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I'm Fast!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Let me clarify. I'm fast-ER.

First, a quick background recap.

I changed up my schedule leading up to my next half marathon. Usually, I increase my the mileage of my long run by 1 mile every week. This has gotten me up to 12 miles for my first two races and 14 miles before my third race. Then, the week before my race, I run 6 miles as part of my taper. This time, however, I have a lot more time before my race and I want to keep myself semi-fresh for my back-to-back races in April. So, I took a page out of the full marathon training plan and I am doing step-backs every other week.

I built up to 11 miles last week and that means this week called for a step back to 6 miles. Next week I will run 12 miles followed by a 7 mile run the following week. Then 13, then 8, etc, etc.

So, how fast do I run my step-backs? I run my weekday runs around 9-9:30 min/mile pace. If I do speed work, I try to run between 8-9 min/mile pace. I do my long runs around 10 min/mile. Since 6 miles is just 1 mile further than the 5 mile runs I do every Tues & Thurs, do I really need to run it at the same pace as my weekly long slow distance runs?

Well, having just found out my friend is planning to race me in our half in March, I decided that at least for this week, I would do it as a tempo run for some speed work. Then I can do recovery pace for my 5 miles on Tuesday. I may not continue to do this as the mileage of my step-back runs increase.

So, how did today's run go?

It went great! I haven't run this fast since I ran in the Las Vegas Ragnar Relay in October.

I finished my 6.05 miles in 51:21. This put my run at an average pace of just over 8:30 min/mile pace. That would easily break my 10k race PR - even with extra time added on to push my run up the additional .15 miles.

My splits:
8:44 - starting out and speeding up
8:25 - settled into a good pace
8:38 - slight uphill and getting a little tired
8:01 - slight downhill and stretched out after the uphill
8:52 - very slight downhill, but getting very tired and coasting before final mile
8:39 - slowly picked up the pace and includes the additional final .05 miles and final kick

Do I think I could keep that pace up for an entire half marathon? No. At least not today - Maybe if I pushed myself with more speed work for a couple months, but not at my current fitness level. I was wiped out at the end and had hiccups for 20 minutes afterward - always a sign that I worked hard. But, do I feel like I could've slowed down a little bit to closer to a 9 min/mile pace and kept it up for a whole half marathon? Yes I do. And if I can run a 9 min/mile pace for a half, I can beat 2 hours and beat both my PR and my goal time of breaking 2 hours. That would be awesome.

And that should also probably be enough to beat my friend who is currently training on a treadmill at 10 min/mile pace. I'll take my hills and a 9 min/mile pace over that, any day.


On a side note, since I bought my 2 new pairs of running shoes, I've been swapping back and forth between them for every-other workout, and I don't know if it's the shoes or how I tightened the laces, but I am finding that my second pair is more comfortable while I'm running. So, at this point, pair number two will be the shoes I plan to race in. Funny how the same model of shoes don't always end up fitting exactly the same.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

WONDERWOMAN 1/17/2012 9:58PM

    Smoking fast!

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KKINNEA 1/17/2012 2:35PM

    Nice work. I'm superstitious about shoes - I always break them in, even if they're the same model. I've been both lucky and burned, so I believe you!

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ABSOLUTZER0 1/17/2012 11:18AM

    Keep it up, bro! You are KILLING IT!!! I'm trying to be like you when I grow up!


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The Heat is On

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So, in March - just 2 months away - I will be running my first half marathon of the year, and my first since last August.

If you've been reading my blogs, you'll know I'm running it with my best friend from high school who now lives in Oklahoma and was inspired to run a half marathon because I did one and now he feels challenged to do one, too. He's a very competitive guy, so this doesn't surprise me.

He was really out of shape, last year, and he's been slowly working himself back into shape. At the very least, I'm happy I've pushed him to get healthy, again. He has been keeping me updated on his progress and he's moving right along. He's done between 10 and 11 miles and should be hitting 12 next month. I will be running my back-to-back halves in April and have my training schedule set up, but the one variable is that I didn't know how fast he was planning on trying to run this half.

