What’s the last thing a runner wants to to at the end of a 26.2 mile race? How about run another half mile to reach the finish line? I had this experience at the Haunted Hustle Marathon this past weekend and if you’re looking for a new way to test your mental strength, this is it.
I’ve been around the block a few (hundred) times when it comes to racing. I know that courses won’t match every single runners’ GPS device. I’ve logged a couple extra tenths in pretty much every half and full marathon I’ve run. (Although a .5 mile discrepancy is a little excessive if you ask me.) But what causes this mismatch between the numbers on your Garmin and your “official” finish time?
Courses are measured using the “shortest possible route” the runner could possibly run on race day. This means the measurement is taken assuming you hug every corner on the route, don’t weave back and forth trying to get around other runners and basically take the most efficient path you can manage (while not cutting off any part of the course.) The races where I’ve logged the most distance have all been at very large events where I did a lot of moving laterally to pass other runners or wasn’t able to see upcoming turns until the last possible second.
2. GPS devices aren’t infallible. Especially if part of the course takes you through areas where the signal is obstructed or lost completely. (In the past, I’ve never found this to be that big of a factor in road races I’ve run personally, but it could be something that contributes to the numbers not jiving.) It turns out that certified race courses are actually measured using a bike! Something called a Jones Counter is mounted on a calibrated bicycle and it counts the revolutions of the wheel to measure the length of race courses.
3. Did you know that most marathon courses ARE actually a smidge longer than 26.2 miles? (Pausing for a moment so you can shout: NO FAIR!) Something called the Short Course Prevention Factor requires a race to be one-tenth of 1% long. This is to simply to ensure that nobody comes up short, especially in the case that a record is broken. So how long is one tenth of one percent of a marathon? 42 meters.
All this being said, its certainly a huge bummer when you realize that the finish line is not where you expected it to be. Is it still possible that a race could be long or short due to simple human error? Yes. For example, in this particular race, even some the pace groups finished 2 to 3 minutes behind their projected time- despite hitting all their mile splits. Runners who had paced themselves with these groups came up short of their goals- and this was no fault of the pacers. Many pace leaders I know have paced in enough events that they can nail their finish time down to the second.
Sure, something like this is not the end of the world, but it is a bit disappointing. Especially if you are someone who has trained and planned for months to run a specific time on race day.Personally, I tend to account for a couple of extra tenths of a mile when deciding on my pace for a longer distance race. I like to give myself a little bit of leeway in case I’m unable to run the most efficient path on the course. A half of a mile is definitely more than I usually allot though. I wasn’t gunning to break a personal record that day but I have to admit the extra distance messed with my mind a little when the numbers kept ticking up and up on my watch and the finish line was still nowhere in sight. After 26-plus miles you feel every extra step.
In the end, a couple minutes on my finish time is certainly not that big a deal. All things aside, everyone else about this race was incredibly enjoyable- from the costumes, the volunteers and yes, the course itself. We wound our way through some lovely areas of Middleton, WI and although there were a few challenging hills, most of them came with killer downhills on the other side which felt pretty fantastic. It’s difficult to give a thumbs up to an experience though when it ends on such a strange note.
Have you ever run a race course that went “long?” Do you factor for extra distance in a race? What are your thoughts on this?