. You are allowed a short buffer of distance but I know many GPS devices still come up different.

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  2. That is a lot more work that I would have guessed! YOU couldn't have asked for a better setting, though ;-) Was it a bit scary with all the traffic?

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    1. I'm not used to riding with traffic so at times yes, but most of it there was a nice bike path along side road.

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  3. So interesting! I've run courses that were short or long--clearly, the measurers didn't follow the strict rules that you did.

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    1. Yes. This was pretty official and surely took a long time.

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  4. Oh, wow, what a cool experience. It's interesting to know how a course is measured. I didn't understand all the details.

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    1. There are many details and specifics that fo into measuring a course. I didn't know that before either.

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  5. I had no idea what went into measuring a marathon course. Thanks for your explanation! I have a friend who did the 50 states. Maui was her final marathon. I wanted to be with her for her big accomplishment, but, sadly, the race is in September and I was teaching then, so I couldn't go.

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    1. There are two marathons in Maui. The course I was measuring was for January. The other one is now in October.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this - definitely took this one or granted! I guess measuring in Maui is better than measuring in say... Des Moines ;)

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  7. This is so interesting as I've always wondered how the course measurements are taken.

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  8. This is so cool to know - I never really thought about it before. I thought it was like "googled" :) LOL

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  9. I knew how this was done and have seen the officially measured map of a small marathon in Houston - the markings and details are intense. I didn't know it needed to be measured twice; it's so cool that you got to experience this. Now...are you going to go back to Maui for the marathon?

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  10. Yes. It is measured twice to make sure the numbers come up within the range they need to be. If it wasn't, we would have had to do it again.

    I was invited back to run it, but it is such a far distance to travel there. But we will see.

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Fairytales and Fitness is a personal blog authored and edited by us, Meranda and Lacey. The thoughts expressed here represent only our own and are not meant to be taken as professional advice. Please note that our thoughts and opinions change from time to time. We consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind in an ever changing society. Any thoughts and opinions expressed within our out-of-date posts may not be the same, nor even similar, to those we may express today.