Well, when I talked to him on the phone, yesterday, he let me know that he will indeed be racing this half. His goal is to beat 2 hours, and he doesn't want me to slow down to run with him. He wants me to run my race to get my best time while he does the same. So, it's now a race. This doesn't surprise me, but I am a little disappointed.

I can't say I've really run any of my 3 half marathons as actual races. My first two I definitely ran just to finish. My third one I ran to try to PR, but the only person I was racing was myself. Sure, I tried to pick off runners in front of me one by one, but there was no one specific in the race that I started out trying to beat. So, this will be different.

He's doing most of his training on a treadmill while our race will be half on paved trail and half on graded dirt/gravel trail. His pace for his 10 mile run was 10 minutes per mile. My 11.1 mile run last week I averaged at 9:28 minutes per mile (and it included real, but gradual, inclines and declines). So, at this point, I think my current pace and my road training should give me the advantage. But, his goal is the same as my overall goal. To run it faster than 2 hours. I've never done it before, so if he does it, then I need to do it in order to beat him.

However, if he wasn't planning on racing me, I had planned to just run with him for fun and try not to wear myself out for my back-to-back races in April. I don't plan to try to PR in those races, either.

But, it looks like I will need to break out the speed work that I've been skipping. I just need to make sure not to overdo it. Beating him is not my primary goal. My primary goal is to train to run my back-to-back races. Beating him, but getting hurt in the process would be the last thing I need and probably the worst possible outcome.

But that doesn't mean I don't want to win. I just need to do it smart and injury free.


Lose 100 Pounds - Become a Figure Skater!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wow. I just watched this video on Yahoo! and was blown away. An inspiration of what we can do if we put our time to better use and learn to take care of our health. Some things she said that we all are also trying to learn and master:

- She learned it was important to her family that she take time to take care of herself so she could better take care of her family.

- She had tried to diet before, but had to learn how to make a lifestyle change.

- Do something you love. Figuring skating is fun to her, so it doesn't even seem like it's exercise.

Link to the video:

It's never too late for a second chance. You can make a change for the better.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

BOOKWORM2011 1/16/2012 2:50PM

    Thanks for posting this.

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GPS Accuracy Addendum

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Here are some additional notes on the environmental factors that can affect the accuracy of any GPS readings. (For my previous blog on why you should trust your race director's measurement of your race course more than your Garmin, click the following link):

This is a little more technical. Stick with me.

The current GPS system involves 31 GPS satellites orbiting the Earth. Your position is calculated by your GPS receiver (aka Garmin) by communicating with however many satellites are currently visible in the sky at your location. A minimum of 4 satellites is required in order to calculate a position. The more satellites you can connect to, the more accurate your position can be calculated. Generally, you can't connect to more than 10 satellites at any one time due to the curvature of the earth and the orbits of the various satellites.


The problem with the signal between your receiver and the satellites is that the signal needs to be very precisely timed, so it works differently than a radio signal. Line of sight between you and the GPS satellites is very important. In general, your receiver can only communicate with the satellites it can see. Because of this, you generally cannot receive a GPS signal when inside of a building (unless you are near a window).

What this means is that when you are outside with your GPS receiver, the number of satellites and the accuracy of your position will vary based on anything that can obscure your receiver's view of the satellites. This could be surrounding topography (mountains, hills, cliffs, ravines, canyons), buildings, trees, canopies, vehicles, clouds, your clothing, and your own body. Any of these can block your receiver's view of one or more satellites and reduce the accuracy of your GPS. Many researchers doing GPS work will wear a backpack with an antennae attached to their receiver that allows them

Also, since your GPS signal is electromagnetic, variations in magnetic fields can have an affect on your GPS signal as well. Various types of electrical interference can occur both inside the city (power lines, buildings, etc) and out (certain rock types and formations have also been known to cause noticeable decreases in GPS accuracy when nearby).

The best place to use your GPS is where you have as close to an unobstructed view of clear sky as you can, free of trees or mountains or clouds or buildings. Even then, tho, you are still at the mercy of the orbital frequency of the satellites. So, you can affect the quality of your location, but only up to a point.


"Without geometry, life is pointless."

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

KRISTEN282 1/17/2012 4:29PM

    Nice. I enjoyed both blogs and you made some excellent points!

