Running the Tangents

Katherines Running Headshots-1

In 6 days, I’ll be running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Two years ago, this was the first marathon. I had been training for months, strictly following a training plan and running more than I ever had in my life. I was focused on one thing, running as fast as I could to finish that race. A marathon seemed like an unfathomable distance but I had done the training and I was ready.

Two years ago, I didn’t realize that there was any more strategy to running than hitting your paces and fueling properly. When I finished, my watch read almost 43km but I wasn’t shocked because every race I had ever run, my gps had always shown me going farther than the prescribed race distance.

What I would find out 2 years and thousands of km later is that my watch probably was right, I had run farther than a marathon because I wasn’t running the tangents. A race course is measured by the shortest possible distance because the race organizer doesn’t want you to be able to run shorter than the race distance. If you run too far by not taking the shortest possible distance, no one is very concerned about that. But you should be!


Over 5km or 10km, running the tangents isn’t a big deal because the course is short enough that that extra 30-40ft that you’re gaining every turn isn’t going to add up enough to really impact your run. But over a marathon distance, going wide on turns really adds up. Assuming you are running around a kilometre too far at a 5:30min/km pace, that means that to make it to the finish line you are running an extra 5:30min to get there. That’s a significant amount of time! To put that in perspective, running consistently at 5:30min/km for an entire marathon would be a 3:52:04 finish. If you are running an extra km, your time is now at 3:57:34. The kicker of this is that you can have a faster time and put in less work!

Now the big question is how do you run the tangents. The most beneficial thing to do would be to know the race course so that if you are about to make a left turn followed by another left turn, you know that you should be on the inside edge, like the diagram above. Crossing the whole road, especially if it’s a large road, to get to a water station increases your distance. So does swerving to get around other runners. A race course is measured on a bicycle riding the shortest possible distance so picture yourself biking and think about where you go to decrease distance. That’s what you should be doing while you’re running. In big city races problems, like runners in the way and water stations, are just part of the run but knowing and trying to minimize extra running can make a big difference.

Since I haven’t run a road marathon in over a year, I’ve never actively tried to run the tangents but next week at Scotiabank you can bet that that is what I will be doing! I have a lot of time because of my taper so I’ll be studying the race map to know where the turns are and try to anticipate them. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And good luck if you’re running STWM, I hope I’ll see you there running the tangents with me 🙂

Happy running!


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