Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are runners too particular about numbers?

Coaches preach, present company included, about the specificity of runs.  “Make your easy runs easy and your hard runs hard.”  “Make every run count!” “If you run so hard you puke and you stop your garmin, you’re cheating!!!!” So, it should come as no surprise that runners are a bit specific on their measurements. For example, I can tell you that I ran 8 miles at 7:07 pace on Monday. Furthermore, I ran back and forth in front of my house to make it an even 8.00 miles… lest I run some insane amount like 7.92mi. Blasphemy. Over the weekend I got to thinking on how particular runners are – and if it matters in the long run.

You see, this weekend I had a surprising number of friends racing Ironman Chattanooga.  (Let me be clear, for as much running as I do, I think doing an ironman is completely crazy – in an amazing / awe-inspiring way.) It seems like it was a good day to slog through 140.6 miles as a number of them had great races. But wait…. the course actually WASN”T 140.6 miles.  It was 142.6 – a full 2 bike miles longer than it was expected to be. (There were actually rumors that it was going to be FOUR miles longer than normal.)  For the average ironman, this would increase their time by over 6 minutes or more.  In a sport where carbon fiber jock straps and helmets that look like sperm are the norm, I’m really surprised I didn’t see spandex clad triathletes with carbon fiber pitchforks trying to skewer anyone with a clipboard who looked like they had authority.

If a marathon were any longer than 26 miles 385yds runners would certainly flood to facebook to vent their frustrations, clear plastic homeland security approved gear check bags raised above their heads in silent protest. But, to be fair, some aspects of running are indeed “flexible” with the distance where needed – 100 mile runs are usually around 102-4 miles.  But, by far the vast majority are accurate down to the last meter. If they are not, runners are the first to complain about it.  As evidence of this, stand by the finish line of any major half or full marathon and listen to exhausted runners piss and moan about how their GPS shows 13.3 or 26.7 miles.

So, the question that I had to ask self is “are runners just too particular about stuff”? Should we all take a big spoonful of “simmer down” and stop sweating the small things? I can’t seem to find if there was any sort of “adjustment” for the longer course. I doubt it.  When I ran the Denver marathon and the course was long, our official (and therefore Boston Qualifying) times were reduced by ~30 seconds.  So, the precedent is certainly there.



All told, I’m shocked that 1) this was allowed to happen and 2) it was (seemingly) not a huge deal. In the grand scheme of things, it was a very small percentage of overall distance and time, but in sports where seconds count I would think that people would do terrible things to save that kind of time.  Maybe runners could use a bit of perspective and not worry about the seconds and instead focus on the big picture? For my money, I’m going to keep running exactly 8.00 mile runs… but maybe I’ll go crazy and run without a garmin now and again (on a course where I know the exact distance…. I’m not a barbarian).

9 comments:

One Crazy Penguin said...

There was a pretty big uproar from what I could see when they announced that the course would be 4 miles long, but most people kind of took it in stride since it was for safety reasons. I was really impressed actually with how calmly people took the news. Especially since I am used to runner who freak the eff out!

flowersofmoss said...

I think the reason you're seeing the difference here is that triathlon is run by a different set of rules than running-only events. You qualify for Boston based on time, you qualify for Kona (or USAT Nats) based on your place in your age group. While there are definitely course differences in marathons, there is a general expectation that USATF has certified the course. But it's pretty much impossible to compare one triathlon to another. There are just too many variables! Even comparing one race year to year is questionable! So, yes, runners are obsessed with numbers, but I think triathletes are just as bad - the focus is just on something other than the race distance.

McV said...

I agree with the comment. I think the nature of the triathalon lends itself to being less nitpicky in generally. I just did my first tri a few weekends ago and I probably swam an extra 50 meters--is it the organizers fault that the surf was rough and accidently swam perpendicular to shore a bunch? Nope.

I am a naked running advocate...naked in the sense that I prefer running with just a stop watch, no music, no gps. I love a good stat (you should see my crazy spreadsheets for pacing my marathons for goal times), but I get really easily annoyed with people who I perceive a waaaaay to caught up in their garmin stuff. I will totally run in front of my house to make it an even 8 miles too, but I think if you're getting all shitty because the race was 13. 189 according to your OMG Garmin, you need to get over yourself. Life does not take place in a vaccuum and if the course is .087 longer than it's supposed to be, you need to relax and just deal. Don't get me started on people who adjust their times in races based on their Garmin time!!

Patty T said...

If you did want to see spandex clad triathletes with carbon fiber pitchforks trying to skewer anyone with a clipboard you should have been at the Ironman Tahoe two weeks ago. The race was cancelled about five minutes before the start due to a little 95,000 acre fire going on in the foothills that made the air hazardous to breathe. Some racers were understanding, others were beyond bitter that the race directors thought the conditions were to hazardous to race in.

JojaJogger said...

Come over to the darkside of ultrarunning where bonus miles (either due to sadistic RDs or getting lost) are the norm.

Sue's Ramblings said...

I'm also that anal and actually ignore my friends/group who finished and were waiting for the rest of us at the traffic lights when my Garmin said 15.84km! No, I had to make it an even 16km/10 miles. Oh wait, is 16km = 10 miles???? Or is there some decimal there? :P

Jamoosh said...

I seem to remember an uproar a few years back when one of the Chicago area marathons was a mile or so longer than 26.2. The reality is that it is very hard to lay out a course that is exactly 26.2 miles and in fact, USTAF mandates that a course must be a minimum of 26.2 miles to be certified (or 3.1 or 13.1 and so on). So technically a course could be 30 miles and still be labeled a marathon and be official... I once ran a half marathon that was 13.7 miles. Why? Because the race director thought it would be cool if everyone had to run to the top of the giant bridge and turn around instead of turning around a quarter mile earlier like we should have.
I don't follow too many blogs anymore, but I know that runners always complain about course length in their posts, no matter how close the distance was. So yeah, runners get bent out of shape all the time over course length.

Al's CL Reviews said...

D and I did a half last month where my Garmin finish was 12.87 and his was 13.3. We know we ran the same course. It probably had something to do with the tunnels, but still. I try to not let it bother me, but in my head I can't appreciate that I really did run at least 13.1 miles.

And yes, I'll run in front of my house to get to 8.00 miles too.

Running Through Phoenix said...

Adam, I see you've directed another blog post directly at me, so I'll take time to respond: I always feel if a course is short, that it may be considered a 'less-than' performance by all my followers (twss). So I would much rather the course be longer (she said that too but everyone was confused because it doesn't quite fit the template). Running naked is about electronics?? Please write back soon, your friend Jesse.