Pushing through PAIN

running is hard. running can be painful. when should you stop and when should you push through the pain?

running can be painful both mentally and physically. you may want to quit but you have to reach into yourself and find that mental toughness. if there’s anything i have learned while running, it’s that i need to address my pain head-on, assess it, and move forward. try not to linger on it.

i came across an article the other day about pushing through pain and i’d like to share some of it (6 Tips to Push Past the Pain by Christoper Percy Collier):
“As runners propel themselves forward, some measure of discomfort is normal (provided it’s not a sign of a serious issue). Muscles burn. Joints ache. Exhaustion sets in. However, research suggests that our pain threshold is not set at an unmovable level—that the mind can, to some extent, control it. “When I tell an athlete that they can adjust their pain level by using mental techniques, they’re amazed,” says Raymond J. Petras, Ph. D., a sports psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They often find that their performance increases dramatically.” The following mental tricks—recommended by sports psychologists and used by elite runners—will help you redefine your limits.”

there are various types of “pains” you may come across throughout your journey as a runner. let’s talk about a few.

THE PAIN: Feeling Sick in Anticipation of a Run
DEAL WITH IT: Remember Your Strengths
Researchers at the University of Illinois recently reported that athletes who believed they could tolerate leg-muscle pain performed better in a running test than those who doubted their ability to withstand pain. “Think of all the other challenging workouts and races you’ve done to remind yourself of how strong and capable you are,” says sports psychology consultant and marathoner Kay Porter, Ph. D., of Eugene, Oregon.
*remember how far you’ve come; this will take you even further than you can imagine

THE PAIN: Struggling Through Speed work and Tempo runs
DEAL WITH IT: Run With Purpose
Don’t dwell on how much you hurt. Rather, focus on your rationale for training. “Tell yourself, ‘I’m working this hard because…’ and then fill in your performance goal,” says Jim Taylor, Ph. D., a performance psychologist and sub-three-hour marathoner in San Francisco.
*you’re doing all these hard things for a reason- to make you a better runner

DEAL WITH IT: Repeat a Mantra
“If you connect pain with a negative emotion, you’ll feel more pain,” says Taylor. “Connect it with a positive thought, and you’ll feel less.” Create a positive affirmation you can call upon during tough bouts. It worked for Matt Gabrielson, who repeated “Go!” and “Do this now!” while racing the 2008 USA Marathon Championship and the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon — he placed second at both.
*one i’ve often use WHILE racing- “you’re tougher than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can”; i’ve even written my mantras on sheets of paper and kept them tucked away somewhere on me so that i can pull them out during the race if necessary

THE PAIN: Hitting a Low
DEAL WITH IT: Know It Will Pass
Seasoned runners like Michelle Barton (100k runner) know that pain not related to an injury is often fleeting, and this knowledge is sometimes enough to help ride out the unpleasantness. “I learned that the pain comes and goes, and so at future races I was ready for it,” she says. “I could take it because I knew what to expect.” During difficult moments, put the pain in perspective. Remind yourself that the discomfort is temporary, and each step forward is one closer to the finish. Research has even shown that pain is often purely in your head and not an accurate signal of physical distress. Keeping this in mind will enable you to push through the discomfort so you can run faster or longer.

THE PAIN: Long-Run Fatigue
DEAL WITH IT: Think of the Payoff
“Don’t get too emotionally involved with the pain or get upset when you feel it,” Taylor says. “Detach yourself and simply use it as information.” Ask yourself where the pain is and why it’s happening. And if it’s not related to an injury, then acknowledge that this could be an indication that what you’re doing is going to help you reach your goal. “Some types of pain tell you that you’re pushing yourself, that you’re getting better,” he says.
*the longer your runs get, the more you’re going to deal with fatigue. you’ll have pains but are they injuries? most likely, no. learn to tell the difference

THE PAIN: Gutting out a Hard Patch
DEAL WITH IT: Distract Yourself
“Focus on something else while also staying in the moment,” says Gabrielson. At mile 18 of the 2006 New York City Marathon, Gabrielson felt a pounding in his quadriceps. “I had to find a way to channel the pain,” he says. His solution? As he ran, he studied the faces of the people on the sidelines. Most of them, he recalls, were smiling, cheering him on. Focusing on the pleasure of others around him was just enough to take the edge off.
*run with music, focus on those people around you, play games in your head, whatever it takes to distract yourself from the current pain of running

Running your best often means going all out and suffering through some painful runs, but certain pains are warning signs you shouldn’t ignore.

-Sharp, sudden foot, shin, or hip pain that worsens as you run; this is different from a dull, aching pain that creeps up as you run- this is often going to be related to a weakness or tight muscle. a sharp, severe pain that stops you dead in your tracks is more indicative of an injury. this would require time off and a possible x-ray of the area.
*some pains will go away if you just assess your form. a lot of pains will come when your form gets lazy. before stopping, try to check your form and make sure you can’t alleviate the pain. if you’re unable to, then stop.

