Monday, August 2, 2010

Running and Biking Tangents

We interrupt the normally scheduled snarky, sarcastic post to speak to something that you might actually use.

After a major race, we've all seen the display on our Garmins or the entries in our logs:

Isn't a marathon supposed to be 26.2 miles!? Why does my Garmin say 26.50!? What are these stupid race directors trying to pull!?!? (Usually, they're trying to pull as much money out of your pocket as possible.)  The longer race than normal isn't their fault, it is YOURS as the runner!! (Well, maybe the race director for putting hills at the end of races.....bastards) You didn't run the tangents around the curves like she did when she measured the course!

For math dorks, a Tangent is a straight line or plane that touches a curve or curved surface at a point but does not intersect it at that point. Whew. Hurts my head. For runners, even though a tangent usually means talking endlessly about race nutrition, the reality is that it is the shortest distance between two points on a racecourse. Why is this important? It is important because race directors use the shortest distance when they measure the course, and any additional running that you do is just extra time spent on the course that you don't need.

I recently read an article on slowtwitch.com that spoke to the specifics of why running tangents is important and how significant of an impact not running them can have on overall race time. For example, in a simple 5K race, running a poorly planned, drunken chimpanzee route can add up to 2.4% on to your time! For a 20 min 5K, this is 29 seconds. Distance that you DIDN'T need to run.

The unfortunate reality about tangents is that in order to run them effectively you have to do at least SOME prep before the race and you must be conscious of the route ahead while running. Knowing where the turns are and where you need to be on the road while turning is most important.  Here is a really good picture of what I mean:
As I reviewed my last few marathons, I've found that I am doing this somewhat well, but if I want to run a sub 3:20 (or, *gasp* 3:10), I'm going to have to get much much better. My overall distances for the Rock and Roll marathons that I've ran this year have been: 26.50 (Seattle), 26.38 (San Deigo), 26.34 (New Orleans), 26.23 (Phoenix).

I've found that while running, focusing on my route helps me in a few ways:
  • It gets me thinking about something other than booty shorts how tired I am and what pace I'm running
  • It makes me FEEL like I am running less - and thereby running faster
  • Switching it up on the left / right side of the road eases up the pressure on my IT bands

Have you ever specifically tried to run tangents during races? Do you think that doing so actually makes your race time lower?

29 comments:

Jamoosh said...

You also need to remember that to have a course certified by USTAF the race distance must be at least the "minimum" of what is advertised, but there is no maximum (for example a 5K could measure 3.4 miles and be officially certified as a 5K). Hence, even if you ran every tangent perfectly, you could still end up running more than a 26.2 mile marathon.

Andrew Opala said...

cool information!

AZ said...

I always try to run the tangent but sometimes it feels like cheating when nobody else is doing it. I think they think I'm cheating too.

Sarah @ The Pajama Chef said...

yeah tangents! i find it is difficult to run tangents in road races (versus HS/college CC races) because a) not everyone does it, so you have to weave around people and b) it takes so much effort and in long races i get tired. but i know i need to be more attentive to tangents. thanks for the reminder!

Kelly said...

I always TRY to run the shortest distance, but it usually involves a lot of weaving in and out. And if it's an out-and-back course, then you can't veer too much or you'll be headed into oncoming "traffic".

Teamarcia said...

I always try to run tangents and I do think they help improve race times. I'm that obnoxious one elbowing my way through all the tight corners!

Cynthia O'H said...

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line; curves are no exception.
Years ago, I sat with an engineering runner friend who was mapping out the distance for a long run. He explained that he got one figure but took into account an error of margin. At the time, it confused me but now it makes perfect sense.
Next marathon, just yell at people to get out of your way so that you can run the tangents. They'll be so confused that they'll feel compelled to move.

Dr. TriRunner said...

