Common Questions in My Running Groups

There is always a first time that each individual runner has a specific question or concern. It’s often difficult to remember that what is common knowledge to me is often new to someone else. There are some questions that I see frequently repeated among the various social networking sites/groups I belong to. So, that means they continue to be real concerns for people. Here, I attempt to address some of the common questions that come up.

Q: Why does my GPS show the race course to be long?
A: A GPS is a useful tool, but you cannot rely on it for a 100% accurate measurement of any course – ever. This does not mean that your device is faulty. It’s simply a fact that there are many variables that affect the accuracy of the measurement. Some examples are: 1) you actually ran more than the measured course minimum because of weaving around other runners, back-tracking to port-o-potties, not hitting the tangents “just so”, etc.; 2) there can be interference that affects the satellite readings, such as when you’re running in between skyscrapers in a downtown area; 3) the way the GPS triangulates your location, it samples where you are, and provides the best estimated location for your GPS device, which is in motion. Someone once linked me to this great description of how courses are measured and how GPS works and why your device’s distance will never match that of any given race course. I encourage you to give it a read.

My RunKeeper app was a little "off" during the 2014 Chicago Marathon. No, I did not run in a squiggly line through buildings, nor take a swim in the Chicago River. I actually ran south down Franklin and turned west onto Adams.
Q: How many gels/how much food/what should I eat for my race?
A: Take what your body has trained with, in the quantities you have been using during training. It’s that simple. If this is a concern for you, please do not rely on a race course to provide the proper nutrition you need. Even if a race publishes that it will have a certain brand of gel or type of fruit at specific mile markers, you cannot count on it; sometimes, faster runners take all the supplies before you get there, and sometimes published race info is inaccurate. There is no Golden Rule of what types and quantities of food and drink to consume during a race. Every runner is different. Experiment during training with what works for you, then stick to the plan during races, even if it means carrying your own. I always make sure I have what I need, and sometimes as a bonus, I’ll take a gel or an orange from the race course.

This is about right for me for a marathon. Sometimes I won't need all three gels; sometimes I'll take an extra from the course.

Q: How should I dress for <insert weather condition> during my race?
A: Some of this comes down to experimentation during training, but let’s say you didn’t train in the conditions you’ll be running in. Here are some guidelines.
  • Do not dress for the temperature at the start of the race; dress for the forecast at its warmest point during your race. This may mean being a little cold while you’re waiting to start; that’s OK, just take a throwaway sweatshirt (most get donated to charity), a Mylar blanket, or a trash bag to wear to keep warm.
  • If there is going to be a significant change in conditions or temperatures during the race, you may want to have an extra layer that you can tie around your waist when you don’t need it.
  • Rain is tricky. For a cold rain, I’d recommend a light water-resistant running jacket. If it’s going to be a warm rain, just plan on getting wet.
  • Extreme cold temperatures may require warm hats and gloves. You can also buy instant hand warmers to tuck into your gloves and then throw away when you no longer need them. Wear long pants/tights and long sleeves, and up to three layers on top that you can remove if you get too warm.
Runners World  has this handy tool to help you decide what to wear in all types of weather. I always err on the side of wearing or carrying slightly too much, and being able to take things off as I need to. But I also know that it’s OK to be a little cold at the start of the race; it sure beats being overheated later on.

Abbi, Ruth and me at 2013 Groundhog Day Marathon. I wore layers, in this case: tights, windpants, two pairs of socks (one thin, one thicker), two shirts, a jacket, fleece hat, buff, fleece gloves with handwarmers. Sounds like a lot, but it was in the 20°s F with a foot of snow, so it worked.
Q: I have a pain in my <insert body part>, what is it?
A: Be careful here, folks! If you’re asking this question in a running forum, it could very well be a common injury that some other people have had and have successfully treated. There might be good advice out there. But, you should always be careful taking advice from non-medical professionals whose opinions could be biased. I hate seeing these questions and the myriad responses they receive. The real answer is: if you have pain (beyond typical muscle soreness) that doesn’t go away within a couple days of a hard workout, you really should see a doctor. Get that injury diagnosed early and accurately by someone who is properly trained. I recommend a doctor who is an expert in sports medicine, but you don’t always need to see an MD. Many foot and ankle injuries can be treated by a podiatrist. My podiatrist happens to be a marathoner, so he is in tune with runners’ injuries. In summary: don’t trust novices – go to a pro.

Actual x-ray image of my foot the first time I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. It was good to get a thorough medical evaluation.


  1. I couldn't agree more about the importance of seeing a doctor when you have an injury that's unfamiliar. It's the only way to ensure that you have the correct diagnosis. You can't get the treatment right until you have the right diagnosis.

    1. Right. I noticed that you blogged about that recently.


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