“Any pain that causes you to change your form should make you stop,” says Lewis G. Maharam, M. D., medical director of the New York Road Runners. ; if you’re limping, you make other parts of your body susceptible to injury.

hopefully this will help you to distinguish between pains you can push through and pains you cannot. just know YOU’RE TOUGHER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU CAN DO MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU CAN.

Marathon recap

i suggest you get comfy and plan to be here awhile. as long as it took me to run the damn race, it may be a long and rambling post!

i don’t even know where to begin. the marathon is truly nothing like anything i have ever experienced. i have always heard these famous quotes but they didn’t really mean much to me (now they do!):

“to describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind” jerome drayton

“marathoning is like cutting yourself unexpectedly. you dip into the pain so gradually that the damage is done before you are aware of it. unfortunately, when awareness comes, it is excruciating.” john farrington

“if you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. if you feel bad at 20 miles you’re normal. if you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.” rob de castella

“i was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. but it was the most pleasant exhaustion i have ever known.- emil zatopek

“the marathon is a 10k with a 20 mile warm up”- unknown

these quotes all hold a special place in my heart now. it’s truly the strangest and hardest thing i’ve ever done but also very rewarding.

ok, on to the race re-cap!

saturday night- 5:30 pm- dinner with julie, drew, keith, al and wheeler. i had pasta with a light sauce, a beer, chocolate cake, and lots of water. i’m feeling a little nervous but more anxious to just get it going.

we left dinner and went to the condo to get everything together and make our shirts- it was mine and julie’s birthday so we wrote our names on the front of our shirts and “birthday girl” on the backs- really smart idea, by the way. we got tons of “happy birthday’s” which was lots of fun. i laid out all of my goods for race morning- tights, sports bra, tank, pullover, knee wrap, ipod, fuel belt which consisted of 3 bottles of water and 1 bottle of accelerade, 4 bags of gu chomps (8 servings), inhaler, tissue, chapstick, race bib, shoes with d-ring attached……geez, that has got to be it!

10 pm- off to bed for a decent nights sleep.

sunday, 5 am- RACE DAY!! no crazy nerves yet; a couple of near emotional outbursts but i’m all business and just trying to make sure i’m following my plan.

5:30 am- eating an english muffin with peanut butter and drinking a liter of water. spent some time with the foam roller, wrapped my knee (which means that i have to have help getting my pants on because it’s so hard to get them over the knee wrap without screwing it up!)

6:30 am- out the door and headed to the race site. feeling pretty good. the weather was chilly- i’m guessing upper 40’s or low 50’s and fairly windy but perfect running weather.

6:45 am- dropped off and headed to our corral- #14. i’m feeling a little like i need to pee but i’m certain it’s just race day adrenaline. i’ll just hold it and surely it will go away once we get started. the corral is interesting. we are enjoying the people watching and time seems to go by pretty fast.

7:40 (approximately), the gun blew and off we went! aaaaaahhhhhhh! keith and drew rented bikes so we knew we would see them along the race course, first at mile 1.1- this is a super loopy course so by mile 1.1 we had already had 5 turns (that may not sounds like a lot but IT IS). yay! 1.1 miles down and we see drew and keith. woo hoo! throw our top layers to them and keep going.

no idea about time from here on out so i’ll have to switch over to mileage. also, i’m going to throw in keith’s texts to my sister, allison, throughout the day (they were fun for me to read after the race was over)

2.9 miles- 9 turns later! yay for keith and drew- they found us and are taking lots of pictures. we’re feeling good. i think i heard them tell us we’re going to fast. we’re not though 🙂 by now we’re filling the time with a game of counting “happy birthday’s” which is much more fun than counting steps and the other crazy things you do to make yourself not think about running. at this point, i’m sipping on accelerade and feeling good.

text from keith to allison: “update. saw them at mile 1 and 3. looked good. waiting at mile 7. perfect weather. 55 cloudy, small breeze”
response from allison: “good, when you see them at 7, will you text? was she nervous?”
keiths response: “not really. not as much as she should have been!!!!”
allison: “i can’t believe she’s running over 26 miles….i’m praying”
keith: “nutz”

ok, these are really funny for me to read later. not nervous?!?! you people really thought i wasn’t nervous? maybe i should take up poker!

4 miles- my first gu chomps- 4 (1 serving); good, they’re going down easily and i’m washing them down with water. i will continue to sip water throughout the next several miles- every 5 – 10 minutes i try to take a sip or 2.

