Athletics Weekly - - Start -

An in­sight into how a road race course is mea­sured


JUST what are five blokes on bikes do­ing in the grounds of Harrow School at 4am on the first Sun­day of July? As night turns to day, it looks very furtive and sus­pi­cious. For­tu­nately there’s an in­no­cent ex­pla­na­tion. With ex­actly 11 weeks and five hours to go, it’s time to get the Harrow Half Marathon course of­fi­cially mea­sured and cer­ti­fied.

One of the five is a real ex­pert with a global rep­u­ta­tion – Hugh Jones. Not only was he a tal­ented run­ner, win­ning the Lon­don Marathon in 1982, but he’s also mea­sured the Lon­don Marathon course and in­deed ev­ery Olympic course since At­lanta in 1996.

Jones uses a counter on the front wheel of his bike, which he’s cal­i­brated against dis­tance and con­verts those num­bers to ar­rive at an ac­cu­rate mea­sure­ment.

As we set off, he is es­corted by James Ship­ley from Ac­tiveTrain­ingWorld, who is help­ing to stage the event, plus Kevin Con­can­non and my­self from Harrow AC.

Ian Slaney, Harrow Coun­cil’s traf­fic supremo (who has plot­ted the route, the road clo­sures and bus di­ver­sions) will drive be­hind, to pro­tect Jones from any traf­fic. The race will start in the grounds of Harrow School, gen­tly ris­ing close to the top of Harrow on the Hill be­fore drop­ping down to Harrow town cen­tre.

Jones de­scribes the first mile as “very chal­leng­ing” but the course soon set­tles down as we strike out. It’s get­ting lighter but un­for­tu­nately with the day­light comes light driz­zle. In gen­eral, Jones says the prob­lems with mea­sur­ing tend to be strug­gling against traf­fic but “this was sur­pris­ingly easy com­pared to what I thought it might be but that’s largely be­cause we started at 4:10am and fin­ished by 6am on a Sun­day morn­ing. It’s the best time to do it par­tic­u­larly in the sum­mer, when it’s light for most of that time.”

Jones’ ap­proach is metic­u­lous, as you would ex­pect. Stops are fre­quent as he makes notes on one-mile mark­ers and gets clar­i­fi­ca­tion on which roads and lanes will be closed to traf­fic. They all af­fect the rac­ing line.

At one stage Jones con­firms with Slaney which rail­ings on the edge of Head­stone Manor will be re­moved for the race. The course dis­tance has to re­flect all the cor­ners, which the run­ners could cut on race day. It’s ob­vi­ously cru­cial that the race dis­tance is ac­cu­rate and for­tu­nately it’s very rare that mis­takes are made.

The Harrow Half on Septem­ber 17 is a course of con­trasts as the route goes past iconic venues and shop­ping cen­tres, and through parks and open spa­ces. It’s a good route for spec­ta­tors too with plenty of good and ac­ces­si­ble van­tage points.

Jones re­mem­bers run­ning the orig­i­nal Harrow Marathon and Half Marathon in the 1990s and also mea­sur­ing the course back then.

He says he wouldn’t de­scribe this course as the most ex­otic he’s mea­sured; that hon­our goes to the Ti­bet Sky

Marathon, run within sight of Mount

Ever­est. Nev­er­the­less, he’s pos­i­tive about the Harrow Half course.

De­spite the chal­leng­ing start and the last 400 me­tres he de­scribes jok­ingly as “sui­ci­dal” – it’s a steep down­hill sec­tion onto the Harrow School play­ing fields – he says “other than that, it’s beau­ti­ful”.

Hugh Jones: world-leader in mea­sur­ing road cour­ses

No cor­ners cut: Hugh Jones analy­ses a vi­tal spot

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