Readers Roundtable: Course Accuracy

By now, you’ve probably heard the news: The Milwaukee Marathon held Oct. 15 was, well, not a marathon. Officials have announced the course was only 25.4 miles after turnaround cones were placed in the wrong spot.

Officials at the Boston Marathon have confirmed they won’t accept results from Milwaukee for qualifying times. Imagine running faster than you thought you could, nailing that BQ, and then finding out it doesn’t count? Ouch.

But Milwaukee is also entering “shame on me” territory. The race was founded in 2015, so it’s a relative newcomer on the scene. In 2016, the course was a half-mile long.

In an email sent to this year’s participants, officials cited  “a misinterpretation of the route certification map that caused the turnaround on the Hank Aaron State Trail to be set in the incorrect spot.” Officials apologized for the error, but no other recompense has been offered.

Sure, we’ve all “PR’d” at the local totally-not-5k charity 5k. When it comes to a marathon, though, runners are typically asked to shell out $75 to $200. The Milwaukee Marathon costs $110 for early registration and $120 for late registration. Many runners shell out even more money for plane tickets and hotels, and they may use valuable vacation days to travel to a marathon. All those weeks of training lead up to one day, and you may not be able to recover and run another BQ within the qualifying window, if that’s your goal.

And mind you, we’re not talking about a marathon that your Garmin clocks as 26.3 (or 30.4 if you’re Chicory running Chicago). While your GPS might give you a heads-up that a route isn’t accurate, it’s definitely not the end-all-be-all of course measurement. But that’s a story for another day.

We want to hear from you! Have you run a marathon that wasn’t accurate? What happened, and how did the race directors handle it? Do you check for course accuracy before choosing a race? Race directors, we want to hear from you, too!

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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  1. I am HUGE on making sure half marathon and marathon courses are certified (tri is different, but still reputable orgs) and I’m not even in BQ land, I have no problem with a course being a little “long” because GPS accuracy is not perfect and I know how courses are measured. But short should never happen. Especially not in a marathon. The RD has a responsibility to make sure the course is set up as it is measured. Interim mile markers are not required to be in the right place and mistakes happen with those, but the turns need to be correct. And runners have the responsibility not to cut the course. RRCA has a post that is reposted frequently about “buyer beware” especially on new races that are not managed by an experiences/reputable company/organization. It happens more often than it should.

    1. Same – I am not in BQ territory, but I’m very careful about picking races that are certified and have a reputation for being marked correctly. For instance, 7 Bridges Marathon down here in Chattanooga a couple weeks ago was .63 mi long, and the half marathon was short by the same distance. It’s not even a new race. (I want to run this one, but not until they get their issues sorted out – this isn’t a one-time thing for them.)

      Is it just that the number of races is increasing, and more people are new to the industry, why this seems to be happening so much? I feel like I hear about a course snafu pretty often these days.

    2. Interesting thing about the Milwaukee Marathon (and let’s be clear, this is the PNC Milwaukee Marathon, not the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, which is point to point to Milwaukee and has been around for 35 years) is that it was recently bought by a venture capital firm and is not making money at the present time. The organization that laid out the course, Race Day Events, has done many events large and small, including the Madison Marathon, but sometimes their race day organization with volunteers is a chaotic and sometimes what I call their race day security (ie, making sure there aren’t course shenanigans) isn’t as good as it could be as the volunteer assignments are sometimes last minute with little training (I’ve both volunteered and ran in their races – they are generally well organized but there is an occasional problem. But I think any race with a turnaround is a risk for getting the distance correct.

  2. This bums me out so much for everyone who ran this race – and any marathon course that is “short”! I’ve had the opposite happen, when an ultra course was “for real” long (not just gps watch long), and that was terrible, but in a way where I could prove I was hardcore at the end. And, I wasn’t just to use that time to qualify for anything. I think it definitely warrants a lot of research if you are choosing a marathon course for a hopeful BQ. I’d say, if that is your goal, do some careful research and, if possible, go with an established race.