7.2 miles- 17 turns later!!! geez people, i’m getting dizzy! there are keith and drew. it’s fun seeing them every couple of miles. we’re feeling pretty good. no idea what our pace is or time. i’m just trying to do what feels good. i have a pace sheet in my fuel belt with all of my splits for each mile but i haven’t even thought to look at it yet. we’re having fun. we’ve had dozens of “happy birthday’s” and even 1 full happy birthday song. i’m still having to pee so my thought that it would just go away was wrong. plus, this stupid fuel belt is pushing on my bladder. maybe it will go away. 4 more gu chomps and water…

text from keith to allison: “looked good at 7. weather still holding off. pray for no rain”

10 miles- 10 turns later. thank goodness the turns are lessening. my right knee is starting to act up a little. it’s not hurting as much as it’s just reminding me that it exists. i still have to pee but i’m so busy counting happy birthday’s that i’m trying not to think about it. we see keith, drew, and al! julie’s foot is hurting so she makes the decision to veer off with the half marathoners so we let our “crew” know we’ll be on 2 different courses soon.

text from keith to allison: “saw them at 10. star looked good. julie having foot pain. think she’s cutting it short at the half. star’s flying solo for the last 16 miles”
allison’s response: “wow”

10.7 miles- half marathon / marathon split. julie and i say our “goodbye’s”, fight back tears, and go our separate ways. so, here’s where i had my first emotional moment. i just couldn’t believe that i had just taken the turn that the marathoners take. i’ve always taken the turn the half marathoners take and thought “oh my god, i could never do that. how are they going to keep going….” and now i’m that person. ok, star, don’t panic. you’ve got this! it was good emotional but it was definitely emotional. i had to fight back a few tears, got a pretty good burst of energy and just kept moving. 4 more gu chomps and a little water. i’m having a harder time drinking because i have to go to the bathroom so bad. i’m a little off schedule but that’s ok. i’m being careful.

so, now i’m on a pretty long stretch heading out of downtown. i had a feeling it would be several miles before i would see keith again. both earbuds go in, music is turned up and off i go. at this point, though, all i can think of is finding a porta potty.

the road i’m on is an out and back so i’m getting to see the marathoners on the other side of the street who are about to finish- i’m at 13 and they’re at 23. they’re looking pretty good. this is the 3:30:00 and 3:45:00 marathon groups. their pace is amazing. don’t get me wrong, they all look like they’re miserable but i’m seeing some serious athletes out there.

13.1- yay, i’m halfway there. what, i’m only halfway there?! this is a weird mile marker. should i be happy or scared that i’m HALFway there? i finally hit my ipod to hear my time- i think it was a 2:34:something- perfect- not too fast and not too slow. i’m exactly where i want to be. maybe 4 minutes slow but i don’t really care. all i care about is finding a bathroom.

15 miles- thank you Lord, there is a porta potty in sight. it’s across the street and i have to cross the marathoners who are on their way back in but i don’t care. off i go. relief! have to re-situate the fuel belt but i’m back on track. what a difference that made! i should have stopped miles ago. that was obviously not adrenaline.

ok, it’s getting harder and harder to remember what happens from here on out. i think i ate some more gu chomps around mile 15. i stopped at a water station and filled up 2 of my empty water bottles. it’s starting to get tough. i’m telling myself that i just have to get to mile 17 because then i can start counting backwards. i want to be in single digits for the miles i have left! my knee is being nice to me. my tibial stress fracture wakes up every now and then but it’s acting as a great supporter. my left hip (the one i was diagnosed with bursitis in about 7 months ago) is the devil on the course. i’m now feeling it with every step but determined not to let it stop me. i keep telling myself that it is nothing that is broken or that can’t be healed with some rehab over the next few weeks. i’ve got this!

17 miles- 9.2 miles to go!!! somehow, that doesn’t sound like much. granted, i’ve always heard the last 6 is harder than the first 20 but at least i can start counting backwards. no sign of keith. i know he’s probably panicking since he hasn’t found me yet. my pace is still great when i’m running but i’m having to walk the hills due to my hip. the pain is getting pretty bad so i’m trying to be gingerly with my footing and careful on the hills. my calves are now starting to cramp up pretty bad. people are all over the course stopping to stretch. i haven’t seen any bad casualties yet but i can tell they’re just around the corner. i know keith has some salt tablets for me so i’m hoping to see him soon. i cannot get dehydrated! i’ve probably burned over 3000 calories at this point and have lost a ton of electrolytes, even though i’m good about fueling.

i’m needing a boost of energy. starting to get a little sad that it’s been so long since i’ve seen keith. i’m running on the left side of the road and up, to the right, i see 3 people standing there with a huge bulldog, cheering people on. i run over like a crazy person, yelling “i have a bulldog and today is her birthday.” (it really was her birthday too!) luckily, they’re bulldog people so they were just as excited to hear it. they asked Georgia’s name and introduced me to Fred. i said i needed a big smooch from Fred for good luck so i took his cheeks in my hands and gave him some lip sugar and on my way i went. that was exactly what i needed! a big, slobbery kiss from a bulldog.