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CBAILEYC 1/6/2012 12:04PM

    That explains why it takes so long, sometimes, for the Garmin 'loading satellites'. Thanks! I agree, these are both excellent works!

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TORTUETOO 1/5/2012 12:26PM

    Both of these were really excellent blogs - great information. Thanks so much for sharing!

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JENN26POINT2 1/5/2012 12:21PM

    Haha I just mentioned overhead obstructions on your last blog! Thank you for sharing with everyone!

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Tip: Why Your Garmin GPS Mileage Is Off...

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

...and why you should stop complaining that you ran further than the real race distance.

I've heard this one many times. And if I had a dollar for every time, I'd have a couple of bills paid off, next month.

Being a GIS and GPS professional, I work with GPS technology on a daily or weekly basis. So, here's a big tip for you for the next race - or training run - you do that seems to be longer than you expected.

Since most of your friends probably don't know this, either, you probably won't embarrass yourself that much next time you run a half marathon and come back complaining that your Garmin says that you ran 13.9 instead of 13.1 miles. This is very common, and like I said at the top, I've heard it many times. However, if you try to bring this complaint to any top race official, they will laugh at you (tho probably not in your face, but I won't promise that) as they have heard this complaint many times before.

How do I know they've heard this complaint before? Easy. It's on the Rock N Roll Marathon Series FAQ list. If you didn't already know, FAQ stands for "frequently asked questions."


Their answer, and I quote, is:

"What if my Garmin is slightly more than the official race distance?

"On race day, if the distance shown on your Forerunner is slightly more than the official race distance, it just means you weren’t cutting corners—quite literally. According to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) course measurement guidelines (pg. 20), a road race course is defined by the shortest possible route a runner could take without being disqualified.

"For most races, a certified measurer rides the course on a bike, staying near the curb and taking every available tangent. This ensures that all runners will run at least the declared race distance. After the race, if Forerunner shows that you ran a little farther, this just accounts for extra steps you took to run around others participants, hit a water stop or stay to the middle or outside lane."

Their answer is pretty good to satisfy most people and gives you a good starting point, but it stops short of discussing the usage and quality of GPS technology - which is what I'm interested in.

Pretty much all major races have their distances measured/surveyed and certified. Not all smaller races do, but most that are run with any regularity usually are. That could lead us on a tangent, but I'll try to stick to my main point, here.

There are currently 3 different quality levels of GPS devices. These are usually referred to as Recreational Grade GPS, Mapping Grade GPS, and Survey Grade GPS.

Generally, all 3 GPS Grade devices provide the user with locations that are very precise, often showing your latitude/longitude coordinates with 8 or 10 or more decimal points (i.e. down to an inch or less). However, not all of them achieve the same level of accuracy. Let's compare them:

Survey Grade GPS -
This is the highest accuracy GPS available. This is what you will see surveyors using to measure pipelines, property boundaries, etc. When you absolutely HAVE to know where something is - and be able to find that exact location again, later - this is what you would use. Survey Grade GPS is accurate to below a centimeter (0.4 inches). If you come across an expensive diamond and bury it in your backyard for safe keeping, this is what you would use if you wanted to be able to find it, again. If you think your neighbor's fence is sticking 3 inches across your property line, this is what you would want the surveyor you hire to use to verify the accuracy of your property boundary. If a surveyor is going to put a property marker in the ground with his/her professional seal on it, this is what he/she is going to use. This is also the GPS that would be used by a surveyor to map out the shortest distance on your favorite race course.

Mapping Grade GPS -
This is what most GPS professionals use out in the field when hiking or mapping areas that they need a fairly high degree of accuracy, but when a couple of feet or inches don't matter. Like when mapping a road or a trail or a fence line or a general boundary location that won't be used for legal purposes. Mapping Grade GPS has the accuracy of approximately 1-5 meters, often achieving sub-meter accuracy with software post-processing (depending on conditions which I don't need to explain, here - see the link at the end of this blog).

