In the spirit of racing and with race season well under way, I thought I’d continue to focus on race-specific topics. This week’s Coach’s Corner is geared toward a particular race strategy called "running the tangents".

What’s a tangent??

According to Wikipedia (and my high school geometry teacher), a tangent line to a curve is a line that just touches the curve at one point. More accurately, it’s a line that comes infinitely close to a point on a curve, but we’re not in math class anymore (hopefully) so we’ll just keep it simple.

What does this have to do with running?

Most road races are designed or mapped out with multiple curves along the race course. It’s very rare to find a road race beyond a mile that doesn’t include some curves along the road. When races are measured and certified, the certification is done using the shortest possible route between the start and the finish, so it only makes sense that we should also be running the race along the shortest possible route from start to finish. I mean, who wants to run any longer than s(he) has to? Among other things, it messes with your personal best times and that’s just unacceptable.

I still don’t know what this has to do with running.

Well, in order to run the shortest possible route from start to finish there is a certain technique that makes this possible. It involves breaking down the race course into segments between curves (or turns) and running from one curve in the road to the next using the shortest possible line. This is called running the tangents. USA Track & Field explains that “the shortest possible route is a reasonably well-defined and unambiguous route that ensures all runners will run at least the stated race distance.” Running the tangents in a race ensures that you come as close to running the exact distance of the race as possible, if not spot on.

So what does this look like?

Picture a string that is tightly stretched out along a course. The string comes as close to right and left turns as possible, runs straight through the edges of curves like a shooting star, and runs diagonally between two corners when crossing a street.

Shortest distance between turns:

Shortest distance between corners:

Shortest distance between curves (or S-Curves):

You may find that some portion of the road are closed off to runners during the race, using cones and/or barricades. In these situations it’s still possible to run the tangents given the road space you have to work with:

Some of the other factors that may prevent you from running the tangents can be:

  • Crowded racing conditions and having to pass people.

  • Obstacles such as manholes and storm drains, or bad road conditions such as broken pavement.

  • Lack of focus - you may just be going through a rough patch during the race and it’s hard to focus on the line that you’re running along the road.

These are all important things to be aware of, but whenever possible, always remember that the best way to run a race (and to avoid running TOO FAR) is to run the tangents!

Race Better. Race Smarter. Run Your Personal Best.

Coach Mwangi


Got questions about racing or preparing for a race? Don’t hesitate to ask me at our next Wednesday group run, or reach out to me at

Photos provided courtesy of USA Track & Field.