Mary Baum

PR’s and Tangents

Since November 19th, I have run 3 different races – 2 half marathons and one 10k. I have had the pleasure of taking these race relatively easy and nowhere near the serious mindset like races in the past. However, other runners definitely have. After each of these races, I have overheard other finishers mention that the course was long since their GPS clearly stated that they actually ran the allotted distance before they actually crossed the finish line. Hmmm… interesting.

Course that are USATF certified are precisely measured to be exactly the distance that they say they are. So why do they show up on Garmin’s and other watches as long? Well, races are measured on tangents. Meaning, the shortest distance that it takes to get from point A to point B.


This is not new information. There have been plenty of other blog posts about it. I just thought it was very interesting the number of times that I had recently heard people actually refuting the fact that they had PR’d and that the course was wrong. All hail Mr. Garmin.

Multiple years ago, when none of us used GPS watches during races, we all just trusted that the race was right because the race officials said so. We would use our Timex Watches (at least that is what I use) and just time the distance, and report on it later. We crossed the finish line having ran 13.1 miles, not 13.3, or 13.41 – the solid half marathon. Now, with all the technology that we carry, our races are different.

When you look up your results and they say a different time than you have listed, do you put an asterisk, saying that you did in fact have a different time and that the official results are wrong? Or do you take them for what they are - the official results?

If I would have actually had a working GPS when I ran the Chicago Marathon, I am sure that it would have said that I ran more than 26.2 miles when I crossed the finish line. And if I would have stopped my watch when I completed that distance, it would have most likely been the difference between those 14 seconds that stood between me and a Boston Qualifying time. Boston doesn’t care what my watch says – they care what the official results say.

So really, my question is – are you a runner that goes by what your watch says, or by what the course states? Does having a GPS alter your view of the distance that you ran, and the time that you ran it in?

P.S – I’m not taking anything away from any of you that have run great races lately. I’m just starting a healthy discussion, not an argument. ;)

10 Responses

  1. Erin B
    Erin B December 7, 2012 at 8:52 am |

    I watch my Garmin, but don’t focus on it too much when it comes to how “off” it is during a race. In my last race, I heard other Garmin watches beeping at different times, alerting people of their supposed distances. But, like you said, the only time that matters is the official race time. I don’t think it would do me any good to try and argue with race officials that my Garmin is correct, and their course is “off.”

    I also think it is the Garmin itself. When I go on a run around DC, my watch with beep at a different spot each time for any given mile from run to run. I think the way it connects to the satellites changes, but I am no expert! :-)

  2. Erin @ GoBananasBlog
    Erin @ GoBananasBlog December 7, 2012 at 10:56 am |

    I don’t have beef when it is “long” just when it is short. No excuse for a 10k to be 5.5 miles! Plus, I’m a bob and weaver. :)

  3. Amber
    Amber December 7, 2012 at 11:49 am |

    I recently questioned this during my 8-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. My watch was telling me I was hitting mile markers a tenth of a mile before the race course indicated a mile marker. I end up going with what the offical race time is instead of my watch. There’s always room for slight human error i.e. I didn’t start my watch at the right time, took too many outside corners, had to stop my watch, etc. It’s one of the main reasons why I continue to pay a little extra for the d-tags. I know some racers don’t pay for them because they have their watch. I think it’s kinda fun to compare the two anyway. :)

  4. Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family
    Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family December 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm |

    Great post Mary! I think everyone needs to go by official results. Your Garmin accounts for weaving and deviating to water stations or bathroom stops too. I think if you go by a watch and not official results its slightly deceptive.

  5. Renee
    Renee December 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |

    I don’t have any sort of GPS watch and have only ever ran set routes (and timed those with my watch)…or just run for time. I completely agree that the official time is the only one that counts. If you run the tangents perfectly, then you’ll go the exact distance…but regardless technology can be wrong sometimes…

  6. Lisa N.
    Lisa N. December 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm |

    I appreciate that most times my GPS watch is going to be slightly off during a race. I try to run tangents but if a race is crowded or I’m in the zone, I sometimes get off course. It’s important to look to check if a race is USATF certified or not. Sometimes a race course might be long or short due to measurements from race directors, etc. I’ve run 5ks that were 2.8ish miles and half marathons that were 13.5. I must say it is annoying to get close to 13.1 on my watch and then run another .4 miles. My mind is such a huge part of running for me. The 13.5 course was a Disney race and I do think that one was long; longer than just not running tangents long.

  7. Steph
    Steph December 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm |

    My Garmin always comes up short! I don’t understand…I wouldn’t think anything of it, but it’s always short

  8. Amanda
    Amanda December 8, 2012 at 12:24 am |

    I always just go by the official results. The only time I have ever been frustrated by a difference between my garmin and the OR was when I did a one mile sprint this year. I started my watch exactly when I crossed the start and heard it beep for a mile exactly when I crossed the finish. So I was shocked when my garmin told me I ran a mile in 7:07 and my official result was 7:21! Seemed like a pretty big difference for such a short race. Especially when the distance was right on. I never could explain that one…

  9. Meghan @ little girl in the big world
    Meghan @ little girl in the big world December 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm |

    I definitely go with the official results as far as thinking of PRs, race recaps, etc. I would agree with a previous commenter than it’s disconcerting when the watch comes up short. That is when I worry, although I still go ahead and go with the official distance. Sometimes I’ll put what my Garmin says into DailyMile as record, but I’ll always title it “Rock N Roll St Pete Half Marathon” or something like that so that I know it’s really a 13.1. But I definitely never say that the course measured long or that I ran a PR if my watch hits the distance before I hit the finish line. But I do try to run tangents as best I can.

  10. Beka @ rebeccaroams
    Beka @ rebeccaroams December 10, 2012 at 11:40 am |

    Whether I ran an extra tenth of a mile or two, the official results are what I consider my time. For technicalities – sure I could look at my time at exactly 13.1 and see what it was, but I don’t judge my PR on it. I tend to run all over the dang place so I’m sure that even if it was 13.1 miles of dead straight road, I’d prob run farther. :)


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