Monday, November 3, 2014

Op-Ed #1 - Course Misdirection

Since this is my blog...and I'm entitled to do so, here's my take on what should happen with the leaders of the marathon in NH this past weekend... For the sake of not having this easily searchable  and give the race or those involved an undeserved bad name, I am not putting the name of the race or full names of runners, etc. in here... I'm also really posting this as a general response to a lot of screw ups in races recently...not really solely focused on placing blame on this past weekend's race...but because this is just the most recent example of a large race with a course direction / mis-direction issue, I am using it as the main example. 

Full disclosure....I was not one of the guys who went the wrong way.  I am also a member of the Central Mass Striders, which as of right now, has won the race's team competition and thus the Grand Prix for 2014.

[11-04-2014 - Update: The race is awarding $1250 to each of the two guys who went off course.
There were only 2 runners misdirected, not 3.  The third runner had dropped out before that point.  It is good to see them turn it around quickly and try to right the wrong with the monetary piece at least.

[11-03-2014 - What I am hoping is that I can update this block here of the blog with a nice update possibly later about how the three  two race leaders get compensated for their troubles yesterday... as of now, nothing has been decided.]

 As most people who read this blog know, this past weekend three two of the race leaders (THE three two race leaders) went the wrong way around 24 or so miles into the race.  This was a section of course on a bike/rec path down by the river.  It was an 'out and back' off of the bridge (where you come over the bridge, wind down under it, and go out and back on a section that is probably less than a quarter mile or so).  You come to a large tripod with a huge white turnaround sign (curved arrow) and you simply go around it and head back.  What transpired here was that according to one of the race leaders who got lost (who was absolutely justified in being miffed afterwards) there was no sign.  It was most likely not setup.  In fact, he said just wasn't setup.   I was standing right at the finish when he  and the other leader (seen in various photos of the race that have been posted online) came walking up the road from the wrong way, with their hands in the air and visibly upset.  I was standing there when he began to talk to what I believe was a race official, who was before this, actively running around talking to me, the official race winner, and others before the three two lost race leaders came walking in.  He was fishing for answers from us.  I had told him that when I got to the turn around (many minutes after the leaders had gotten there), the sign was there and there were 2 (at least) gentlemen standing there on the right of the path telling me to go around.  But I heard the lost race leader say that the sign wasn't there at all and they just kept going. I also heard him convincingly tell the man that there wasn't really anyone there and there was a guy walking on the path towards them who basically didn't know where the course went.  They actually asked because I believe at that point, they were starting to wonder what the hell was going on.  So they kept going, which most anyone would probably do in that scenario.  It sucks.  It's infuriating.  To be honest, I was heartbroken standing there watching the leader try to hold it in and keep his composure.  He was a lot more reserved than I would have been.  I probably would have been acting like a hothead and yelling at the wrong people (which is not the right way to go about it)...but these guys kept it classy and just told their story to the race organizers.   I eventually walked away but I was now aware that that had cost the his team the Grand Prix.  He was their first guy.  Their other two (three score in the marathon) were right in front of me (and I was CMS' second guy).  So they would have beaten us.  They should have beaten us.   If what he was saying was true, the race organizers, volunteers who were supposed to be there, etc.... at fault for costing him and the other two leaders, prize money and team victories.  Someone has to step up and take responsibility.  I know it's only the day after....I know (I hope) they will step up and do the right thing.... I am tired of people defending event organizers, race directors, and 'volunteers' if things go bad.  I'm not in that camp.  If you are going to put on an event, regardless of whether it's a money making event or whether it's a for-charity event, etc. you have GOT to be responsible.  You have got to be organized.  You have got to understand that people pay money to be there.  Sacrifice a lot of time training for and traveling to the race.  When I registered it was over $100 with some astronomical fee online (two fees actually) for doing so online.  Even with my supposed discount from my club.  I then had to drive 2+ hours to get there.  What I expect at the very least is to have a sign up at a new (rather strangely placed) turnaround and a volunteer or two at least.  Full disclosure though..when I got to the bottom of the bridge, there was a guy with a flag directing me in the right way and there was a volunteer at the top (an older woman) telling me all about the 'turnaround'.  She said, 'go down the bottom, turn left and head around the roundabout'...that is what she called it.  So even before I got off the bridge, I knew where I was going.  Was this same thing in place minutes before when the leaders came through?   I'm thinking no but I'm not sure... However I really can't believe it was.    Now in one of the main NH publications today, the race director claims the following: 

“We don’t really know what happened,” race director XXXXXX said. “The turnaround was marked. I placed a sign out there this morning. With all the wind today it very easily could have blown over, but it was up later. We need to interview the volunteers that were out in that area.

I am in no way putting the blame on the RD solely at all and I know she has to be proud of the rest of the day's events (and rightfully so) it really was a fun race and I know 99.99% of the people there had a great time (Would I go back? Absolutely.  Would I recommend this race to people?  Absolutely.)... But if there were no course marshalls standing at that turn around (or no sign), then someone is to blame and it's not terribly important to know who...but what is important is for them to admit the mistake, take ownership of it, and do the right thing...

