I looked at the runner's watch face, moments after he finished his marathon. He made his goal of under three hours. But to me something felt very wrong.
Late-December clouds, drizzle, and mist might have affected the ability of his Garmin 310XT (the same model I use to measure, train and race) to communicate clearly with the constellation of satellites; it's happened in the past.
Chuck depended on the 310XT for feedback and pace guidance because he was running solo, without benefit of escort vehicle or bicycle on which to gauge his effort. He told me he tried to do the mathematics throughout the run in order to figure out whether he'd make his goal of seven sub-three-hour marathons in seven days. I could see he was not confident of repeating the feat over the next six days, not without accurate feedback outside of his own physiological data.
I drove home and began to walk through the interrogation points I normally give to a GPS user after a race on a course I've measured:
Was he at the exact start line when the horn went off? Yes.
Did he run the shortest possible distance for the entire run? Outside of six-to-eight stops at the outside edge of the track for fluids, he "bloodhounded" the inside lane line.
Did he stop his unit at the exact finish? Most likely; at the worst he stopped it no more than ten meters past the finish mark.
The issue wasn't that his GPS unit registered a distance that was longer than the standard marathon of 26.21876 miles, or 42.195 kilometers. I knew that was going to happen. It was that the GPS unit registered a distance that was much longer than the standard marathon.
An error rate that approaches five percent definitely exceeds my comfort zone. At that point all I could do is start interrogating myself. I've made a mistake, but WHERE?
Maybe on the mathematical calculations? I've been caught with bad calculations in the past, which can cost a day to two days' worth of work, depending on the race distance. I used to use a hand calculator and word processing document in the past to complete my measurement paperwork but quickly learned the joy of Excel spreadsheets. Once you develop a good spreadsheet formula the paperwork turns into "plug and play."
Also, I've had the pleasure of a second measurer in the past two months, as well as the course certifier, looking at my calculations.
The only thing left was to take a look at my calibration. When I first planned the job I was going to do it in kilometers rather than miles; the track was a 400-meter track, so 42.195 was (so I thought!) going to be more simple than doing feet and miles.
Boy, was I wrong.
Back home, I chewed hard on the data, even going out to take a look at my calibration course. It took only an hour of walking up and down the way for me to realize how badly I screwed up.
I punched up the correct data, went back to speak with the race director, and told her I owed Chuck an apology. She understood it was an integrity issue; it took courage to come out and admit the mistake and to fix it as quickly and efficiently as possible. And I guess she was right. I could have let ego, arrogance and even fear force me to keep my mouth shut.
Small-scale misjudgments - whether as a measurer, a coach, or as a runner - may not drastically affect short-distance races, but can be disastrous when it comes to races like the marathon. Think very carefully about all of the training details, because it's the small one that's most likely going to be the most costly.