However, users of Mapping Grade GPS should expect their coordinates to average out around 1-5 meter accuracy. So, if you take the location of a single small object, like a coke can, and then try to go back out and find it using your saved coordinates, your search area could be as large as a 25 square meter area (225 square feet). That's a 15' x 15' box. That size of an ordinary residential Living Room. So, like I said, this is good for mapping roads and still - usually - being able to tell which side of the street you are on... unless you're trying to map out the lane lines - then you would use Survey Grade.

Recreational Grade GPS -
This is the grade of GPS that is used in your Garmin, Tom Tom, iPhone, Android smartphone, other consumer device. This is the lowest accuracy GPS device available. The accuracy of these devices is 20 feet OR WORSE. That's an accuracy approaching no better than 7 meters, usually averaging around 50 feet (10-20 meters). At this accuracy level, you can tell which road you are running on, but not necessarily which side of the road you are on. It can tell you if you are heading North, as opposed to NW or NE or W or E. If you stood in the middle of a football field and used your GPS to mark your position, it would most likely show you being at least *somewhere* in bounds, but it still could very possibly show your location as being very close to either one of the sidelines. That is how inaccurate a recreational Grade GPS receiver is. However, if you were to walk in any direction on that football field, it would definitely know which direction you were walking in.

A fun way to test this at home is to go stand in the middle of your yard or a park and collect multiple points while standing in the spot. Even tho you never move, the points you collect will cover a wide area all around you, sometimes close by, but often many feet away from where you are actually standing.

When you are mapping your run with your Garmin, this is what you are using. Approximately every 30 to 50 feet, your Garmin will attempt to locate your position. Each attempt will be accurate to approximately 50 feet. And each position has the same variable accuracy. Add this all together and you get the potential for a large discrepancy in your distance calculations.

If you have ever downloaded your run from your Garmin or smartphone and looked at it on Google Maps (or mapmyrun.com, or RunTracker, or any other run tracking site) you would recognize this fact. When you are zoomed out, it looks like it mapped your run, perfectly. However, it tells a different story when you zoom in. Whenever I track my runs on MapMyRun.com, it looks like I was a staggering, drunken trespasser trying to outrun the Physics Police. My line crosses from one side of the street to the other, crossing over and through yards, walls, fences, and houses of people I have never met in my life. If I had actually run this line, I would be battered and bloodied and bruised - and most likely dead, unconscious, or arrested.

I'll summarize the differences into one cute statement. If you want to know what road you are on, use Recreation Grade GPS. If you want to know what side of the road you are on, use Mapping Grade GPS. If you want to be able to accurately recreate each lane line on the road you are on, use Survey Grade GPS.

So, you've just run the 2012 Crowded Big City Rocking Over-sized Half Marathon while wearing your Garmin. Not only did you not run the absolute shortest route possible in this race (which nobody could do, except maybe an elite athlete-savant), your Garmin also calculated the distance of this weaving, zig-zagging line. At worst, you may have run 13.2 miles instead of 13.1. However, your Garmin may tell you that you've just run 13.3, 13.5, 13.8 or maybe even 14.1. Don't be fooled, your Garmin is not that accurate. Your race director's pre-race measurements are.

So, Congratulation on getting past "Being a GIS and GPS professional" and thank you for still reading up to this point! Or, if you skipped ahead, at least you can still read the conclusion paragraph to get the gist of this and pretend you learned something.

Don't be fooled by your Garmin and a misplaced sense of technological precision. This is a GPS accuracy issue with your GPS device, NOT a problem that requires e-mailing your race director. So, save yourself the trouble and delete that strongly worded e-mail and just chalk it up to the joys and pitfalls of technology. And remember, the distance on your Garmin may not be that accurate, but the time is. So, you may not have run 13.8 miles in 2 hours and 15 minutes, but you still ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Time to celebrate!

fyi, this can also go both ways and sometimes your GPS cuts corners or loses it's signal and can actually have a shorter distance. It's variable. But it's more common to err on the longer side than the shorter side.

