Best Practices for Cross Country Course Measurement


Cross country by its nature features varied terrain, elevation, and weather conditions. With these variables in mind, some believe that the exact distance is not important and that only place matters. If that’s the case then why keep time at all? We all know that time is very important--even in cross country--especially to the kids who diligently strive for new personal bests to quantify their progress and chart competitors.


Therefore, we should all strive to have accurately measured courses! There will always be variance and two people measuring the same course (or even the same person measuring twice) will probably come up with two different measures. However, if we lay down certain ground rules then those differences can be minimized and course lengths kept within a reasonable range of 5,000 meters.


There has been intense debate over the years of how a course should or shouldn’t be measured. And there have been many debates about whether a specific meet or course is legit. No one sets out to make a short course (let’s hope), but the problem is method.


This document represents a collaborative effort between Jason Byrne and Ryan Raposo. For years the two have been on different ends of this debate on the exact definition of how and where a course should be measured (this has been well documented on the discussion board).


We believe these suggestions and best practices represent a reasonable compromise and guide. This defines the “middle of the course” (where the high school federation says the course should be measured) very specifically: two feet from the inside. This is a little further out than Ryan would like, but substantially closer than probably most high school cross country coaches are currently measuring their courses.


Basic course marking information:


- There are 16,404 feet to a 5000 meter course and 5,280 feet to a mile.

- Two mile mark is 10,560 feet; Three mile is 15,840 feet; .1 is 564 feet.

- Kilometers are 3,281 feet. 2K is 6,562 feet; 3K is 9,843 feet; 4K is 13,123 feet.


Five Steps to Properly Measure a Course:


1. Start at the midpoint of the starting line.

2. Follow a tight line to intersect the start of the first turn or curve.

3. Measure along the inside rail, approximately two feet from the interior course boundary.

4. If between any two turns the "inside" pathway of the course changes, use a straight line tangent to diagonally meet the new turn, starting at the previous turn.

5. When you come to the final straightaway, aim in a straight line from the end of the final curve to the middle of the finish line.




- Walk the course at a moderate pace. 

- Go slowly over difficult terrain like gravel, roots or sand.

- Always aim for the upcoming turn ahead of you.

- Mark half mile and mile intervals for better accuracy and as a safe-guard.

- If you have time, also mark “K” intervals, but be sure to tell the other coaches about it in the coaches meeting. (Boza rules!)

- Arch or “V” the starting line if the first turn or quick narrowing is less than 200 meters out.

- Think of all places a runner might cut the course, and add appropriate barriers (stakes and ribbon, not just flags).




- Use a GPS device, Google Maps, Map My Run, or other satellite mapping tool as your final measure. These are fine as guides in a preliminary blueprint of setting up a course, but that’s about it.

- Weave or meander in your path.

- Assume someone else already measured and did it correctly.

- Measure in the true middle/halfway (or outside!) of the course path.

- Allow the wheel to get any air time (it may keep spinning).

- Run, bike, or ride a golf cart while you wheel!