coming up on mile 18 or 19 (not sure) and there’s keith!!! soooo happy to see him. i jog over, stop long enough to take some salt tablets and fill him in on my aches and pains. i’m really getting worried about my hip and calves. i’m remembering how bad my dehydration cramps were in nashville and i just know that i won’t make it if that happens again. at this point, i’m still trying to run but really watch my form. it’s when i start to feel tired or lazy that i REALLY feel my hip. i think seeing keith allowed me the moment i needed to get a little emotional. i’m still holding it together but i can’t help but express my concern.

text from keith to allison: “mile 18. 3:35:00. cramping a little. just had a salt pill. she’s a little panicky but doing well”

i’m dying to see that 20 mile marker!

20 miles!!!! keith rides up beside me. “only a 10k left,” he says. oh really, only a 10k?! ok, maybe i’m starting to get a little cranky here. i am convinced this will never end. i finally got out my pace sheet and i’m surprisingly still on track. how in the hell is that so?!

i’m really starting to suffer and everyone around me appears to be in the same boat. i don’t know if this is good or bad. should EVERY single person look like they’re dying?! all of a sudden, every single thing on my body hurts. my blood hurts. my hair hurts. screw my hip. it’s the least of my concern at this point. i just want to finish. i AM NOT A QUITTER. i’m pulling it all out now. every mantra i can remember. i need it all.

21 miles- ok, 5 to go. i can do this. right?! yes, i can. it sucks but the course support is incredible. as the mileage increases, so does the cheering. everyone is pretty spread out so the supporters can read my name on my shirt. they are yelling for me as i run through the water stations. i eat some more gu chomps but am really starting to fight the nausea. i’ve already seen 2 people off to the side throwing up and i don’t want that to be me! my low back is killing me and i stop to walk but i hear one of the bands yell my name over the microphone. i have to run!

text from keith to allison: “mile 21. 4:16 and looking smooth! fingers crossed.”
allison’s response: “so close”
keith: “it is amazing how much everyone is slowing down. lot of pain out here”
allison: “i’m sure she’s dying. i can’t imagine.”

mile 22- i see keith and he reminds me that this is nothing more than the Cooper Young 4 Miler. i want to cry and am really fighting back tears. i give him my race belt and he massages my low back and legs for a minute or so. some people yell (jokingly) for us to get a room, which lightens the mood a little. ok, i’m going to walk it in, i guess. i literally can NOT make my legs run. nobody around me is running. people may as well have been crawling. i wonder if i should lay down in the road and nap. (maybe i was less “there” than i thought!?) i stop at the next water station and take a full cup of cytomax. i’ve officially decided i can’t handle any more “food” so i’m switching to sports drinks only. no water, only sports drinks.

mile 23- see keith again. stop to talk for a minute. how in the hell can this be so painful? what hurts? i have no idea what hurts. maybe i’m just tired. maybe i’m delirious. this sucks but i’m not a quitter. i’m running. off i go. i’m going to run the last 3.2 miles. i can do that. sounds easy, huh. i’m running. i feel like i’m flying because i’m passing everyone. people are weaving all over the road so i’m just moving in and out. i was probably doing a 14 minute mile- who knows- but it felt great to be running; mentally, not physically. i have every intention of running it in but we take a turn and DAMNIT there’s a freaking hill. i can’t do it. i’ll walk the hill and start running at the flat.

text from keith to allison: “passed mile 23. walking and hurting bad. she didn’t know i was behind her but she has been running solid for almost a mile. passing tons of people. hard core!”
allison: “she’s almost there”

mile 24- right at the top of the hill- perfect! i start running again. i’m sooo tired and cannot find mile 25. where is mile 25? WHERE IS MILE 25?? i have started walking again and am starting to freak out that i feel like it’s been 30 minutes since i was at 24. have i gone into a time warp? keith rides up beside me- “where the hell is 25?”, i ask. he rides up ahead to look for it. he keeps riding and riding. apparently we both missed it. it must’ve been at a water station or somewhere that was kind of chaotic. i see a sign that says “you’re no longer a runner, you’re a marathoner” and i tear up. i think i may be losing my mind.

all of a sudden, i’m running by the side of the alamodome. i see keith and he yells “this is it.” “what, i’m done? i missed 25?! thank God! this is it! i’m about to finish my first marathon!!” so, off i ran.

mile 26- yay! .2 miles to go- 3 or so minutes. i can do this. turn a corner, and see a complete uphill. no way i can run it. i try and my hip is fighting me. i walk the hill as fast as i can and as soon as it flattens out, i run. i see the finish!!!!!

mile 26.2- DONE!