For a slightly more technical description of some of the factors that can affect the quality and accuracy of your GPS, visit my follow-up blog addendum:

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

A_PRACTICE 8/14/2012 7:20AM

    I don't own any kind of GPS gadget, but have been considering purchasing a Garmin this year. Do you think these types of running tools are worth it, if they're so inaccurate? I'd love to hear your thoughts on how one can/should incorporate these into our training, recognizing their imperfections. Do you think it still makes sense to use one, or has using a GPS/heartrate monitor helped your training? I currently don't use any kind of equipment besides an analogue watch that says when I've run for about an hour ;)

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ONEKIDSMOM 5/2/2012 7:51AM

    Got directed here late in the game by another Sparker's response to someone else's blog... being curious. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have a clunky car variety Garmin that once in a while I take on walks... just to give me an estimate of an unfamiliar route. Or more often, I just do my walks and map it after the fact to get distance.

Sometimes high tech is needed. For this part of my life, not so much... the goal is to be healthy, not precise! emoticon

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MIGURLINNC 1/17/2012 6:42PM

    Wow! I learned something new today! Thanks. emoticon

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CARLAWO 1/15/2012 1:07PM

    That's really good to know - I've been considering buying a GPS watch so this will factor into my decision!


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VISHYT 1/12/2012 10:09PM

    Yay! The likelihood of me running that distance is small, but knowing about GPS grade is fun.


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AKRONEWITTER1 1/11/2012 12:47PM

    That is good to know. I thought they were more accurate than that.

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DARKKAT 1/7/2012 12:43AM

    Great explanation. I had to laugh with the thought of people complaining to the race officials about the discrepancies.

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MGJARVI 1/6/2012 10:33PM

    Great info and a great read, too funny :-) I'm pretty proud that I made it to the end of the post... hehe!

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CATIATM 1/6/2012 6:44PM

    "Whenever I track my runs on MapMyRun.com, it looks like I was a staggering, drunken trespasser trying to outrun the Physics Police." -- WAAAA ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Thanks for the info -- and the laughs!

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JANEREILLY 1/6/2012 4:56PM

    Aw emoticon I ran a super run with great speed and stopped when my garmin said I was at the right milage. I thought it was a little on the short side. Bummer I guess I was not as fast as I thought. When I mapped it out on map my run it was a little bit short.

Oh well good to know.

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ROBYNLN 1/6/2012 1:53PM

    Thanks for the info. I knew about the cutting corners thing, but didn't know the other reason for discrepancies. I guess it is pretty good for $135, tho. LOL I suppose the every 30-50 feet readings have something to do w/the eratic pace measurements I get. I always wondered about that. I know I'm not that inconsistent in my gait. emoticon

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-PAULA 1/6/2012 1:52PM

    Good info. Thanks for posting.

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JUSTCHELLE75 1/6/2012 11:33AM

    thanks for the info

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NEWNECK 1/5/2012 7:01PM

    I've been happy with just my watch to run with, but I have heard/read people complaining about these discrepancies. Thanks for explaining what's behind it.

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KKINNEA 1/5/2012 2:05PM

    Wonderful insight for us that just use the devices! Now, if I could just convert that 2.5 miles to 3.1....

Many people don't know about tangents, which is the major issue. It should be listed in FAQ of every race!

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JENN26POINT2 1/5/2012 12:19PM

    I ran a USATF certified course recently that registered as 12.85 miles on my Garmin. I questioned it at first, but then remembered that the USATF, a very prestigious organization dedicated to runners, track and field and atleticism, measured the route. I later found an article that pretty much said what you posted above about consumer grade GPS devices, but also added that overhead obstructions can cause problems as well. It didn't dawn on me at the time that while I was running on the course route, I was under a lot of heavy tree cover which, much like clouds and rain to a television satellite receiver, blocked my Garmin's communication with the satellites.

I was glad I found that info because even though I knew the course was 13.1 miles, I felt cheated b/c my Garmin didn't agree.

In addition, there is a bridge near where I work that I cross periodically. If my Garmin is on at the time, it says I'm driving over the water, NOT on the bridge, even though the bridge/roadway is clearly visible on the screen. I'll have to take a pic of it sometime for you. It's quite comical. :)

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GOEGIRL 1/5/2012 12:14PM

    Fantastic explanation, thank you for that! Much better than just saying 'the GPS is less accurate.' Thank you!