My mom is a pretty seasoned marathoner, and when I first started running this was always one of her reminders before the race. That, and "don't go out too fast!" ;) it does make a big difference... not to mention gives you that little ego boost when you can laugh and say "hahaha suckers!!" at all the other runners just following the curb :)

Emily said...

In Boston I ran over a 26.6 distance course and I was SO PISSED as I watched my goal time disappear at exactly 26.2. Dammit Emily, learn to run straight.

Tricia said...

I've wondered how effective running the tangents is when you have to bob and weave your way through a crowd. Seems like a lot of energy wasted, not to mention you'll be pissing off a lot of people. Depends on the course and the crowd I guess.

Chad said...

I do my best to run tangents, but often that's where the walkers are. That's right, I run among walkers. I'm THAT slow.

Runners Fuel said...

My last race (5k) showed I ran 3.4 miles on my Garmin. I hate it when that happens.

Andrew Opala said...

wait a second, I was thinking about your blog post and the pictures during my run ... is that David Hasselhoff throwing up? ... Is there nothing sacred Adam!

ShutUpandRun said...

So what you're telling me is that you want me to go run the course for RnR Denver so that I can report back to you what your projected tangents are? OK I'll do it. I always thought my Garmin was wrong when I got thos 26.7 readings.

Jill said...

In addition to Jamoosh's comment, Garmins are not 100% accurate. They use a satellite image and the distance from that satellite to your watch can cause a slight delay. This told to me by the husband, who's job is remote sensing and aerial photography...like who the hell works in that business?? But whoever does, must know a bit about GPSing.

Running Through Phoenix said...

Tee hee hee heee BOOTY SHORTS!! hee heee heeeeee heee hee heee tee hee heee.

The Sean said...

excellent point! not Boring at all though.

TRI-james said...

I just looked up the Mardi Gras marathon - I ran 26.35 - we were only off by 0.01 in distance.

Rad Runner said...

Ya know, after reading an article and running this weekend, and looking at my garmin from my s.f. race, weaving around dog poo, around runners, and over cars, adds some mileage?

Her Name is Rio said...

I've tried running tangents in past races - which is only doable when there's not too many people around you and you are conscious enough to do so. However, with my slower times, one would be hard pressed to find a difference. Maybe its a different story with elite speed. Another thing is that hills can throw off distances too for the satellites that Garmins use.

Colin Hayes said...

Yes, I try to run tangents. It isn't always possible, but I've noticed that many runners don't even try to!

Now, on to the important matter...how the h*ll did you manage to run 115.7 mph for your fastest speed? I want whatever you were injecting.

Chris K said...

Ditto what Colin said. It's impossible to run 26.2 miles. If using a race pace calculator, I always increase my per mile pace 3 seconds to account for my untangellical ways. And, I train accordingly.

track coach and adorable wife said...

I had never even thought about it. i suppose that's what happens when a sprinter tries to run long distance. Thanks for the post!

Bradatuud said...

I've had 26.19 on my garmin before. And also 26.5. I run the tangents, but garmin isn't perfect. Plus, I pee........

Shelly said...

I run the tangents, but frankly, I'm sure it is purely psychological for me. While I'm doing it, I'm "thinking" about how smart I am and how much shorter a path I'm taking. Hey, whatever gets me through to the finish!

64 CLASSIC said...

Running the "tangents" is a must!! I was taught this one by a Marathon VET. I believe it is very effective depending on the course and curves.

I've cut to the inside many times and can tell a huge difference as I slide past people to my outside.

Its kind of like drafting on a bike in my opinion!!

kilax said...

I do not run the tangents, although I keep in mind that I am supposed to. I should really work on that, especially for the marathon!

kilax said...

Oh, P.S., what are you supposed to do if people are in your way and you cannot run the tangent because of them? I have wondered that.

sRod said...

I try to run tangents, but if there are lots of curves, you can't hit all the tangents--and if you're in a pack even worse. Also, USTAF requires that ALL courses are slightly longer than the advertised distance, so that even people that hug corners will meet the required distance.