There are only 50 course meters in the country and in Tony King we have one of the best and most experienced of anyone who lives here in Peterborough.
Longthorpe-based King is a very fit 81 year old and has been taking courses for 35 years. The former manager of Pearl Assurance took the job in the 1980s at a time when his employers were the country’s leading track and field sponsors.
It all started with a pre-race dinner for the Pearl-sponsored Great North Run in 1984, when King sat next to London Marathon co-founder John Disley. Disley was responsible for race measurement in Great Britain at the time, trying to improve the standards.
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“In 1985 a potential meter training course was set up at the Crystal Palace,” recalls King.
“It was made clear that the job required people who were reasonably fit, had some brains for cracking numbers, owned a bike, and didn’t mind working at sometimes very unsociable hours.”
King got through the course with flying colors and hit the streets for the first time in 1986. He has been busy since then and, despite his age in his eighties, shows no signs of restricting his activities. King measured 500 routes in the region ranging from 3 km to 100 miles. The circuits at Silverstone and Mallory Park are some of the more unusual places he’s worked, and closer to home he’s measured at RAF Wittering and in private college gardens in Cambridge. Even a trip to the other side of the world can become a busman vacation for King, and he once helped measure a half marathon route in Australia while on vacation.
King explained how it is all done: “The process is done on a bicycle equipped with a front wheel counter known as the Jones Counter. Many race directors use a survey wheel to set up the route before asking a surveyor to fine-tune it.
“The Jones Counter is calibrated every time a course needs to be measured, and in Peterborough my calibration course is the towpath of the rowing lake in Thorpe Meadows.
“There are markings at both ends of the towpath that are exactly one kilometer apart and are the most accurately measured kilometers in Peterborough. “They were set up as part of a military exercise involving the Army Logistics Corps, which was formerly stationed at Waterbeach Barracks. They spent a day at Thorpe Meadows using their laser and satellite gauges to set the distance according to the International Athletics Guidelines.
“There is a lot of talk right now about using satellite and laser measurement technology to further improve heading accuracy. However, such equipment is very expensive to use and the cost of the 2020 London Marathon multi-lap route of more than £ 10,000 must be measured this way.
“A lot of runners use Garmin devices to check their distances. While they get better, some of those devices are still prone to failure, especially when a satellite signal is weak.”
For reasons of necessity, a large part of the measurements are carried out at night on relatively traffic-free roads, sometimes with a police escort. The busy section of Peterborough city center on the Great Eastern Run route is generally closed when measurements are taken.
Such an unusual chase is sure to cause some mishaps, as King recalls: “I drove into a huge ditch in the middle of the road when I was distracted by a dog who was paying a little too much attention to my right ankle. I had to cycle straight through Soho on a course in London, and at 2am the ladies of the night are the last to expect a man to arrive by bike. “
The gauges are rated based on their experience and capabilities, with three skill levels.
King is a Level 1 surveyor and can measure a course for any event, including international and Olympic standards. A beginner is in third grade and entitled to measure local and club events. There are three qualified gauges in Peterborough, all of which are members of Werrington Joggers. Club chairman Tim Cook and 5km Peterborough Grand Prix organizer Phil Lloyd are both qualified.
The average age of measuring devices is not young and the organization is always looking for new employees. Information can be found at coursemeasurement.org.uk.