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KJDOESLIFE 1/5/2012 10:44AM

    Thanks for the info! I liked the comparison of the different grades. I still swear by my Garmin, but my friend just got a TomTom watch and I'm always amused by the discrepancies between the two, separated by two feet when we run together. Still beats planning out a 10 mile route in advance and trying to remember it!

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LISAINMS 1/5/2012 10:35AM

    Great information and thanks for that explanation. I have noticed a few runs from home that have me starting in my neighbor's backyard instead of my driveway. I assumed it was satellite connection issue because sometimes it takes 2 min for my Garmin to acquire location. That's the only problem I have noticed though -starting position. I run a park route with banked and cambered roads and rolling hills. When I zoom on the map, it accurately shows where I switch sides and clip corners. I'm willing to forego perfection for the 90% of the time that it works and gives me great data! And I promise to never complain that the race distance was not as published!

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PIXIEMOM13 1/5/2012 10:24AM

    i got a Garmin for Christmas and mostly use it to accurately time my runs and to help me start to get a handle on pacing... and i figure the distance it measures is ballpark at best. heh

This was an interesting read about the different grades of GPS. They say you learn something new every day... I think this is my new thing. :D

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CBAILEYC 1/5/2012 10:15AM

    Great blog with good information. I like especially your closing sentiment best!

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ERICWS 1/5/2012 9:42AM

    Any 5k or other race that I look into is sanctioned and properly measured/certified for distance. My children's school actually decided to not call a fundraising walk a "5k fun walk" because they feared people would sign up thinking that the course was properly measured.

If you sign up for a race that isn't properly certified as measured for accuracy, then caveat emptor- buyer beware!

But I still find it funny that people will believe their own watches over a certified course. AND, people must understand the point where thousands of peope starting a race at the same time might be running different distances, due to the starting line alone- look at the NYC marathon- people were crossing the starting line to "start the race" after running for 10 minutes to reach the starting point!

Great post.

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HGSGUY 1/5/2012 9:10AM

    Great explanation! A friend had a GPS on his desk and marveled at how the track line looked like he kept wandering in and out of the window and around the room. He was going to send in his unit for repair until we tried to explain what was happening!

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KASHMIR 1/5/2012 8:57AM

    Excellent Information. I always knew my toys weren't the most accurate, nice to know why!

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CASSIOEPIA 1/5/2012 7:43AM

    This is an age old question heard over and over. Although I knew about the Corner cutting", I do appreciate the explanation from someone who works in the field. Thank you so much. I'm going to share this blog with my runner friends.

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SAHARASUE 1/5/2012 7:33AM

    Thanks for the info, very interesting! I've recently trained to be able to run a 5K, well a 5K +/- 50 feet. I used an app on my Android phone to mark a 5K in my neighborhood over several runs. I then picked a start and stop place that was seemed close to an average and use those same marks for timing each run now. Works for me. Going to run an official 5K race next month and am really interested to see how it compares. Thanks again for sharing this info!

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BLONDEPOODLE 1/5/2012 7:02AM

    Thanks for this post it's really informative. I tend to get measurements on the short side. Especially when I'm trail running on rocky terrain (I live in New Hampshire). When I export my data to google maps, my reported distance is sometimes longer by as much as a mile on a long run. Is this because the GPS is losing connection when I'm running by a large glacial erratic?

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P0KERS0PH 1/5/2012 3:32AM

    Interesting stuff, my last couple of runs I have left my Garmin at home, I'm trying not to focus on distance 'real' or not.

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ABSOLUTZER0 1/5/2012 2:27AM

    Yes, I read it all the way through. If you put the time in to write it, I will definitely read it. I'm not sure if you caught the article about someone pursuing a lawsuit based on this. I have friends that are all about their Garmins or whatever kind of GPS watch they use. I'll admit it can be nice to have it's a good way to track data, but like any other type of technology, we can depend on them too much.

Ever heard of people talking about their watch dying before or during a race? Any of this sound familiar?

"I know it was charged!"
"Oh, I forgot to start it and now my miles will be off."
"I can't run without it!

I have experimented without it and I find I relax more when I'm not so caught up on how fast or far I'm going or have gone. Good post!

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