We've all been there! About 4 or 5 miles into a race and our Garmin or watch doesn't match up to the mile markers and we inevitably mutter to ourselves, "What the ... those idiots don't have this race measured correctly!!!" Well, most likely the race officials measured the course correctly, and unfortunately, the problem is probably us!
One thing that's made a huge difference in my race performance recently is simply ... RUNNING A SHORTER RACE!!! It's amazing how many minutes you can subtract from your overall time by simply running 26.2 miles as opposed to 26.6. A runner racing at an 8:00/mile pace can add 3 or 4 minutes to their overall time by running an extra .3 to .4 miles at then end of a marathon. And if your not careful, it's easy to do.
We've all read about "running the tangents" ("tangent" for our purposes meaning the shortest distance between two points), and most of us think we are doing it. But if you fall in behind the rest of the crowd, you're most likely running more distance than you should be. I've made a conscious effort in my last few races to observe "the pack", and the truth is - most runners don't run an efficient race. They DO NOT take a direct path between points A & B. It doesn't seem like a big thing, but simply running on the wrong side of the street for too long, or weaving in and out of runner traffic can add a lot of distance and time to your race.
I've put together the diagram above to demonstrate what I most commonly see runners do in races. Usually, after runners turn onto a new street, they begin thinking about their next turn ... which is what you should do. However, if the next turn is in the opposite direction, most runners IMMEDIATELY get over to the other side of the street, adding distance to the marked out course. And if you repeat this process over and over, it can add on an extra half mile in no time at all. The "proper" technique after a turn is to GRADUALLY ease over to the next turn, running a straight line directly from street corner to street corner.
Unfortunately this is easier said than done. If there's lane closed with cones due to traffic considerations, or if the street has a curve or a bend, a runner can easily add distance to the race through no fault of their own. But is seems like most of the pack usually takes the wrong route. And since I've been focusing on this simple racing truth more and more, my races have consistently been shorter and shorter.
At 4 different marathons at the beginning of 2010, I averaged between 26.5 and 26.65 miles per race. And at the 2010 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon, I ran a total of 26.7 miles!!! However, my last few races have been in the neighborhood of 26.33, which is much shorter ... and faster.
Will you ever run an even 3.1, 6.2, 13.1, or 26.2 ... probably not. It would be almost impossible to run the exact measured course. But if your focused, and willing to be the one person in the middle of the street not jambed in with the rest of crowd, you can reduce your total mileage drastically and most likely improve your finishing time significantly. Good luck!
... be great today!