Now, if the above statement from the paper is true, then it HAD to have blown down.  But did the volunteers also blow down?  Did the three two race leaders not hear anyone previous down the path tell them to go around the 'roundabout' and come back?  If so, then when they got to that huge blown over sign, they would have had to think (do we go back here or keep going).  That sign (from what I remember) was big.  If it simply 'blew down' (which I know mile markers and split clocks did in other parts of the course) it was something you had to completely veer off the path to avoid.   Because you had to go around it, it was in the MIDDLE of the path.  It had to be in the very middle...meaning if it blew down, it would have been down in the middle of the path.   It was that big.  I just don't see how it was simply blown over and they missed it (could it have happened though....maybe).  I also don't know where the volunteers were that were supposed to be there though...that is the question.  That was probably THE single biggest possible mistake point on the entire course.  THE single most confusing and unconventional part of the course.  There HAD to be a course marshall there.  Someone to not only direct people to go around it, but also someone there to make sure people actually did go around it and didn't cut the course and turn around early.  I find it incredible that there was no one there.  I believe the race leaders.  You have got to.  Whether the sign was simply blown over or not, there should have been someone there to pick it up.  Someone there to quickly fix it and then tell the race leaders to turn around and go back.  There probably was no one there.  Why would the three two leaders make this up?  As a race director, you either make sure there are people where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there (WAY earlier than needed) and you make sure anyone you delegate responsibility to, can do the job. If not, they shouldn't be doing it.  I couldn't care less if you are not paid to do this.  The simple fact that you are not making money (personally) off of a race does not give you free reign to make mistakes like this and not be called out for it.

I heard a LOT of other people complain about there being turns with no one around.  I had it happen a couple times.  We got to a fork or intersection and no signs visible.  We put up our hands a couple times and had a policeman finally point in the right spot.  One section (around mile 20-21) was confusing and I had to take ownership of looking up both ways and trying to figure it out, before finally seeing the right way to take (because there was fortunately a visible mile marker up the road a ways)...No one was there directing people.  I had a couple people talk about this part of the course too.  To me, in a race that charges over 100 bucks to 'late registrants' (admittedly), and who bids to hold a championship race, you have got to have people at ever intersection.  Again, I get it....volunteers....they are braving the cold...they are there for nothing...they are there for ME...I shouldn't be bashing them....well...two things... 1) Sometimes they WEREN'T there for the me..or for the other runners...and 2) I was there braving the cold and paid to be there.  So were the race leaders.  When volunteers aren't where they are supposed to be, I don't blame the volunteers.  I blame the race.  The people that are supposed to make sure there are volunteers there.  When you run a race and attend an event like this, you should have faith and assurance that you will not be cheated out of money or place or experience simply because someone missed their queue.  This shouldn't happen.  I'm not only picking on this race solely here...I'm talking about every 'big' championship race that has this happen.  I understand in a local 5k organized for the elementary school or church, if there's not someone at every turn...but in a major area marathon and championship race with things on the line... it shouldn't happen.  There was a big XC race in New England last year as well that had a pretty big screw up with course direction.  Embarrassing.  We as runners shouldn't be chastised for criticizing race directors and organizers for screwing up.  It's almost taboo to mention it get the 'oh they're doing hard work and putting in long hours and the volunteers are out there giving their time... etc.'... that's just a plain bad excuse.  If I am doing a job or spearheading a project and I can't do it right, I shouldn't be doing it.  And if someone wants to criticize me for it, that's their right.

All this ranting above aside, here are my thoughts on this.... You can NOT shoehorn people into results.  It's an argument I've surprisingly heard before and it's frankly nonsensical.  When people go the wrong way, regardless of who's fault it is, and they don't finish the same course as everyone else, how on Earth can you put them into the results?   Would these three two have gone 1-2?  Yes, most likely (unless something happened to them in the last 2.2).  Who would have been first?  Who would have been second?   How do you tell?  Do you give all 3 the same time?   IF they had run extra distance, turned around, and completed the same course (but with just a longer out and back), do you count them?  YES.  They did run the same course, but longer.  But when they came walking down the road from blocks away, how do you know they ran 26.2 miles, then stopped and walked back?  When they didn't go the same way, how do you say that their last 2.2 miles was as hard, had as many twists and turns, had as many hills, etc. as the last 2.2. miles that everyone else ran?  You can't.  You simply can not.  Does it suck?  Yes.  Is it sh*tty?  Yes.  Can you fault the runners for this?  No.  Again, can you include them in results, NO.  You can not.  You simply can not.  I actually heard someone say that a 'precedent' was set at that XC race last year where they DID include a bunch of people in results that didn't do the course right.  Let me weigh on that really quickly...first, that was a BAD precedent to set.  Second, (I 'could' be wrong on this) but I believe (someone correct me) that the runners still ran the same course, but just did a loop and a hill in the reverse order... they still did the same distance and still did the same course (direction-wise), but they just did the last part backwards.   Did that change anything?  Maybe not... but I still think that was a bad call.  Just my opinion.  Now, this is different.  It is NOT the same.  What you had here were three two guys who worked their asses off and ran almost a full marathon as the classes of the field....and then due to potentially no fault of their own, were robbed of the places, team victory, and prize money... but they didn't complete the course.  Again, did they actually run 26.2 or longer before stopping their watches and walking back?  Maybe?  Who knows.  But they didn't complete the full course.  They didn't even go in the right direction after 24 miles.  Not their fault, but as far as the results go, you cannot put them back in.  I'm not saying this because I won prize money for top 3... I was 4th and 4th gets zero $. Had they been on course, I would have been 7th.  It really doesn't make a difference to me.  I still get the $150 for getting first NH male, whether I was 4th or 7th.   However, you have to look at the leading team losing the Grand Prix team title because of this.  That's where things get cloudy... depending on who you ask.

