What it means to be IAAF-certified

I am naturally a skeptic. If someone makes a hyped-up claim, accompanied by much hoopla, my tendency is to research such a claim to see if it is worth all the fanfare.

And I was curious about the claim that the Milo Marathon was AIMS and IAAF certified:

For the first time in more than three decades, the 35th National MILO Marathon this year will be certified by the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).”This will bring a new dimension in the country’s biggest and longest-running footrace,” said Rio dela Cruz, whose RunRio company will be managing all the 17 elimination races and the national finals set on December 11

This news item was reported by many news agencies. So why is this such a big thing?

I visited the IAAF web site. There was a link at the upper left that says “Competition” which led me to a searchable race database. I wondered if the Milo Marathon was listed. Comes out that it wasn’t. No records found.

Anyway, I dug deeper. The website I visited lists the IAAF-sanctioned events. Apparently, when people say that it is IAAF-certified, it means that it is the course that is certified. There is a difference between a “sanctioned event” and a “certified course.” You can have a sanctioned event on an uncertified course; you can also have an unsanctioned event in a certified course. This best explains what “certification” means and why it is important:

Runners, whether competitive or not, like to be able to say “My best 10K time is …”, and to compare the time they ran in one race against the time they ran in another. But how do you know that the 10K you just ran really was 10K and not 9.95K or 10.05K? If an entry fee is charged for a road race, runners have a right to a properly measured course.In order to qualify to run the Boston marathon or other restricted entry events, your qualifying time must be run on a certified course. And in order for times to be considered for record purposes, a course must be certified.Course certification is a process by which a course is measured according to international standards and the measurement data reviewed by a recognized certifier. Once the data is verified and accepted, a certificate with a course ID number is issued. BC Athletics recommends that all road race courses be certified. A certified course provides some assurance that times will be based on a properly measured distance.

So when an event is “sanctioned,” it means that the event meets a certain level of quality. A course that is certified means that the course distance is accurate. If an event with a certified course claims that the distance is a marathon course, then you can be assured that it is really 42.195 kilometers.

So how does one get the course certified? How does one go about assuring that a race distance is accurate? A car odometer is a poor substitute for a runner. GPS devices are inaccurate. I wrote about this a few months ago and measuring a course distance involves a specific device mounted on a bicycle.

In fact, getting the course certified is a prerequisite for being listed in AIMS. The news item above also mentions that the Milo Marathon is AIMS certified. AIMS is the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races. To be a member of this association, race directors pay up to $1,100 and their courses have to be measured by an accredited AIMS/IAAF representative. If you look at the AIMS registration form, you’ll see that you have to provide the IAAF certificate ID attesting that the course was indeed measured by an IAAF measures.

Being an AIMS member does not mean that your event is a quality event. No AIMS representative arrives to check the quality of the event. There is no quality control. As a member of AIMS, the race director has a venue to promote his event overseas. AIMS by itself adds no value to the participating runner.

But I guess runners would be more interested to find out if the course is IAAF-certified. According to the AIMS database, only the Camsur Marathon, the Milo Marathon qualifying run in Metro Manila, and the Milo Marathon Finals are IAAF-certified. The provincial runs are not listed. Heck, even the 21K runs aren’t IAAF-certified.  No other Philippine event is listed. I can’t tell if there are other IAAF-certified Philippine events because I couldn’t find a registry of all IAAF-certified courses.

Again, being IAAF-certified does not mean that you will get a quality event. It does not mean you will have sufficient hydration stations, competent marshals, adequate medical facilities. All it means is that the race distance is correct.

But that does mean one thing, since the Milo Marathon is IAAF-certified, you are assured with full certainty that the course is truly 42.195 kilometers and that you have indeed run a full marathon. For many (myself, included) that gives great comfort.

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