Why your GPS Shows you Went Further Than the Race Course Distance

I have seen this question a lot on many running pages this fall.  Many runners wonder why their GPS device always show further than a race is supposed to be.
In fact I have seen the question so much over the past few weeks, it made me too many don't know or understand the answer.  So for those who read my blog, if you keep reading and you didn't know before, you will know the answer.

First, I am talking about races that are on certified courses.  These are courses that have been tested and verified to be correct distance. 5k - Marathon and beyond.
Races that are not certified, last minute altered courses these are something different and I am not going to be talking on those.

When a race is mapped and certified the race officials take the absolute shortest route possible to map this route.
Which is actually good and done so that say your running a half or full marathon, you can guarantee you ran at least 13.1 or 26.2.


When you are running a race, it is impossible to cut every corner exact and run the race to the absolute exact distance.
In fact, I am even going to go on the record by saying it is impossible to do this!


First, take the start for instance, most of us are not on the front lines.  So think about all those runners at the start, even if you try to cut every corner as close as possible.  Think about how many individuals you moved to the side to avoid running into, or moved to run around them.
Each time you do this, you add distance.  You may even be starting on the opposite side of the road than the course was marked, you add up that distance (although minimal) it does add some to it.

Next, take the water stations into consideration.  Most of them are off to the side, they are not right in the middle of the road.
As you move to the side to grab your water, you just added a little extra distance to the course.

Even if you are a front line runner and you can avoid the crowds and you hit those road lines near perfectly, you are still going to have to weave in and around the water stations to get your hydration...

Now think about your last race, and you're probably getting the idea of where I am going with this.


Your GPS device or tracker you are using is tracking your mileage and taking into account each person you moved around, each wander to the side to get water, each corner that you had to take wide to avoid collision with other runners.
Most GPS are pretty darn accurate.
Which is why lets say your running a marathon, and you are at the mile 26 flag on the course and your GPS says you are at 26.4 or more.
Are you done?  Not at all!

You still have finished the race, you have to finish the actual course to finish the race. An extra .4 or even as much as an extra half mile (if in larger races) is added to your race distance, who cares!  You trained for the race (hopefully), a little extra isn't going to matter, especially since everyone else is in the same or similar boat as you!  Unless you put it in your mind that it will, in which case it will and you'll probably not enjoy your finish as much.

Also, your finish time is not your GPS time, your finish time is what the race officials time you (chip time), regardless!
I know their are some who like to show off their GPS time as their finish time instead of the real finish time.  That is fine I guess for your own personal thing.  But as for the race goes, race times count.  Everyone else ran the same course, so just because your GPS says you finished several minutes faster than your chip time, doesn't mean you beat all those people who crossed the finish line several minutes before you:) Yes, I have actually heard a runner argue that one before, LOL...

This is going to make a few of you roll your eyes, but I have actually been running a marathon and have heard more than one person say.  "Well my GPS says I am done, so I am done..." and they walk on to the finish???
I seriously will never get that, I mean a race is a race.  Throw that GPS out if it messes with your mind so much that you forget that little fact that you are in a race, a race to the finish:)


Their are a few things you can do to cut down the distance you run in a race to make it closer to the 10th's of the actual race distance you are running.

AT THE START - Hopefully you are in a corral or section of runners who run in the timeframe you are shooting for.  Even if you are, you will notice (especially in larger races) that you're probably in a group and running a slower pace than you'd like for a while at the start.
If you start weaving to bob in and out of each runner, you'll only add extra distance to your race. Depending on how long it lasts, a few minutes of being caught in the shuffle is okay, in fact I once read that the person weaving and bobbing through the crowd may only be a few seconds ahead of the person who stayed in the shuffle until it thinned out.
Then the person who weaved in and out, just spent all that extra energy.
The person who stayed in the shuffle, can easily pick up their pace and make up that time a bit later on and not have to add any extra distance/energy like the weaver did.

WATER STATIONS - Don't wait until you are right next to them to move over to get your drink.
Look ahead when you see one coming up, gradually work your way to the side but not all the way (yet), don't go for the first people handing out water (if you are in a group of runners).
Most runners go for those first few handing them out.  Wait, eye one of the volunteers at the end of the water line (so they know you are coming to them.) and grab your drink there.
(don't worry the water at the end of the line tastes the same as the water at the first of the line, LOL)
What this will do, you'll avoid the packs getting to the first water, you may not even have to weave around anyone.
You can get your water and avoid the abrupt "stoppers/walkers" and drink and move on.

CORNERS - When possible if a road turns think of it as lines.  What is the shortest distance to that corner, is it the side, or maybe the road middle?  After you practice this, it actually becomes second nature!
A lot of runners will hug the shade, or hug the white lines.  But sometimes the middle of the road can give you the best view of what is ahead so you can cut each corner or turn as short as possible when you get to them.  However, don't fight for it, if someone else is there don't crash or push, just take a wider line and avoid getting yourself hurt!


If you worry that your mind will get screwed up with the mileage on the GPS, leave it home!
Don't complain out loud on courses and in races about distance, hills or other things!  No one likes a complainer, we are all out there to have fun, let everyone who came out to enjoy their race that day, have a good time.  A negative attitude can bring all the others around you down.  That or you risk having a few people around you secretly wishing you'd slip on the next banana peel on the road:)

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