text from keith to allison: “finished. she ran a f*c*ing marathon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

i have to wind through the finish area before i can get to keith but there he finally is! now come all the emotions! i’m just so tired i just want to sit down. i threw on a pullover, plopped down on the concrete, took my shoes off and laughed at how i just gave myself the worst birthday present ever 😉

so, not the time i wanted but i can’t really beat myself up. i knew, going into this, that i wasn’t as prepared as i wanted to be since i had to take 7 weeks off but i was determined. it took me a little more than 2.5 hours to complete the first half and about 3 hours to complete the second half. oh well. i lost a lot of time on those last 6 miles but i still finished. i’m cool with that. i can happily say, i feel injury free. pain and injury are 2 totally different things. i felt pain i have never felt and am exhausted but i know i’ll be out there running again soon. i’ll be bringing my new found respect for the roads with me when i come.

i highly recommend the marathon for anyone out there. i remember a sign i saw along the way- “pain is temporary but pride is forever.” to understand it, you have to do it! any takers?

Happy Feet

monkey feet. birthday feet. ugly feet. call them what you want; i think they may be happy feet eventually.

let me start this by making it super clear that i am a total skeptic. i am analytical and love research. you have to really prove to me that something works or is beneficial before i’m just going to believe you. i need data.

ok, on to my feet. early this year (april), i ended up at the chiropractors office for a bad case of bursitis in my hip. side note- i was a complete skeptic about chiropractors until i got to my last resort and caved in and realized that he is great and really helped me- i love my chiro; he specializes in sports injury rehab and prevention- perfect for me. after lots of physical analysis, which mostly involved my hips and glutes, he moved on to my feet. “you wear stability shoes?”, he asked (with a bit of confusion in his voice). “i sure do and i love them”, said with utmost confidence (and maybe a little defensiveness). see, my brooks adrenaline proved to me, 6 years ago, that they were a good shoe for me so i became a dedicated wearer. according to my physical assessment, even though i have very flat feet, i have really strong foot to ankle and ankle to knee stability (naturally), therefore maybe my stability shoes (often given for flat feet) may be a little too much. he described my situation to me as always having my feet in braces and never giving them the chance to strengthen themselves. he didn’t suggest switching shoes too quickly but suggested that i do some exercises while barefoot and maybe eventually transition to a neutral shoe.

a few weeks later i went to a Mizuno running lab. obviously skeptical because this is not Brooks but i’m also pretty open minded. i went in and with lots of authority told the running shoe expert that i was pretty sure i needed to be in a neutral shoe. not so fast, missy! he watched me run and walk and said he would put me in a lightweight stability shoe because my feet seem weak. ok, does this sound to you like we’re fixing the problem or masking the problem? helllloooo; masking!

ok, on to august of this year and i was in a yoga class. fortunately the class was taught by a friend and is led in a very casual manner. we’re halfway through the class and yogi says, “star, what are you doing with your feet?” “well, standing on them, i think.” we were just doing standing mountain pose so i’m thinking, what could i really be doing with my feet other than standing on them?! no, that’s wrong. you’re still USING your feet. not me. my arches apparently collapse into the floor. my yogi friend said, “i can’t believe you don’t have a ton of foot pain while running.” well, guess what; i do!

so i started researching TONS of exercises to do to strengthen my arch and foot in general. everything kept taking me back to barefoot running and the Vibram Five Fingers (pictured above). now, like i said, i’m a total skeptic but after loads and loads of research, i really get the theory of strengthening your feet and you can’t do that if they’re always in a brace. i’m a personal trainer, for goodness sake. i, of all people, should have gotten this sooner. if you hurt your knee, we will brace it, but we will work hard to get it out of that brace and strengthen all muscles that have anything to do with it. we should be doing this with the feet too.

don’t get me wrong. i’m not about to go for a run in these. running 1 mile in vibrams without training in them would be like going and running 10 miles with no training- not smart. you have to really condition your feet and work slowly into these- walking a few minutes at a time a few times a day. i don’t know that i’ll ever attempt to run in them (still a bit unsure of distance while essentially barefoot!) but i plan to be that weirdo at the grocery store, gym, or wherever that people stare at because of these weird things on my feet.

i’m not delusional. i know they are really ugly but i’m willing to sacrifice my wonderful fashion sense (i know you’re all picturing my florescent green leg warmers) for healthy, happy feet 😉 i’ll keep you posted!

GPS discrepancies

as much as i LOVE my nike plus, i also know that technology isn’t always fool proof. i run with plenty of people who have garmins, nike sport bands, nike plus, etc. and i often hear about the discrepancies of the distances.
anyway, keith came across a great article and we wanted to share it with y’all. it’s long but its worth reading.
(picture above is from Wades Big Adventure 8 mile trail race- keith and mary allison- just wanted to share it!)
see below:
In GPS We Trust:
Runner threatens law suit over course measurement disagreement. (True Story)

Picture yourself running your best half marathon ever, at least according to your GPS you are. You can hear the crowds welcoming now, and you are dreaming of a personal best at just under 1 hour and 44 minutes. But your time comes and goes

and still you are running towards the 13 mile mark. How could this be? Your GPS is state of the art and accurate to the nth degree.  Your GPS just said you finished 13.1 miles.  You paid almost $200 for this device, it has to be accurate! You grit your teeth and finish strong, but your personal best has long passed by. Where’s the race director you ask? This course is SO LONG! ! ! I logged 13.3 miles on my GPS.

