Although I started course measuring in 1982 this story really begins in1966 when my wife, Sylvia won a ‘Raleigh’ fold-away bicycle in a Readers Digest competition. (Yes someone really does win the prizes!) I began using it for travelling to work and general exercise, especially when injured and unable to run.

In January 1971 I joined the Road Runners Club, (member number 3934.) Formed in 1952 the R.R.C. has played a major role in the development of road running and then, as now, included insurance for runners as part of its membership benefits, which was at the time my main reason for joining. Through the newsletter they produce I gained links with the late John Jewell, a leading figure and ex-president and the R.R.C. He was also the founder and organiser of the R.R.C. nationwide panel of course measurers. Sylvia and I were fortunate to have met up with him at a hotel near Preston on many occasions when he was on holiday in the area.

In the early 1980’s John Jewell was asking, via the newsletter, if anyone was interested in becoming a course measurer. This was to be done using a bicycle and a Jones Course Measuring Device. The ‘Jones Counter’ is the device which is now used universally for recording wheel revolutions when measuring race courses using the calibrated bicycle method. Alan Jones invented the device which is mounted onto the front wheel hub of a bicycle. It records the revolutions of the wheel by riding over an accurately measured distance to record the counts per mile.

I showed an interest in John’s request for course measurers, and in May 1982 he sent me my first Jones Counter to fix onto the Raleigh bicycle. This was a four digit counter and I later purchased a five digit model from America. With the help of friends I planned an 800 yards and 400 metre flat road course to use for calibration.

Remember this was over 25 years ago and these were the earliest days of accurate course measurement. By early 1983 I was practicing on the calibrated courses with the Jones Counter and studying a book John Jewell had given me on the subject.

The first course I officially measured was on 5th September 1983 in the Bolton and Horwich area. It was a truly ‘in at the deep end’ experience as it was a 40 mile race, a distance I have never measured since. The following year I took early retirement from Rolls Royce, leaving me more time to concentrate on course measuring. I always found it a big advantage having a fold-away bicycle as bike racks for cars were not as easily available then as they are today.

In November 1985 I was invited to an A.A.A. training and assessment weekend at Crystal Palace Athletic Stadium to be graded along with 20 other measurers and four assessors. Our first task was to calibrate our Jones Counter to an accurate electronic distance. The next calibration was at Bushy Park, Teddington where a 1000 metre course had been measured electronically in the previous March. This was for calibrating the London Marathon. Our final challenge of the weekend was to measure a 10km course in Dulwich, after which the judges awarded grades of 1, 2 or suggest further training needed!

18 participants and I were awarded a Grade One. A most enjoyable, motivating weekend.

Over the following 2 years A.A.A. and R.R.C gradually amalgamated, (for course measuring purposes), and previous arrangements changed. Now measurers had to submit details of each race measured to a co-ordinator, who then issued a certificate of accuracy to the race organiser.

By this time I was measuring on a regular basis, usually on a Sunday mornings when the roads were at the quietest. One of the most anxious and scary incidents I recall was on the promenade at Blackpool. When I set out the weather was not good, but it was safe. Yet as the morning progressed to winds became stronger and the rain became a torrent. I was checking a measured mile on Blackpool ‘prom’ that has a history going back over 100 years. In more recent times it has been used for checking taxi meters and surveyors wheels. As I rode along the lower walkway of the promenade, huge waves were crashing around me. I had got myself into a vulnerable and dangerous situation which made me more aware of my safety in future years.

Some years later I was in the Salford area of Manchester measuring the Manchester Marathon. The race route was to go through the newly emerging Lowry complex. One particular section I had to access had been cordoned off with locked gates and I was left having to wait nearly an hour for a key holder, which meant I was left measuring around the city centre streets when the roads had got very busy indeed.

Harry Smith's Bike

In 1989 I had solid tyres fitted to my bicycle. This was beneficial knowing I wouldn’t have any delays caused by punctures although it would have been difficult if I had to remove spokes with solid tyres in place. Luckily I had no problems.

In February 1997 I applied to the I.A.A.F. and A.I.M.S. for their Grade B status. This involved supplying a portfolio of my work, with calibration figures, measurement details, sketch maps with intermediate points and exact placement of a start and finish. This was a long process but in November 1998 I received the letter from I.A.A.F. headquarters in Monaco that I had been granted my Grade B. But there was still another step up the course measurer’s ladder I wanted to take. A further two years of measuring and supplying I.A.A.F. and A.I.M.S. with even more examples, including the detailed notes from The Glasgow Millennium Marathon, I was upgraded and awarded a Grade A. This meant I was eligible to measure Olympic and World Championship courses.

All the hard work of the previous years was recognised when I was asked to measure the 2002 Commonwealth Games Marathon, race walks and running element of the triathlon. The games were held in Manchester that year which was only an hour’s drive away. This helped as I made the countless trips to the city as the event grew closer.

Harry Smith Commonwealth marathon 2002

Measuring the Commonwealth Marathon, Manchester, 2002.

On race day I had the privilege of riding in the lead car of the Marathon, which was being televised all over the world. As it turned out, the driver assigned to me that day had no local knowledge of the city, and no idea of the route to be taken, so he was grateful for my company! It was an honour to be part of such a high profile occasion and the highlight of my measuring years.

I also spent many hours developing the, now famous, Great Manchester 10k route, which recently saw 36,000 runners.

Up to now I had been using the original Jones Counter on my wheel hub, but as I grew older, the digits on the counter became smaller! I began to research how I could split the digital reader from the wheel hub and onto the handle bars. After some exploration I achieved this by using a speedometer cable usually found in cars. This proved to be very successful and made reading the digits much easier compared to when they were on the wheel hub.Harry Smith's Counter

I carried on measuring, mostly, but not exclusively, in Northern England, including several trips to Glasgow to measure Marathon and 10km races. But sadly old father time began to catch up with me and in February 2011, at the age of 81, I tendered my resignation to Brian Porter. The last race I measured being a 10km route in June 2010 as part of the ‘Celebrate Blackburn’ event. Although I could still ride the old faithful Raleigh fold–up bicycle to measure, it was the increased volumes of road traffic that I felt compromised my safety, especially when riding against the traffic in some instances, to keep the line a runner would take.

According to the records I kept, I finally measured 66 courses for the R.R C. and 198 for other governing bodies, making a grand total of 264, in 29 years. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks all those who have contributed to my measuring career over the years, of which there are far too many to mention. The exception being the late John Jewell, who was the instigator of this whole story, and a true gentleman.

I have enjoyed the job immensely, making many friends, meeting athletes and officials, and getting exercise and fresh air all at the same time.

Harry Smith.

May 2011.