A blog by runners. For runners.

Don't hate the race, hate the pace

It's easy to do – you're running a race and things aren't going right, you get to the end and look at your GPS and see that the race was too long and feel justified for the way you feel. But don't be so hasty to email the race director, especially if you're running in a city like Chicago with long underpasses and skyscrapers.

A Bridge too Far

Last year in Chicago it turns out the Chicago Distance Classic was an extra half mile than the 13.1 so they adjusted the times accordingly to help people trying to qualify for Chicago Marathon, so this year people were anxious to see how the race measured up under the Rock n Roll brand.

The New Rock n Roll

The race starts in Grant Park, a nice open space but within a quarter mile we go underground for a quarter mile to just before the river. From there we proceeded up to Grand, down Rush to Hubbard then down State Street back into the loop. As you can see from the first WalkJogRun screenshot, this clocks in at 1.6 miles from the pedestrian bridge over Columbus around to Calhoun Place.
The second screenshot shows the points recorded by Garmin 305 GPS. It clearly shows the route up Columbus until we hit the Aon Center (the start of the underpass) and it's pretty clear the GPS is beginning to make guesses about where I'm heading ;-) You'd expect any device relying on satellites to struggle to gain line of sight in this environment! It's basically a quarter mile tunnel so it places me on the parallel street stetson and predicts I've even crossed the river! As you emerge at the other end of the tunnel by the river it quickly snaps back to Columbus as it finds the missing satellites again and we're fairly good from there but note the “wiggling” of the route. It's a small variance but I promise I wasn't drunk or weaving around my fellow race goers – just interference caused by the tall buildings of downtown.
The bottom line is that within what should have been 1.6 miles the Garmin is out by 0.69 miles reporting 2.29 miles vs actual. Fortunately the rest of the race through the loop is on wider streets so the variances decrease and by mile 4 we're heading out of the downtown area heading south on Lake Shore towards Hyde Park where the sky is mostly open (except for a few underpasses under McCormick Place). The actual Chicago Rock n Roll 2009 Half Marathon route is mapped out at WalkJogRun if you need to see the actual course without the wiggles.

Go with your gut

So what can you do? I was using this race as a training run for the Chicago Marathon so I wasn't digging for a PR and decided to listen to my breathing. If it was too labored I slowed down, if it was too easy I picked it up and continued this way until around mile 8. I looked at my time at each mile split and realized I had been maintaining my desired pace anyway – a very natural pace for me. It's a great feeling to be letting go of my reliance on my GPS and other gadgetry. I even ditched my iPod this year and it's been very liberating. After mile 8 my GPS was giving good readings and I felt so good I picked up the pace for the last 5.2 miles of the race to finish just 2 seconds slower than last year when I was pushing hard, but I felt so much better this year.

WalkJogRun iPhone App

Given the story above I wanted to turn back to our iPhone Application, WalkJogRun Routes. We get a lot of requests about incorporating a GPS route mapper into the iPhone application and I understand why. There are a couple of other companies who have added GPS tracking centric apps and they've sold a lot of copies. Understanding how a dedicated device struggles to track your route and your pace, it's obvious that a device with an embedded GPS would be useful but not accurate. If you're a slave to the data you get out of your GPS or iPhone you'll be disappointed by the accuracy. If you're the kind of person who is just curious, you'll be happier but very few will be satisfied.
We held off on our GPS embedding for this reason – accuracy on the website is a big priority and hence the iPhone app strives to maintain that integrity. We believe that if we can show you a route wherever you are and give you an accurate distance, you have everything you need to run. We also got a lot of feedback that tap to zoom on a route wasn't what people expected but the truth is, we tried pinch to zoom and it just wasn't as easy to accurately zoom in on the point of the map you need versus a single tap, so we made that choice. Another factor was the responsiveness of using static maps, which was our only option for the first release. We're working on using the embedded google maps so once that is done, we'll have a better option, but again – accuracy for us is key.
How do you train? Obsessive about your gadgets or a natural born runner happy to follow your gut?