It’s a sports event planner’s nightmare. And while nobody was physically harmed, it’s arguable the reputation of the event suffered a bit.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Boston Marathon will not adjust running times for the runners who were steered off the course of the Santa Rosa Marathon, making them log nearly a full extra mile and changing their finish times.
Runner’s World noted that Boston Athletic Association marketing and communications director Jack Fleming responded with the following statement: “Unfortunately, after reviewing the information received from the Santa Rosa Marathon’s organizational team, the B.A.A. is unable to accept adjusted finish times from — or make adjustments to — the 2016 Santa Rosa Marathon. Official times must be kept intact and based on the course which each participant ran.”
On race day (Sunday, August 28), several runners were steered off the course by a race pacer, in some cases compromising their ability to qualify for Boston, according to The Press Democrat. Racers caught up in the mishap, who were running with the 3:03 pace group, logged an extra 0.9 of a mile, sending their mileage total for the day well over 26.2.
Race entrants said the pacer took a wrong turn at the first aid station, turning right instead of left, and went out almost a half mile before realizing his mistake. According to race maps, the first aid station was located near mile two.
And it might not be such a big issue, were the Santa Rosa Marathon not so close to the date registration opened for the Boston Marathon (September 12), leaving those who desperately wanted to do Boston next year very little time to find another qualifying marathon to run.
It isn’t the first time racers have been led off-course; in fact, it happens with unfortunate frequency. Almost every weekend 5K warrior, for example, can recall a race (or a story about a race) in which a volunteer on the course pointed runners in the wrong direction. And the U.S. isn’t the only place for bad directions; in 2015, the Bangkok Half Marathon took on the dubious distinction of being the world’s longest half when a race director error led to a 17-mile (not a 13-mile) route. Ouch.
Across the U.S., mistakes have resulted in a too-long or too-short course. This year, the inaugural Chattanooga Marathon ended up 0.28 miles too short. The Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon in Delaware was about one-third of a mile short in 2011 due to a misplaced course marker, and in 2012, 50 runners mistakenly went off-course. The Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon was derailed when a freight train (and a slow-moving one at that) rumbled down the tracks runners were supposed to cross, causing a full 10-minute delay.
But when mistakes happen at the marathon level, in which runners are trying to qualify for a major marathon such as Boston, it’s bad news. Expect these scenarios and others like them to be used as case studies at meetings and conventions of race directors nationwide.
Sometimes, the directors of other races are more sympathetic. In the past, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has accepted adjusted qualifying times from races that have either come up too long or too short, but it’s usually done on a case-by-case basis.
While there’s no foolproof way to guarantee runners will stay on a course (many workers are volunteers and that means they sometimes leave their post unattended to do something like hit a rest room or check text messages – and to be fair, there have been plenty of athletes who stayed from courses with no help at all), event owners hate the negative publicity that comes with the news that an athlete’s performance was compromised. And in the social media era, it’s likely that unpleasant experiences will be shared far and wide.
Of course, count on a few commercial enterprises to try to ride the bump in notoriety that comes with such an event. Pacebands LLC was quick to jump on the bandwagon, declaring, “Pacers can be super helpful (and I know some great ones), but they are human too...always be prepared to run your own race by yourself <GASP - you CAN run alone and excel doing so> and, of course, Pacebands, LLC is here to help.”
Fortunately, Santa Rosa enjoys a good reputation in the running community as a whole (in fact, Runner’s World named it one of the 50 best running cities in the U.S.) RW notes, “Good people, nice weather, and great wine: that’s what this California city is all about. And with top climate and safety marks, it’s high on the list for runners.”