At the 2010 Bele Chere 5k I made the final turn onto Charlotte Street for the home stretch. I knew from running this version of the race course in previous years that the finish line would be in plain sight just a few hundred yards down the street.
It wasn’t there. I couldn’t see it. We ran all the way back to McCormick Field before encountering the finish line, making the race a few hundred yards longer than previous years. What gives?
Course certification. That’s right, if you’ve been running a race for a few years and then the course gets certified, it will most likely be longer than the course you ran before. That was also the case with the Hot Chocolate 10k we just ran on January 22, 2011.
David Lee of Lee Timing (they certified the Hot Chocolate 10k this year and managed the timing) shared some information and an interesting article about course certification. I heard some of this after exploring course certification following the Bele Chere race too. In plain terms, certification assumes that the runner is cutting every turn as tightly as possible, wasting virtually no steps from start to finish. That’s difficult to do when you’re running with hundreds or thousands of other runners — we’re always adding some steps swinging around people, passing, weaving in and out. It’s probably only physically possible to run exactly the certified distance if you’re all alone or at the head of the pack (or the back of the pack).
A certified course will always err on the side of being a little long. In fact there is a little cushion added to a certified course. So if there’s a race that you’ve run in the past and you learn that it’s being certified for the first time, be prepared. It’s most likely going to be longer.
Read the full article here, which also includes interesting stuff about the idiosyncrasies of GPS devices (and why they’re not used for certification).