After a fashion, you lodge your complaint and go home, but later you think again. I paid my race fee it should be the correct distance, why should race directors get away with this. I am so sure my GPS is accurate!  After getting an email message from the Race Director that the course is indeed sanctioned by the USATF and certified you are still not convinced. You blast the race director and threaten to sue for the race fee, you even call the race timer up and instruct him to correct your time to the “real” time you ran for the 13.1 mile distance. (Real  story)

Which is more accurate: A certified course that is wheel measured, or your GPS? Or in truth, how far do I really have to run before I can see the Beer tent?
Read and reach your own conclusion.
USATF Certified Courses – How accurate are they?
The short answer is very accurate to within 1/10 of one percent
Any race worth its salt has a USATF certified course. USATF course measurement procedures are designed to insure that the actual distance for a race is at least the advertised distance, meaning “not short”; by USATF standards, it should be accurate to within one tenth of one percent when compared to a known accurate course. Over the span of 5km (16,404 feet), that would be about 16 feet. USATF certified courses also have a one tenth of one percent correction factor added (ie. 1 meter added per 1,000 meters) to insure that they are not short. The correction factor that is added to a 5km is 16.4 feet (5 meters). (USATF Site on course measurement)
So all “Accurate” courses are actually a tiny bit long???  YES!
Courses can be certified as accurate when they are measured according to stringent USATF measurement criteria. Once an accurate measurement is completed, and an application is submitted to the USATF Regional Certifier, a certificate of accuracy is issued.  A certified course will be assigned a specific certification code to it like NH10030RF for our Smuttynose Rockfest half marathon. Using the procedures developed by the USATF Road Running Technical Council (RRTC), the course measurement is done using a special (Jones/Oerth) counter that is installed on a bicycle. Note, the manual for measuring courses is 87 pages long!
Who pays for courses to be measured and how is it done?
(Long ago, courses used to be measured with a car’s odometer, maybe that’s why all my old personal records are so fast?)
Race directors pay to have race course certified according to USATF standards.  Using a calibrated bicycle, the official course certifier rides the exact course multiple times and carefully takes each corner and rides each tangent. Measurement requires at least 2 rides over the entire length of the course, often more.
To measure a road race course, you cannot use a standard bike or car odometer.

Instead, a highly accurate device called a Jones-Oerth device is required. This is a mechanical counter that mounts on the front wheel of a bicycle and shows a series of digits in a row, just like a car odometer reading. Each digit it registers represents only a fraction of a bicycle wheel revolution, so we call this a  “high resolution” measurement: it is very sensitive. One bike wheel revolution may increment the Jones-Oerth counter 3-4 counts per foot. Since the number of counts that the device registers varies according to the wheel diameter, the certifier will see how many counts it takes to ride a known accurate course (calibration course). 

How does this device work? (This part will not be on the final, but may be in a quiz later)
For example, if the Jones-Oerth device registers 4,000 counts on a 400 meter calibration course, then we calculate that it must be registering 10 counts per meter that day (4,000 divided by 400 equals 10). Further calculating tells us that we would need to show at least 10 times 5000 (50,000) counts if we were to measure out the appropriate distance for a 5000 meter race.  (5000 meters is the same as 5km.) Because there is always a margin of error when measuring, USATF requires that 1 meter per km (5 meters in this case) be added onto the course, or 50 more counts on the Jones-Oerth device. Therefore, when measuring from finish to start along the intended road race course, the Jones-Oerth device should register 50,050 counts on those days when we get 4,000 counts per 400 meter calibration course ride.

Why is this so accurate?
What makes the use of the Jones-Oerth device significantly different from a bike or car odometer – or even GPS  is that the Jones-Oerth device has t

o be calibrated every day that it is used or else it is not official and accurate. One issue with  the Jones-Oerth device is that it usually register more counts on a cool day than it would on a hot day. On a hot day, the bicycle tires expand enough to increase the wheel diameter (and consequently the circumference, the distance of one wheel revolution). This causes the Jones-Oerth device to register fewer counts per 400 meters on those hot days. The amount of air pressure in the tires, a high pressure or low pressure weather system, direct sun, cloudiness, and road temperature will all affect the number of counts which the Jones-Oerth device registers that day on the calibration course. The weight of the rider and his or her equipment on the bike will also affect the number of counts which the Jones-Oerth device registers. The certifier must calibrate and check the device on a track or with a steel tape measure before AND after the course measurement to remove any chance of errors caused by changes in the atmosphere or tire pressure.

