Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Run It!

As you know from my constant yammering about it, I’m training to run the Victoria Half Marathon and my IT band is not happy about it. I had to run 18 km today – my second last long run before the actual race – and since the hilliness of New Westminster seems to be what’s being kicking my ITB’s ass, I decided that I should trek out to my old non-hilly stomping grounds to do this one. So I headed off to Vancouver to do a nice seaside run along the seawall that runs along the south side of False Creek, starting a bit east of the Cambie Bridge and going all the way to Jericho beach – and back! My knee definitely wasn’t 100%, but it was better than it has been the last few weeks1.

What wasn’t as successful, though, was my Runkeeper app. As I’ve mentioned before, I use the Runkeeper app on my iPhone which uses GPS/cell phone towers to track my runs; it periodically notifies you of things like how far you’ve run and how fast you’ve run while you are running by having a voice come over your headphones with said information. I usually set mine to notify me ever 2 km, but since this run was an 18 km one where I wanted to run 9 km (i.e., an odd number of kilometers) out and then turn around and do 9 km back, I set mine to notify me every 1 km instead. And it worked just fine until about 12 km, after which it went totally insane and told me every minute or so that I’d just done another kilometer. Now, as much as I’d like to, I really don’t run a kilometer in a minute. And its really super annoying to be trying to listen to your music and enjoy your run when a voice pops up every minute and a half telling you such lies. It also *completely* defeats the purpose of helping you set your pace when you have no idea how far you’ve run or what your pace is.

Essentially what’s happening is that the GPS/cell phone tower tracking is getting confused and thinks that I’m somewhere that I’m not and then finds where I actually am and thinks that I’ve run that distance in a split second. Here’s a section of the map it produced with its idea of where I’d run:

The run I didn't do

I can assure you that I did not, in fact, go for a swim through False Creek at breakneck speeds.

The run I didn't do 3

Notice that my pace is completely reasonable and consistent until about kilometer 12, at which point it goes apeshit.

I’ve had this issue on a few runs recently, but I thought it was because I was out in remote – and presumably cell phone tower-less -areas of Vancouver Island or because I was running under the Skytrain and my iPhone couldn’t “see” the satellites/cell phone towers properly. But this is a route that I’ve run many, many times in the past without incident2. What I also don’t get is why it was able to track my run along this route just fine on the way out, but on the way back along *the exact same route*, it suddenly can’t see the satellites/cell phone towers properly. Can any tech nerds explain this to me – or, even better, tell me how to make it work?

For the record, here is the section of that route as I actually ran it:

The route i did run

  1. This is probably also due in part to the magic of the foam roller! []
  2. Or with one incident like this on a run, not dozens of screw ups []

4 Responses to Run It!

  1. Catherine says:

    Weird. Is it possible you had wifi turned off, or previously had it turned off and have only now just started using it again? AGPS (assisted GPS) uses cell towers to help triangulate when you can’t see enough GPS (or GLONASS as well, if you have a 4s or iPhone 5) satellites, but the iPhone further refines the positioning against a database containing a war-driven list of wifi networks. (I THINK you need mobile data turned on in order to look up the GPS coordinates of each wifi base station SSID–don’t quote me on that though!)

    So if you were having a connectivity problem, or something, it’s possible you weren’t getting as accurate information from all the wifi networks along False Creek? Maybe?

    In conclusion: man, computers, eh?

  2. Beth says:

    A friend of mine who also uses this app just suggested that I should turn my wifi off so it will force the app to use the GPS only (i.e., it won’t jump around to cell towers, so even if it can’t see the GPS for a bit, when it sees it again, it will make a straight line connection from where it last saw me to where it now sees me, rather than jumping all over the place). I’ve always just left my wifi on when I run, so I’m not sure why it has just started happening recently. So, yeah, man, computers, eh?

  3. That first map looks like it was made by a deranged crack-fuelled penguin

  4. Darren says:

    That’s a good point about shutting off the wifi. Even in rural France, this occasionally happens to me, but it’s only at the start and end of my walk, run or bike ride. And, come to think of it, that’s when the phone would be detecting and possibly using wifi. So that seems like a likely culprit.

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