That Damn Course

on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 8:36 PM

So two weekends ago, I had to do some duties at the High Park Running room as part of the SWTM tune-up runs which I'm going to be pacing again this year.  This allowed me to run down by the lake again which was the first time I've been down there since the marathon.  I realize now that looking back at my race, I knew at the 28k mark that the markers were f?cked up and I should have adjusted at that point to using the painted lines on the trail to mark my time, rather than rely on the signs.  By the 28k mark, we're on the MG trail and it would have been easy to look out for the painted lines on path that was maybe 10 ft wide.  When I reran part of the course, sure enough, there were clearly painted lines which wold have allowed me to figure out my pacing properly after the 28k mark.  Hindsight, 20/20.

Having had another few weeks to consider the race and in addition to the course being completely mismarked, I think it was actually long by a little bit. The big difference between the turnaround last year and this year which accounted for about a 200m difference was bothering me because that difference would easily have cut off 50-55 seconds off a marathon time, but having done a bit more research, it appears that the course in 2014 was short by 200m. Now that isn't to say that this year's course was accurate either, which I'll get to in a bit.

So how do I know this? I first started out by downloading marathon routes from Garmin Connect to compare this year's and last years route. There's a nifty little website that lets you plot the two routes and compare them against one another. Looking through the routes, there are a couple of differences. The first is the turnaround, which I already pointed out previously, the second is the stretch by Marilyn Bell Park where in 2014 the course took the northern path, whereas this year we took the southern path and the last is the stretch around King St.

King St - Pink(2015), Blue(2014)

Marilyn Bell Park - Pink (2015), Blue (2014)

Turnaround -Pink(2015), Blue (2014)

If you're interested in the whole route comparisons, you can see them here. There's also the 2013 course in there as well which I will get to in a bit.
The start was also slightly different in 2014. It was actually a bit further north, but it's only a minor difference so I'll let that slide.  So why the difference?  The actual route as it would turn out was the route that we ran this year (ie, the pink route).  In 2014, I'm pretty sure there were construction issues.  For example, I know that last year, the diagonal part on the King St. route that we ran this year was completely ripped up to install street car tracks so they had to detour the route by running a further block west. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is what caused them to adjust the start line since this would have added a bit more to the course which they tried to then remove from the start of the course. I'm not sure of the detour around Marilyn Bell Park, but I suspect it was construction also, but the difference between the two routes doesn't look that far off.  The big difference is of course the turn around where they lopped off a big loop.  I'm fairly certain that this was forced on them because there's a little foot bridge that I seem to remember being closed off which caused them to have to detour and cut off about 200m of the course. 

Now you're probably asking well how do I know that this year's was the right course, maybe last year's was the right course and they just made us run longer this year for no good reason?  Well no. There's a website that contains information on certified courses in Canada and the one from 2014 seems to indicate that the pink route is the correct route.  They show the diagonal running from King St and show the big looping turnaround and the fact that we were supposed to take the route by the lake (which we did).

Official Certified Course for 2014/2015 - Western Part

Turn Around -Actual
Turn Around - Theoretical

So yeah it would have been nice to run a 42.0 km full marathon in 2014 due to the fact that they had to cut the course short due to construction. I had started this little exercise in the hopes of being able to show that the reason I missed my goal time was because they made us run 200m longer than we needed to, but alas that doesn't appear to be so, but while looking at the certified course, something else jumped out at me, which was the section after the turnaround when we return to running on Lakeshore Blvd.

Lakeshore Avenue return
In 2014 (blue), the course cuts through the parking lot, whereas this year we had to run AROUND the parking lot.  If you look at the certified course, it shows the correct course was to cut through the parking lot. 
Cutting Through

I had previously remarked that I think they had laid out the markers based on the 2013 course, which is confirmed by this little tidbit.  In 2013, the turnaround was very different.  The course didn't actual cut through the park with the pentagon above. Instead, it ran over into the next park to the west and then ran north to Lakeshore Blvd. You can see the comparison in the GPS comparison or the 2013 Certified Course.  See more closely below.

Turnaround :Green(2013), Blue(2014), Pink(2015)

 This comparison also shows why the markers were 300 m early this year since the course ran a little further north from the start than it did in 2014 or 2015.

At the start: 2013 (green), 2014(blue), 2015 (pink)

My Goodlife race report had remarked that there were no 35k or 36k marker signs this year. I realize now that this was because they were placed for the 2013 course and those particular locations did not coincide with any part of the route this year. So there was no reason for us to run in the area of these markers and they went unseen. This also caused the detour around the parking lot since the placement of the 37k marker in 2013 was slightly different than it should have been this year.  In the 2013 course, the runners had returned to LakeShore Blvd by the 36k mark and so the 37k maker was also on Lakeshore which is born out by my GPS which shows I pushed the lap button on Lakeshore, above the parking lot.
Lap 27 corresponds to the 37k marker.

  However the 37k marker for this year SHOULD have been in the parking lot as seen below by this line painting which is consistent with the certified course route above which shows the cutting through the parking lot.  
Painted 37k marker, looking north toward Lakeshore

So I think what happened is that the course marshal who was responsible at that point saw the 37 km marker was on lakeshore blvd and naturally assumed that the runners must somehow detour to get there which means that they directed us to run around the parking lot rather than do what we were actually supposed to do which was cut through it.

I measured this out and this detour would have added about 20m to the course which at my expected marathon pace would have added 8 seconds onto my marathon time.  Since I actually finished 5 seconds over my goal time, this means that I SHOULD have finished 3 seconds under my time, IF THE DAMN COURSE WAS PROPERLY MARKED!

This is somewhat satisfying as this means I ran a pretty good race and would have met my goal time if not for the incompetence of whomever was responsible for plopping down the marker signs.

So even with that the time probably won't be fast enough to get into Boston next year.  I did sign up for a last chance for Boston marathon in mid-September in the US but odds are that I probably won't be doing it.  I had hoped to take the summer off from heavy training and free up some time to do other things.  I don't necessary need to crush a marathon time.  If I did it, I would only try for 3:13 or so which is less than a minute faster than what I did in May so maybe I can get by with just maintenance miles.  Will have to see how it goes.


Robin said...

My fingers are crossed that your time is good enough to get in!! Crazy about the course markings though, that's frustrating when a course isn't measured correctly, especially for an important goal race.