Race Result Fiascos

It gets pretty cold on the start line when the race start is delayed by an hour. . .
It gets pretty cold on the start line when the race is delayed by an hour. . .some runners decided to start early which made the race results. . .messy.

I don’t think it’s off base or too much of a generalization to say that as runners, we sign up for races with goals in mind. Sometimes the goal is big and public: I want to PR. I want to win. I want to qualify for Boston. And other times the goal is more personal: I want to run the whole distance. I want to finish strong. I want to negative split. Regardless, we usually go into races with goals and expectations, and it can be upsetting when elements outside of our control mess with our carefully laid plans.

How we prepare for and deal with the drama that sometimes accompanies racing can have a big impact on our performance and overall enjoyment of race day.

1) Set Realistic Expectations: If you’ve signed up for a 5k that’s not run on a track or on a USATF certified course, chances are the race will not be exactly 5k. In fact it could be 4k. Or 6k. There could be a train going through the middle of it (this happens constantly in Portland and has turned into something of an ongoing joke). The course could go straight up a hill or into a headwind. There could be severe runner traffic as different race distances merge. Half of the field could cut a mile off the course accidentally. There could be technical difficulties with the chip timing. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

Mentally prepare for unexpected challenges (keyword: flexibility) and hold your “A” goal with an open mind. Set at least one race goal that has nothing to do with all of the variables that are out of your control (e.g. I will finish strong. I will push through mental fatigue. I will thank volunteers. I will fuel appropriately. etc.). And remember, everyone is most likely experiencing the same conditions, so don’t feel too sorry for yourself!

2) Come Prepared: Look at the weather report. Review the course noting the elevation profile and the location of mile markers. Read the directions for attaching your timing chip to your body. Make sure it is in the correct location and if it is on the back of your bib number, don’t bend it! And if you have one, use a GPS watch. This way, even if the course is inaccurate and your chip doesn’t work, you will have some kind of record of your race.

3) Run Your Race: Don’t worry about all of the variables that could affect your time during the race. As mentioned earlier, the conditions are likely the same for everyone. Run strong. Follow your race plan. Be mentally present. Enjoy it as much as possible and finish with no regrets!

4) Stay Until Results are Posted: Outside of technical issues out on the course, such as weather, course length, or trains, there can be mistakes in the results themselves. Pay attention to your finish time and who finished around you. The best time to correct errant results is at the race itself, preferably before awards are announced. The results are usually printed out and posted in a public location as people finish, or are available digitally. Some possible errors in the results include: incorrect gender or age, part of the field cut the course short, runners switched from a longer distance to a shorter distance without making it official, runners started early and their chip start time defaulted to gun time, technical issues with chips, etc. I have experienced almost all of these errors at one time or another. Some of them are easy to correct, but others may live on for days or weeks or possibly forever. When you talk to the people in charge of timing to correct mistakes, go forth with humility, grace and as much information as possible.

Remember why you love running. . .for example you get to see amazing things with incredible people!
Remember why you love running. . .like that you get to see amazing things with incredible people!

5) Take a Deep Breath: It’s easy to get stressed about results and caught up in what is fair and not fair. It’s easy to be disappointed that the 5k you just raced as hard as you could ended about 400 meters too soon, or that your race win is not official. At a certain point, you just have to take a deep breath, remember why you run in the first place, and let it go.

For me, running is sometimes about PR’s and being competitive and exceeding expectations and finding limits. But it is always about a community of people who share a similar passion, about a sport that I love but that at the same time is incredibly humbling, and about the rhythmic joy of breathing hard and moving fast.

In conclusion, if you want to be sure that there will not be unexpected trains, mountains or extra distance on your PR attempt, wait for a clear day, find a friend with a stopwatch and go to the track, but your story won’t be nearly as good.

Have you ever dealt with a race result fiasco?

I'm a proud resident of Portlandia, ex-running store employee, pulmonary emboli conquerer and connoisseur of high fives. I write about running community, trail running/training and anything else that grabs my immediate interest. I'm currently running for fun with my crazy friends - no races on the horizon YET.

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  1. Way back…in the 1990s, before timing chips, when we used to tear off the bottom of our bib and slide it on a big spindle, I ran a 5k. Still my PR. I would have placed in my AG. And….my time wasn’t recorded. I was so upset. I called the race promoter and they blew it off. That was the last time I ran that one. It still bothers me tho…

  2. One time I went to a 5k with my family. I took off at the start and quickly saw I was the first place female, which doesn’t happen often for me. I was so excited until I hit mile 3 and saw no finish anywhere in sight. Apparently the high school kids who were directing the course thought it would be funny to misdirect the lead runners. Needless to say, running 4.5 miles at 5k pace is not fun (or possible) and I,along with one of the front guys ended up walking before the finish. In a 5k! It was dejecting to go from first place female to end up coming in in the middle of the pack since after the front pack went through the course was corrected. I was really mad at first, but quickly regrouped and reminded myself to be thankful I was there running with my husband and both boys, who were very happy when they finished. Sometimes things happen and you need to roll with the punches.

  3. I’ve ran a couple 5Ks where the course wasn’t nicely marked, so everyone ran a different course, plus they were short. At another 5K, they didn’t have money for chip timing, so they were tearing off the bottom of the bib. Whoever made the bib did an awful job because there was something that kept the bottom of part of the bib attached to the bib. The person pulling off the bib bottom got the first half of everyone’s bib, but not the last half, so all of the runners were recorded as having the number 10 (the last two digits were left attached on our bib). No one noticed until we were looking at race results were there were hundreds of Unknown 10 finishing the race.

  4. I stood around with a bunch of people earlier this year after a training run and we all discussed how surprisingly common it is for the lead car to screw up take a wrong turn. Sometimes it is out of your control.

    I ride bike escort with the handcycles at the Cleveland Marathon and we’ve found the course to be really poorly marked. They are still struggling to get the mile markers, clocks, and course marking out when we roll by. The course tends to be changed significantly every year, so none of us know it.

    Meanwhile, the entire Akron course is lined with orange cones, and most of the course has a painted line marking it. Though if you go to do a practice run on the course, the line disappears in a bunch of places and can be really confusing.

    All you can do is run your best race.

  5. Portland Marathon 2011, my third best marathon time, my chip failed after 10K and I didn’t have any more recorded splits or finish time. The race director gave me my Garmin time, because they established that I was out there by photos. It turned out okay, and it wasn’t a BQ time so there were no issues whether results were official, but it’s a rueful memory. (Also, I had to wait for a train, and the course measured .25 long. 😉 (Also, apparently Portland Marathon does not release results to Athlinks, so there is no real record anywhere that I ran this marathon.)