4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

GPS Course Measurements

with 7 comments

We are all complainers by nature, and I do it too, especially on Twitter where there is an audience of other complainers to fuel the fire.  While in real life I am typically not a complainer, there are certain things that do get me all riled up.  Usually I ignore it, and every once in awhile I get riled up enough to blog (edit added: and therefore complain myself) about it.

You sometimes hear people complaining after finishing a race that the race was too long because their GPS watch shows a longer distance than the length of the race.  I’ve run local races myself where I’ve wondered about the placement of mile markers and felt some miles were shorter and longer than the rest.  In fact, in the Red Bank triathlon, I mused that perhaps the last mile was short as I clocked an unbelievable 8:06(ish) for that mile.

However, this is a ridiculous notion when it comes to major marathon events.  You can be sure the length of the course is accurate.  After the Chicago Marathon, I heard from several people complaining about how much ‘further’ they ran then 26.2 miles.  Again yesterday, after the Marine Corp Marathon, I started seeing other people with the same complaint.  This time, rather rudely, I posted my protest of the comment in the places I saw it.

Please check out these 2 really informative posts about GPS and race measuring, and then come back here.

  1. This guys blog is the most informative I’ve ever seen about running, biking and swimming, and my newest MUST READ blog.  He recently re-linked to his 2009 posting about understanding how courses are measured.  http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2009/03/racing-line-understanding-how-courses.html
  2. I randomly saw a link to this in my Twitter stream recently (had been retweeted by Tracy http://twitter.com/#!/Nemtynakht).  Not sure how old this is, but it covers much of the same territory. http://www.hamptonrockfest.com/hamptonhalf-GPS.html

Thanks for coming back…

So, at the end of the day, the GPS in your watch is, quite simply, not completely accurate.  Also, to run the minimum distance, you have to run in a straight line all day, and perfectly cut the corners in every spot.  It is simply not possible.  Personally, on everyday runs, I use the GPS to guestimate my distance, but then I almost always re-measure on DailyMile, RunKeeper, MapMyRun, or some such mapping site, to get a true distance.

Check out the map of my Chicago Marathon run, which ridiculously came in at 27.3 miles! If you zoom in, you can start to see the imperfections and the not-so-straight-line course that it plotted.  http://www.trainingpeaks.com/sw/3MJ3MGV34VXQ365LXPRLA7KNXU

OK, I feel better now…


Written by SCL

November 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Rant

7 Responses

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  1. Hey! Thanks for passing that link on! I couldn’t agree more with your comments here.

    Also, re: your last post – my sister and I are both avid runners, and we credit it largely to the fact that my dad ran when we were young and encouraged us to run with him. Keep up the good work 🙂


    November 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm

  2. not trying to “bite back” from the comment and this blog post but i can’t help but feel it was mildly directed at me. Yes, I did mention that I felt the course ran long but in no way shape or form did I mean it as complaining. I do 110% apprecaite your congrats on my accomplishment and my PR, but I also can’t help but wonder if you still would have said congrats if I hadn’t made the hey mcm comment – i felt as if it was the window of opportunity to make a comment

    But thanks for taking the time to educate me and the many others who questioned the total distance on their garmins from yesterday’s race. it looks like everyone was reading anywhere from 26.44-26.63.

    barbie vines

    November 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    • Sorry really wasn’t meaning to call anyone out, and it is not about you, and why I didn’t mention any names. There were others too. 🙂 It’s been bothering me for awhile and today decided to write about it…

      You raise a good question though. I’d like to think that I would have commented a congrats anyway as I’m truly interested in how everyone I follow did in their races this marathon season, and I especially love to see PR’s. My marathons are typically struggles (I fell short of my goal twice this year) and I fully appreciate the accomplishment of going the distance…


      November 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

  3. Maybe I’m slow mentally but how accurate can daily mile really be either? Seems to me like any mapping is going to be off by a certain degree. For instance, if I run through a culdesac and use daily mile or mapmyrun.com to measure it, the culdesac isn’t really on the map- I have to kind of draw it into my route and hope it evens out somehow or just not put it at all. So that can’t be totally accurate either. Which means, even if you double check yourself by going to one of these sites, it won’t be a “true” calculation of your distance. Short of running it on a track where it is truly measured out with every person’s positioning in mind, I don’t think you can get an accurate calculation. I feel certain that even then, there can be differences in calculations. But again, maybe I’m misunderstanding your thought process here.

    On the other hand, now we know that its not the course running long, it’s the runner! Too bad they don’t tell you how to cut the corners perfectly so you can run the true distance, eh?

    Also, maybe next time you have a “complaint” about something someone says you shouldn’t comment on it on their blog and then follow it up almost immediately with a blog post. Unless you did this on EVERY blog about MCM then you really did make it appear that you were targeting Barbie Runs (and the select few you happened to catch that mentioned it and you commented on). Think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed- even with the congrats you basically called her out on her own blog and then felt so fired up about it that you HAD to come here and write about it, too. I’m sure she is not the only one who noticed it as I’m sure you both share some readers. You basically tarnished something that she felt really proud of and then just to add insult to injury told your own readers all about it. It was completely unnecessary to respond to this the way you did. And the fact that you called yourself RUDE in your own post would seem as though you knew you were behaving in a less than nice way and still did it anyway. Something for you to think about. Perhaps now I should go to my own blog since you’ve got me fired up.


    November 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    • Those mapping sites are certainly more accurate that the GPS on my watch.

      I have made similar comments elsewhere, even yesterday, which is when I started the post. This is not about any one person in particular.


      November 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      • But the fact remains that you cannot positively say they are 100% accurate. Unless every runner ran in a straight line as the course director was mapping out the run, then it is entirely possible that not a single person runs 26.2. While we’re on the topic, what are the directors using to map these runs out? Are you positive they are 100% accurate? Since you aren’t mapping out these runs you cannot conclusively say so. The fact is if the person ran a step out of the way then they really did run more than 26.2 whether the course was accurately mapped out or not.

        The rude part isn’t whether you did it to one person or a hundred. Just because you made the statement to more than Barbie doesn’t detract from the fact that what you did was unnecessarily rude and you know it. You admitted it. THE WAY YOU WENT ABOUT making your point is what bothers me and possibly could bother others. Rather than making the comment to everyone, you could have simply written the blog. OR stated “hey I was curious about the same thing- check out the post I just wrote that compiles some of my research on the topic.” How you stated it came across as condescending and diminishing of the accomplishment of completing the race be it 26.2, 27.1, 25.98 or 26.44.


        November 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm

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