Analysis of the (maybe) Short Around the Bay Course

It’s becoming more and more evident to me that the revised course for the 2015 edition of The Around the Bay Road Race was short of the promised 30km distance.

Looking at hundreds of GPS tracks on Strava from this year’s race participants shows that the vast majority of them are slightly under 30km. On the other hand, looking at the GPS tracks from the 2014 edition of the race, most are in the 30.2km-30.4km range, as you would expect given tangents and GPS inaccuracies.

Analyzing the route differences

section-1To start, I tracked down and compared the official PDF course maps from 2015 and 2014 and noted some interesting differences and similarities. Granted these PDF maps are meant to be a rough guide, but despite the fact that there was a short section removed from the 2015 route just after the 2km mark in the race, the km markers on the map between 2014 and 2015 were unchanged.

Additionally, out on the course itself, the 10km split timing mat and relay exchange point were both located in approximately the same spot as they were in 2014. Logically, given the removal of the short section between 2km and 3km, the course had to be shorter up to this point as the race start was at roughly the same spot as it was in 2014.

Next I turned to MapMyRun and did some further comparison to see if the answers were there.

Neither a GPS track, nor measuring a full route using something like Google Maps or MapMyRun can be relied on to be 100% accurate over 30km. Only measuring the course with a proper Jones Counter wheel, in accordance with certification standards, would give a true indication of the actual course length.

However, measuring some short sections using online tools and comparing those to the previously certified course¹ probably does provide the accuracy required to make a solid judgement.

There were two changes to the route that I looked at:

  • Change one: The 2014 route has a little extra section just after 2km including James St. N, Guise St. E, Catharine St. N and Ferguson Ave. N. That section measures ~1.1km. In 2015, we ran straight from James St. N. to Burlington St. E over to where the old course joined, skipping that little section. The direct route measures 650m. Cutting that section out shaved about 450m from that portion of the course. View.
  • Change two: The 2014 route section that includes Spring Garden Rd and the big hill measures 2.05km. The 2015 section, staying on Plains Rd W, is 2.15km, or about 100m longer. View.

Is it a coincidence that doing the math results in a difference of ~350m between the two courses when looking at the changes in those two sections? I don’t think so.

I said after the race that I thought the course was about 300m short, and the analysis of the differences in these two sections leads me to believe that is the case.

One other thing that may or may not be relevant. You’ll note that the PDF route map for 2014 indicates that the course was both revised, and certified in 2013 by Bernie Conway. The 2015 map shows no such indication that the course was certified. It could be that omitting this from the 2015 PDF was an oversight, but it’s also possible that it was intentionally left off as the route was not certified by Mr. Conway.

Who cares?

This all leads to the question of whether it matters if the course was a few hundred metres shorter than 30km. I say yes, it does. Here’s why:

Firstly, the 2015 edition of the race was part of the Ontario Masters Athletics Road Race Championship Series. An officially sanctioned event in a provincial racing series needs to be properly measured and certified. Any records set in this race could be declared invalid because the course wasn’t properly certified. That’s not fair to participants.

Secondly, the website for the event notes the following: “Course measured and certified by Bernie Conway, Run Canada/Athletics Canada”. If that isn’t the case, then the organizers should have indicated this on the site and let runners know that because of a late route change, they weren’t able to certify the new, revised course.

Waiting for a response

The organizers have yet to respond to questions and inquiries on Twitter about the course length. Dan Way at Canadian Running Magazine wrote up a similar article to this one, based on some of the tweets from runners, and from the Strava data that suggested the course was likely short.

If and when the race organizers provide confirmation either way, I’ll update this article.

¹I examined the two different course certifications done in 2013 for the 2014 race. I noted that the race in 2014 used neither of these routes, instead runners ran a slightly altered route that was something of a hybrid of the two different certified courses. In other words, the 2014 route was also not properly certified, despite a note on the Around the Bay website saying it was.

Update (April 2, 2015):

Athletics Canada has issued a statement about the Around the Bay course distance, noting the course was not properly certified after being changed to account for construction. View that statement.

Around the Bay Road Race Director Mike Zajczenko has yet to address any questions about the race distance.