How is the measurement performed?
Measuring the course is a painstaking, labor intensive and sometimes dangerous process that can take hours.  Normally, the certifier drives the course first with the race director to become familiar with the curves and sections of the course. After surviving that drive, two or more rides are done of the course using the calibrated bike and riding the tangents on the road. (Many thanks to our certifiers who risk life and limb to do this)
The first ride lays out the length, and the second ride verifies and checks the length. The length measured for each ride must compare to less than 0.08 percent to be a valid measurement.If they don’t compare, additional rides must be done until a valid course length can be established.

Each ride must also follow the shortest possible path that an experienced runner would follow. This means staying within 1 foot of the edge at corners and curves and following tangents to take the shortest path between opposite (“S”) curves.
Certainly, on some courses, restrictions are applied that determine the edges of the course. For example, runners are often limited to one side of a roadway and

the measurement takes that into consideration. But, you’re not done yet. After measuring the course, the bicycle must be calibrated again. This accounts for temperature changes, which affect the tire pressure and the accuracy of the measurement. If the count per foot is greater for this second calibration, then the course needs to be adjusted for the new count.
A certified course provides an accurate course that runners can rely on to compare times and efforts against.  Performed in a professional manner, course certifiers insure that you are running an accurate course from week to week and race to race. The objective of a course measurement is to provide the most accurate measurement of a course taking the shortest possible course using a procedure that can be repeated for accuracy and consistency to within a very small margin of error.
GPS Accuracy Fact, Fiction and Common Sense.
How does a GPS compare when measuring race courses.:
The short answer is: A GPS measurement is often not nearly as accurate as a wheel measured course. The normal wrist-held or recreational devices

are accurate to anywhere from 3 meters to 10 meters 95% of the time causing them to often report longer distances on an accurate measured course. There are many other issues that prevent a GPS measurement to be as accurate.

There is a tremendous amount of information on the web related to GPS accuracy and very long descriptive accuracy statements made by different manufacturers. One would think that with all the technology of satelites and computers and software algorythms that the GPS is far more accurate than the old fashioned bike measurement method. Think again.
A little background: To determine an object’s location, the GPS sy

stem must receive a radio signal from at least three satellites, preferably four.. Since each satellite emits a unique signal, the receiver can then match the signal to the satellite and its orbital position. This is called triangulation. Distance from the receiver is then calculated (for each satellite), and from that data, the receiver accurately calculates its geographic position.
What affects the accuracy of a GPS?

Aa comprehensive comparision of all commercially available GPS devices is beyond the scope of this article. However, many runners use a leading brand, Garmin and the stated current specification using the latest WAAS is 3-5 meters. However that is only for 95% of the time. the other 5% of the time,your GPS may be off as much as 10 meters or more.
10 Meters off, that doesn’t seem like a lot.
(Check again – Thats as much as 30 FEET PER READING)
There is a general misunderstanding of what a GPS device is.  People have a picture in their mind that it follows your path like a traditional wheel.  The image being of a consistent and continuous line being drawn along the path that you run.
FICTION: Your GPS measures the same path you are running.
Not so. Instead your GPS records a series of reading that can be plotted on a chart. So instead of a constant line it is a reading every 1 to 20 seconds. These d

ots are to the left or right or you or front or back. See chart below. According to the MANUFACTURERS Spec… 95% of the time that dot is within 10 feet or 3 meters. (not that close really when you think about it.)
To better illustrate, let’s just say your GPS is very special Border Collie that will run with you anytime, anywhere. Like any well trained dog they run right next to you, or within 10 feet 95% of the time, but 5% of the time, they see a squirrel and chase it just for a short time. Or they run through a large puddle up to 30 feet away. But like a good dog they start and finish right with you.
GPS – Connect the Dots if you can

The reality is that your GPS plots all those points of the Collie’s path. This series of dots are connected make lines.  To measure distance it simply plays connect-the-dots and adds up the total difference between those points. 

The second (and bigger) problem is the accuracy of those dots.  Garmin’s web site itself states the following: “Garmin® GPS receivers are accurate to within 10 meters on average.”  

The image to the right shows what happens 95% of the time. So the result is that your GPS can read your path as weaving 10 meters in either direction, when you are actually moving in a straight line.
More Issues with Accuracy: Skip this part if you are already convinced!
GPS accuracy is affected by a number of factors, including satellite positions, noise in the radio signal, atmospheric conditions, and natural barriers to the signal. Noise can create an error between 1 to 10 meters and results from static or interference from something near the receiver or something on the same frequency. Objects such a mountains or buildings between the satellite and the receiver can also produce error, sometimes up to 30 meters. The most accurate determination of position occurs when the satellite and receiver have a clear view of each other and no other objects interfere.

