Marking material: A mark made with drywall or chalk. Drywall is almost always preferable. Colored chalk, any color, should be generally avoided at night. Drywall is also better on wet pavement or when rain is expected.
Flour is the next choice. White is preferable, but the police have requested colored. Color when possible. Colored is not very visible at night when white is preferable. Colored is also necessary on snow. Daylight, use orange, red, yellow, blue. Avoid blue at night. Always try to apply the colored flour to white snow. It doesn't show up well on ice, or slush. White is also preferable over grass or in the woods, and always use white for night runs in the woods.
A small handful thrown at the ground, or a handful smeared on a tree work best. In the snow, a shaker box with colored flour in an old cat litter container, or laundry detergent container with about a hundred holes in the bottom works great.
Standard Traditional Marks:
Trail Marks: Trail marks indicate the general direction of the trail. They can be straight arrows, curved arrows or lines. They can also be a spot of flour, a spray of flour either straight or turned, or possibly paper (toilet paper) in tall grasses in the woods.
Generally, marks should point to the next mark when possible and turns indicated. The idea is to keep the pack flowing together and as fast as they want to run. A hundred yards or more gets to be to long between marks. There are never to many trail marks.
Checks: This is where the trail disappears. It is indicated by a circle with an X in the middle. Generally a pair of them. It is our tradition. The trail can be picked up in a 360 degree area from the Check. Generally, straight ahead or to the right or left. But not always. Checks should be difficult enough to hold up the pack until the back of the pack arrives. Otherwise the pack gets strung out and those in the back get nothing but an 8 to 10 K run. Not the fun we are trying to have. On the other hand, if you have the pack standing around for over five minutes, your Check is to difficult.
To resolve a Check, you need three consecutive trail marks. They can be in a straight line or around corners. Turns should be indicated. If the first arrow is a Split arrow, pointing in two or more directions, you still need two more arrows in either direction. If the second mark is a Split arrow, you still need one more. The third arrow can also be a Split arrow. You are On from the Check, but now you are at a Split (see below). Not often done. If you only find one or two marks in a direction without a third arrow, it is a False. Go back to Check. If you have to go over a hundred yards between marks, and still can't see a mark, you are probably on a False Trail. Go back to the Check and try another direction.
Five Checks might not be enough for an average trail. Ten starts getting into to many Checks unless it is a special or real long trail.
Splits: This is indicated by a multiple headed arrow pointing in different directions. It acts like a mini Check. Only one mark is needed to be back on Check. Very useful to slow down the front runners and keep the pack together. One to several between Checks. But to many can hurt a trail and really hurts someone who falls behind.
False Trails: Go back to Check. Either one or two marks off of a Check without finding a third arrow. Makes the Checks fun as front runners try various directions to locate the true trail. Also a letter F when you have exceeded three arrows and want the pack to return to the Check and start over. Good for restraining front runners potentially running away from the pack. The letter F False is good on the later part of the trail. About one on every trail is good.
Back Checks: The trail picks up somewhere between the Back Check and the last Check. Shown with a BC (Back Check) or CB (Check Back) or an arrow turning back on itself (A fish hook). What you are doing is Checking Back on the trail you just ran for a mark to the left or right that you didn't see while running in the forward direction, but is obvious in the reverse direction. Hidden behind and against a wall or a tree, etc. This is again a useful tool to slow down the front runners. The real benefit of a Back Check is that it gives everyone along the trail a chance to find the missing mark, giving a slower runner a chance to actually lead for a while. Use near the end of the trail. About one on every trail is good.
On In or On Home: The end of the trail is ahead. From here there should be no more marks beyond trail marks.
Other marks frequently seen:
Beer Near: The letters BN Indicates the finish or a beer stop is near. Generally less then a quarter mile.
Beer Check: The letter B. A stop for beer along the trail. In Chicago, the hare generally pays for this. Done on over 90% of trails, but not mandatory.
Other marks occasionally seen:
True Trail: An Arrow with two perpendicular marks through the shaft. Indicates an absolute true direction. I have never seen the need for this mark. All arrows are true until False
Bad Trail: An Arrow with a X along the shaft indicating that that trail is False.
Back Count: A BC or CB or a Fish hook as indicated under Back Check, only a number is added. The leader must count back that many marks to find where the trail takes off again. While a standard Back Check is dynamic, this sort is static waiting for the front runner to count back, hence a Count Back. It deprives the back of the pack with the real advantage of finding the trail and taking a lead. But it regroups the pack a bit.
Sweep marks: A sweep hare, running behind to insure hashes don't get lost or to far behind, aids the pack by calling On at decision points when the trail is found. He also marks the Checks, and Splits with an arrow right in from of them for the true trail, or crosses out arrows at Splits with a X.
Trail length: Generally between 4 to 6 miles. Longer trails can start to really piss off the slower runners. Shorter trails can piss off those that came out for a good run.