usaf.marathon@us.af.mil (800) 467-1823
Did I run too far?

GPS Devices
A few years ago, runners gauged how they were doing by their pulse and the feel of their body. Today, GPS watches and devices of all variations exist, helping runners to know their exact pulse rate and distance. You will find books and blogs about which device does what, the cost, and why one is rated better over another.
Garmin, Timex and TomTom are probably the most common brand names you will hear when runners talk about wearing a GPS device. All of those measure heart rate, distance, mile times, calories burned and more. The more expensive versions may tie into your phone and ring when someone calls you or notify when a text comes through. The device keeps you connected to what is going on with your body. Apple watch has come out with the ability to do all of that. Fitbit has their version. The list can go on for which does what.
Apps found in your phone are also a popular way of measuring distance. MapMyRun, Nike, Runkeeper, and Runners World are just a few of the plethora of free downloadable apps you will find that do nearly the same thing as the watches can do. With some of those apps you can even upgrade and get your heart rate and all of the same effects.
Honestly, we aren’t here to sit and tell you which one is best. We know all of them have pros and cons and GPS devices aren’t exactly our area of expertise. If it helps you accomplish your goal, then it’s a fit for you.
However, we do want to educate you slightly when it comes to GPS devices and the courses you run- be it the Air Force Marathon or another sanctioned course. This is information that many don’t really know or understand. So, we want to help educate you.
Our course is United States Track and Field (USATF) certified. That means a person who is certified by USATF comes out and measures each distance with incredible accuracy. Now, when most people run a course, their watch or device may end up reading 26.3 or 13.2, a distance close to the “real” distance of 26.2/13.1, but almost always it will be longer than your race distance. Therefore, quite often, you as the runner may think you ran farther than you should have or that the course was wrong. The truth is, when a course is measured, it is done so using the shortest route possible (because the lead runners will run the shortest way possible). Every curve is shortened, each cut, and each slight move that a runner could make is done so in the shortest possible manner, that way there is no arguing the distance when done by USATF standards.
Here is a small secret: most GPS devices measure long. It’s pretty difficult for a computer device to measure a distance so perfectly that it fits with what is true. Every lateral move you make as a runner, such as to pass a group in front of you or to run around someone who is slowing down or any other given reason, that lateral move becomes distance, distance that is not accurately measured, on your GPS device. It doesn’t matter if you make 1 or 10 of those in a race, it adds up. Whereas when it’s measured by USATF, the course is measured by a proven method that incorporates the calibration of measuring devices against a steel tape and is verified by multiple measurements. No GPS watch can match the accuracy of the USATF measuring standards. Therefore, your device may end up measuring long or short (though more often than not, it is long.) Also, by USATF standards, the course is measured twice for accuracy.
Don’t get us wrong- we believe in GPS devices as great tools for training and for race day. We believe they help runners train more efficiently than ever before. We are all for the multiple tools the devices offer (and if you ask us, most of us use them ourselves.) We simply are offering education in regards to the distance on a USATF certified course. We take pride in our accurate distance, as do all USATF courses.
So, whatever device you may use, hopefully it helps you train well. However, as you go into a race and the watch reads a little differently at the end, now perhaps you can understand why.