Obviously, mountains and clouds cannot be controlled or moved, nor can interference and blockage from buildings always be prevented. These factors then, will affect GPS accuracy. To overcome or get around these factors, other technology, AGPS, DGPS, and WAAS, has been developed to aid in determining an accurate location. The net result can be best described by a study by Michael D. Londe PHD summary below.

”It could be conservatively stated that at best these types of receivers are accurate to 8m to10 m at 95% confidence. This set of tests has concentrated on Garmin recreational receivers. Tests that have been run on other brands of recreational receivers have yielded similar results.” (1)
Runners just run….race and have fun.. stop checking your GPS every tenth of a mile! ! !
What other factors affect measurements using a GPS
Not only is the GPS not accurate enough for a true reading but runners on a course are not able to run the exact shortest distance due to a number of factors including:
1. Courses with lots of turns often create longer GPS readings.  Runners in a race can try to run the tangent or the shortest possible line on a corner, but often other runners are in the way, or traffic prohibits them from doing this sa
2. fely.
3. Water stops and other excursions from the course will make your GPS report a longer difference
4. Not starting the GPS at the start line, often the runner starts the GPS before the start in the corral
5. Inexperience with the course.  If you are running a course for the very first time, you are not able to pick the best tangent or shortest line since you have limited knowledge of the course
6. Runners often choose to run on the softer side of the road, or on the cant of the road that feels best.
7. Runners almost never run in a straight line, they make hundreds of small adjustments in a race left and right.  Try this test, run 10 miles hard on the roads, now go to a track and try to run following exactly on the white line for 3 miles.  You will find yourself wandering ever so slightly.
8. Runners are more focused on “running the race” and over time become tired and more focused on finishing.  Professional certifiers ride smoothly along on a bike with little of no discomfort to distract them.
So, I just bought this $200 GPS and you are saying it’s not accurate??
Your GPS is a great tool for workouts, for figuring out approximately where you are in a race and for elevation and pacing charts.  The object of this site is to contrast the two measuring means, a wheel measured certified course and a recreational GPS device.
“So, whereas the phenomenon of GPS technology has added some unique, valuable and fun aspects to running, and races, they are not as accurate at measuring a course as the standard wheel measuring method,  especially when the course has lots of turns.” Dave McGillivray (Ask the Race Director, BAA Boston Marathon RD)
Here’s a standard of proof anyone can try.
Find a good track at a University. Set your GPS and go for a 5K run.  Remember to run precisely next to the white line in the first lane.   The actual measurement of  400 meter track That would be a boring 12 and a half laps.  (Start at the 200 meter mark and run to the start line, now do 12 more laps)
You have just run the most accurate 5K course you can find. Now go to your computer and pull down the results.  Check your results. Now plot your points on a chart. This is a 5K course with 25 corners, your chart will not show a perfect oval.   It will show an oval with points going way inside the track and way up in the bleachers.
Common Sense:
If it were just so easy to certify a course by running or biking on it using a GPS, race directors worldwide would be adopting this method. Alas, it is not that easy or accurate. Some certifiers in the UK are actually trying to do this. but so far no luck. Certified professions whose sole job is to measure and certify a course using stringent calculated methods developed over tens of years have a much better chance at getting extremely close to the actual race course distance required.
Math being my strong point, lets look at a final ingredient, That 1:44 marathoner ran for about 6,240 seconds. Over that period if his GPS samplied every 5 seconds that will provide 1,248 samples over a half marathon course. The certifier will record 211,290 points or clicks on the counter over the same course – or almost 200 times as many.
Courses measuring short: Note from our great course measurer Ron “I’ve used a GPS while measuring and found that tree cover will affect the distance measured. When running a path with several turns in a heavily wooded area, the GPS looses satelite information, and when out from under the trees, and satelite info is again available, the GPS assumes that you traveled a straight line from where satelites were lost and regained– hence a shorter route.”
(1) Baseline Accuracy Assessments of Garmin Recreational GPS Receivers
Michael D. Londe, Ph.D.
Geodesist, Information Management and Technology Group

Post Op Setback

when we thought we were on the road to recovery, poor little Georgia developed an infection in her left knee. she is acting fine and, as you can see from the picture above, even felt well enough to dress up for Halloween. unfortunately, how she has been acting isn’t necessarily indicative of what is actually going on in that little leg of hers.

we took her to her surgeon on wednesday because we were concerned that her left leg doesn’t seem to be healing as quickly as the right. the incision is not closing up and is still quite red. he diagnosed her with an infection and now we wait.

he cultured her and we’re waiting to find out how deep the infection is. if it’s superficial, the antibiotics she’s now on should take care of it. if the infection is down to the plate, we’ll have to discuss our next move.

fingers crossed that it’s superficial and she can one day get back to her normal days of sleeping on the couch and bothering all of the dogs in the neighborhood!