Now what do you do?  First, you give those three two leading runners their entry fees back. Immediately.  You offered a service, it didn't get provided as advertised, and you give it back.  That's good business.  You as a professional organization have got to do right and give them their entry fees back.  You also then have to consider giving them prize money.  If you can determine that there were NO volunteers where there should have been, and the sign was gone, etc.  then you need to make right and give them money.  You also need to honor the other top 3 and also provide them prize money.  Other races have done this.   You should not set another bad precedent and not follow suit.  You should give them some sort of cut of prize money.  How that's divided up, I'm not really sure.   That is the race's part of this mess.    The USATF-NE part is different.  Do you give the WMDP the overall GP win?  Well, I do believe that is also setting a bad precedent.  Again, remember, full disclosure, I am on CMS... but honestly, if our top guy was leading and he got lost (due to his own fault or the races') and we lost the GP, I would not expect that we get shoehorned into another result and get a championship when he didn't complete the course.  You speculate he would have won and you speculate that if he did, we would have won...but if you do that and you stray from the normal process of looking at the official results and adding up times from official results, then you are again setting another bad precedent ...where does it go from there?  My thought is that you take your lumps, you deal with the fact that you get a team title from adding up the placement of all the teams in all the events like we always do, and you don't add a special circumstance to the mix.  What 'could' happen (and the extent of what I think could be done) is that you basically give CMS and WMDP co-ownership of the GP title...I don't think there's a guy out there on CMS that wouldn't think that that was feasible to be honest...IF a special circumstance has to be made.  But what you cannot do is strip CMS of the team title in the results from the marathon OR somehow not take that into consideration when you try to add up the points for the GP.  You just can not.  Is this the worst way to win a championship (outside of cheating)?  It might be... but you just can not add points for a team or inject people into results based on passion and emotion.  I could be wrong, but I do not believe there are any rules in place to deal with making some sort of emotional decision to alter official results in USATF's guidelines....maybe there is...  Lastly I am not directing this at anyone from WMDP. I like those guys.  I ran with two of them for a lot of the race and they are good guys....great guys (and they probably have the best uniforms in the region).  They are not the ones who are asking for special circumstances as far as I know.... I'm directing this at some others I have heard, talk about what they should about it....  non WMDP guys.   I am also not trying to pick on the marathon organizers specifically and solely.  I am using this as a latest example.  Is it easy to put on these races?  No. I don't believe for a second that it is.  I know it's hard.  It's painful. It takes a lot of time and money and manpower and personal sacrifice.  To all the volunteers, police, organizers, vendors, sponsors, etc... All those folks who put all their time and energy into being out there and providing support and services to the runners, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.   You should not be given a bad name, simply because one or two people screwed up.  And I'm not trying to give you one.  I have been lucky enough to be welcomed (sometimes for free) to a lot of events around New England and elsewhere and I've been lucky enough to win money and prizes, etc.   I've been lucky enough over the years to be given good spotlight and support by local organizers, writers, coaches, etc.  I'm grateful.  But I'm also completely within my rights to get passionate and supportive on behalf of fellow competitors when they've possibly been wronged...and I'm also within my rights to express my opinion on how my local governing body of USATF should be handling scoring matters...I paid my dues and do have a voice on it.

Lastly, I have 3 pet peeves... 1) People who are naturally just always late  2) People who tune out when you are talking and don't pay attention 3) Being told I should just come out to USATF meetings or run for office when I voice an opinion on a if we aren't allowed to say anything about it or offer feedback, suggestions, and opinions unless we hold an official spot on a board or attend meetings.

Ok that's it. I'm done.  Let the bashing of me commence...


  1. JJ, very well said! I vote yes to the Jim Johnson clause of figuring redults for screwed up races. You race enough and this stuff happens. (Especially in trail races!) Unfortunately this happens but if you don't run the full course you don't count in the results.