Marathons are precise races that need accurate measurements like 42.195 km. A good marathon course is one that has accuracy in its measurement and is a great course to run with comfort. For race organisers, it is crucial that they get their measurements correct. The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) prescribed a methodology by which a race course can be measured and set.
If any race wants to gain recognition amid the running community, being certified by AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distance Races) is an essential requirement.
How does the measurement work?
Giving an accurate measurement is crucial for races that wish to attract the elite runners. Records are as important for runners as crossing the finish line and being accurate with the measurements is the responsibility of race organisers. The first step in measurement is that we need to define the road race course. The course has to be communicated clearly to the participants so as to prevent them from taking a different route or running a different distance. The organisers should also pay attention that the course selected will be straight, paved, level and on a lightly-travelled section of road, free of parked vehicles – at least on race day.
In terms of the tools for measurement, AIMS recommends using a simple geared device known as The Jones Counter, which counts the revolutions of a bicycle wheel is used. Once this method is followed, there has to be a further certification from AIMS in order for your race to be considered a serious ground for competitive runners.
You may have GPS systems today but the accuracy of the Jones counter is still unbeaten. A GPS measurement system is impacted by trees, tall city buildings, and other disturbances that can affect the accuracy of the measurement. If you have 10,000 runners taking part in a race, all of them will have a different reading on their GPS devices.
Steps for Measurement
The following eight steps are necessary to measure a road race course as prescribed by the IAAF:
Define the road race course
Select and measure a calibration course
Calibrate the bicycle on the calibration course
Measure the road race course
Re-calibrate the bicycle on the calibration course
Calculate the length of the road race course
Make final adjustments to the road race course
Document the measurement
This will be done by a certified measurement expert identified by AIMS.
Why is it important for the course to be certified by AIMS?
An AIMS certified course has the potential to become a qualifying course for the big races in the world. A pre-race qualifier for a big race like the Boston Marathon will happen only on an AIMS certified course.
It gives runners more confidence that they are running the exact distance. Of course, we cannot account for the swerves they might take to stop at a water station but apart from that the race course should ideally stop the distance counter at 42.195 km.
A world record can be set only when distance and time are both matched. Before 2004, only a timing was taken to be criteria for a marathon record but post the implementation of the course measurement rules, it has become vital to match both the exact distance and the timing in order to establish world records.
Avoid disappointment for runners at the finish of a race regarding inaccurate race course measurements
The work is painstaking but a good course will always attract higher runner numbers and elite runners.