USATF Certification and Sanctioning

A few posts ago we talked about race planning basics, and one topic we touched on was course certification and sanctioning by USA Track and Field (USATF), and we wanted to delve into that a little deeper, explain what it was, and hopefully point to whether it is necessary or not for your race.


So, what exactly is USATF Certification? According to the source, “A USATF-certified course is a road race course whose distance has been certified for accuracy.” In laymen’s terms, a USATF-certified course that is as long as it says it is. They want to make sure that if you are advertising a 5K, your race is 3.1 miles, not 3.4 or 2.9 – that makes sense, right? Easy enough. Certification is a good thing. You aren’t getting into the Boston Marathon with a qualifying time on an uncertificated course – it just ain’t happening.

Does that mean you need it? Maybe, and maybe not. As with most things, “it depends.” Even the most meticulously measured courses will receive feedback from runners, mostly saying the course was too long, according to their Garmin (if we had a nickel every time we heard that…). Here is the thing these smug runners don’t know – GPS watches receive signals from satellites, and are easily affected by tons of external forces: buildings, trees, probably even the weather! Don’t quote us on that last one. I guess our point on this one is don’t sweat the small stuff: whether you hire the big guns to come measure your race, or it’s you and a couple of runner friends using Map My Run, someone, somewhere, will probably mention your inaccurate course. Just give them a smile J

What about USATF Sanctioning? A whole other ballgame, in our opinion. USATF sanctioning approves that an event, whether it is track and field or long distance running, etc., has satisfied a list of sanctioning requirements.  After these are met, a contract that both parties sign, mostly meaning that the event is committing to abide to the (inter)national rules/regulations. Read: hoops to jump through.

There are many perks to sanctioning, and you can find them at the USATF website. Some obvious ones are prestige, insurance and exposure, but it is really up to the individual race director to determine if it’s right for them, or if it is worth the cost. For example, in New England, to sanction at 1,500-person race, you will shell out about $760 between National and Association fees. If it’s in your budget, and you are looking to attract serious runners, you might want to give this a good hard look. That said, if you are planning your very first 5K and are mostly looking to reach your community, you can probably skip it.

We hope this helped explain the most basic information about USATF Certification and Sanctioning. For some of you, it’s a must, but don’t think less of your race if you don’t deem it necessary… we sure won’t!