Sunday, May 12, 2013

Riding the Runway

After several passes on my certified downtown calibration course, I loaded up Hope and drove north on a gorgeous afternoon. This was last Wednesday. I met Barb from the Evansville YMCA and Nate from the Dress Regional Airport at Tri-State Aero in order to accurately measure the 5K on the Runway course. 

First, though, came a discussion about where the start/finish area would be staged. While great care should always be taken when considering the start and finish lines of a race, there were extra considerations for this event because the airport was not going to shut down. Planes would need to be staged at Tri-State Aero on race morning. Planes would be landing just before and after the run. And there was always the chance that an emergency landing might occur during the event. The discussion resulted in a need to measure two separate courses having two different start/finish lines. The final course choice would be decided during a meeting already scheduled for the following morning.

We were trying to make a common start and finish line. That meant that I had to pick a random spot, ride the loop, and then see where the finish would be in relation to the start. From there I had to split the difference to create another "line" before riding again to test the adjustment. A third pass would then take place in order to test for repeatability and set mile markers. It is USATF protocol that the longest of the two measurements be used as the race day course.

With Barb in shotgun, Nate, a fellow Purdue alumnus, talked to someone on a radio before he led the way for me in white Crown Victoria. I'm not sure what would have happened to me if Nate had not made the call or if that cliche of a car had not been there with its spinning blue lights. I wondered, as I pedaled along, if there were men with guns ready to take out threats. I wondered if a guy in spandex on a bike would even qualify as a threat. I doubted both, but I was glad Nate was there.

Graffiti artist on a getaway rocket.
I was also glad that Nate was not thinking about tangents while he drove. By making wide turns, he allowed me to see the markers that I needed to in order to properly ride the shortest route by connecting one tangent after another on that winding course. This was especially important as I made the kilometer-long crossing of the main runway. 
That was a looooong tangent!
Earlier in the day I had consulted to study the airport using the course map that Barb had given me. I realized immediately that I would need a visual marker on the far end of the runway in oder to cut that long tangent. I chose the last of the broad white lines marking the end of the runway. On Wednesday afternoon, when I first turned onto the runway I was pleasantly pleased that Nate was off to my right and that I could very clearly make out that white line.

It was, at times, difficult to muster up the fortitude to stay on the shortest path. Take, for example, the time I was on the long arc at the north end of the course and an airport service truck played chicken with me. Or the time I rode straight at the backhoe that seemed to want my line - I finally and firmly pointed him out of my way seconds before our would-be collision. Or the time that a 747 attempted to land on my line . . . yes, I know, a bird that big in Eville is too unrealistic to even consider (sorry Nate).

Admittedly, riding on the runway created an adrenaline rush that caused me to ride hard up the slight incline into the wind. On the first two passes I registered speeds in excess of 28 mph. My not quite fit legs still pushed hard on the pedals on the last three loops, but the speeds were not as high. I was high, though, as I experienced some Ricky Bobby time on an airport runway.

We covered both courses multiple times, but Nate felt certain that the original route would be used for the race, so I only rode the other course twice. The precision of the USATF measuring method has never been more surprising than what it was on that course.

That precision came even on the fourth pass when I encountered several hundred meters of some slimy mud near the finish. Movement of heavy construction equipment on the perimeter road had left lots of dirt on the roadway. Just before I arrived there on the fourth pass a truck sprayed water on that dirt, creating the slimy mud. Hope and I were, within seconds, covered in the cold and foul tasting grime. And I struggled to control the bike. It was FUN!!!

That last line was a boldfaced lie . . .

Since there is no printable data from the measuring device, I decided to include in this post some of the data from my final pass of the route that was used for the actual race. Curiosity and a need to record my riding caused me to wear my Polar RC3 GPS for each loop. I was a bit surprised at how accurate and precise it was despite the way gps units always cut corners. The final measurements for both courses were 3.12 miles, which is not too far from the 3.1069 miles for a 5000-meter course.

All GPS units measure point-to-point between signal recordings - in straight lines. This is clearly not as accurate as the calibrated counter on a bicycle wheel. Note: I did NOT ride through the grass . . .
I've measured many courses for Barb. She has always asked me, as a competitor, what I thought of the courses. I told her that I liked this one, but I smiled when I told her that people would complain that it was too long. I've seen enough races to know that most people simply don't run good tangents, so they run too far. And nowadays, with gps units strapped to so many wrists, people are always complaining about courses being wrong. Even the courses measured to USATF certification standards like this one. I guessed that a typical runner might register 3.25 to 3.30 miles for the 5K on the Runway I had just measured to about 15 feet accuracy.

And that is exactly what happened on race morning :)

The field of 442 runners and walkers corralled and ready to run.


  1. awesome once in a life time get to ride your bike on a run way. Nice report.

  2. Thanks, it was a blast - except for the mud.