Mastering the Curves

When you sign up for a race, few things are more important than knowing the distance you are going to run. Whether you are planning to run a 5k or an ultra, it’s nice to know what you are getting yourself into before you actually commit.

If only it was this simple.

The first marathon that I ran was more or less a blur. The thrill of the run, the excitement of the crowd (it was a Disney race so there was a big crowd), and just the “I can’t believe what I just accomplished” feeling has washed a lot of the details away.

So in my mind, that 26.2 mile race was just that–26.2 miles.


The next year, I ran the same race and things were a bit different. I was hurt, so I probably shouldn’t have run. But I did my best and made it across the finish line before they picked the stragglers up in the bus, so it wasn’t a complete failure.

Upon inspecting my garmin, I realized that this 26.2 miles was actually more like 26.75 miles! WTF!?! As if a marathon wasn’t difficult enough, the folks at Disney decided I needed to run an extra half a mile in the process?

It goes without saying, I was pissed. (Mostly because my injury caused me to walk about 12 miles, but I couldn’t be frustrated at that. I’d be frustrated with the extended course instead)

I asked a friend who finished an hour or so ahead of me what her garmin said, and complained about the fact that Disney couldn’t measure a proper 26.2 mile course.

Then, she blew my mind.

“It’s All About the Curves”

Image by State Records NSW via Flickr

Image by State Records NSW via Flickr

She gave me a little bit of insight that I should have known, but being new to running at the time I didn’t even realize. When courses are measured, they are measured on the vector. Which basically means that all curves are measured on the shortest, most direct route.

So if you’re not running the inside of the curves, you’re running farther than the distance measured.

The Perfect Race

Every race I’ve run since, I’ve tried to run a perfect race.

Not perfect in terms of speed or finish time, but perfect in terms of distance. I’ve tried to hug the inside lanes of most turns, and cut quickly from one side to the other on S-turns.

Needless to say, this is virtually impossible as the other runners have an annoying habit of getting in the way. But it’s a fun challenge.

To date, the best I’ve done in a half is an additional .15 of a mile. Which, over a 13.1 mile course, is pretty close to perfect.

But it is still short of perfect and longer than the race distance. So my quest for perfection will continue.

Have Any of Your Ever Run a Perfect Race? What is the Biggest Additional Distance You’ve Ever Run in a Race?

Carol Marsh Kids 2 Camp 5k

This past weekend, my wife and I competed in a 5k race here in Lakeland.

Unlike the majority of 5ks in Lakeland, this one didn’t take place around Lake Hollingsworth. And while there is nothing wrong with running a race around Lake Hollingsworth, the different scenery/course was a very breath of fresh air.

Not only was the course new, but this was the first time that this particular race had been run. We ran in the 1st Annual, Carol Marsh Kids 2 Camp 5k, which was a fund raiser by First United Methodist Church to help kids attend summer camp. The opportunity to run a new race on a new course for a great cause was too much to pass up.

So I signed up.

The morning of the race was great, although some might argue that it was a touch on the chilly side. Temps were in the mid-to-high 50s, but the breeze was almost non-existent. While we were waiting for the race to begin, members of the church’s youth group praise band were singing songs out on the patio.

I had no plans of going very fast, but I have a hard time not giving it my all when I pin a race number to my shirt. So while a nice, easy 25-26 minute race was what I was shooting for, when the race started I took off a little faster than I had planned. When I got to the 1 mile mark and heard someone yell out 7:05, I thought maybe I should go ahead and push it a little bit. I hadn’t run a 5k in over 3 years, and 25 or 26 minutes would have been a PR anyway, so I kept my foot on the gas and went for it.

At 1 mile, I was cruising comfortably and in about 7th place overall. I was hoping to keep steady with the trio in front of me, and see if I could pick them off towards the end of the race. Instead, I got around all 3 of them before 1.5, and set my sights on the guy in 3rd, who was only a half a block in front of me. I passed him at about the 2 mile mark, and never looked back.

The two guys that were out in front of me were long gone, but I was pretty happy with the way the race was progressing. The last mile was a loop around Lake Morton before finishing back at the church. As I was going around the lake, I took a peek at my watch and knew I was in for a pretty good time. As I came to the final turn and last little bit up a (very small) hill, I accelerated as much as I could. When I crossed the line, I stopped my watch and was a surprised to see a 21:38. A few years ago, my goal was to one day be able to run a 5k in less than 24 minutes. I guess I took care of that.

My time was good enough for 3rd overall in the race (can anyone say slow field?), and 2nd in my age group, and for my efforts I got a pretty sweet prize. The kids in the Neighborhood Ministries program at the church were in charge of decorating the prizes for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers in each age group, and they decorated plates in whatever way they wanted to. Whoever decorated mine did a great job drawing a bunch of colorful spirals all over the plate, which really looks pretty neat.


Photo by The Wife

Plans are already in the works for next year, so I hope a few more people will be able to take part in the 2nd Annual Carol Marsh Kids 2 Camp 5k. I know I’ll be there.

I’ve got a plate to defend.