Readers Roundtable: Worst #RaceFails

Picture this: your training went well, race day weather is perfect, everything is going according to plan and you are finally going to nab that BQ (or whatever your goal is). But then:

These are just three real things that have happened to marathoners that have cost them BQs or to otherwise miss their goals. Talking about these incidents got us wondering:

  • What’s the worst #racefail you’ve encountered?ย 
  • How would you handle it if something like this happened to you?
  • Is it fair that the BAA won’t allow runners who were subjected to these incidents, but would likely otherwise qualify, enter the Boston Marathon?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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32 comments

  1. I ran a half once and was in 3rd, closely behind second place-first place only had bike escorts. The course was not well-marked and there were no volunteers directing us so we missed a turn and ended up running 2 miles off course. Then once we finally found our way, a volunteer mis-directed us and we got lost AGAIN. We ended up running over 16 miles and I was pretty pissed.

    My heart breaks for the people in the races mentioned above. It was truly out of their control, and it takes so much work to be in BQ shape that it’s not as if they could just try again.

    1. UGH!!! So annoying! That happened to a bunch of friends running a 10k here. I think they ended up running 9 miles or something ridiculous! The worst thing, which isn’t really that bad, is that I ran with a 3:10 marathon pacer once who took us through mile 11 at 6:47 pace. It was downhill, but still. The pacer, himself, ended up running 3:15 and everyone in the group either finished over 3:20 or dropped out!

  2. In Switzerland they don’t seem to actually measure the race routes beforehand. So they will toss out a nice round number for registration purposes and then get around to measuring them. And negotiating with framers, and noticing train tracks and bus routes (think Greyhound style buses). So you will be standing at the start of your 10km to be told, over loud speaker, 2 mins before start it is actually 2 km longer with an extra hill at the end. As a happy to be now middle of the packer im not losing prizes over it,,, but there is always a certain element of surprise where the finishing sprint should start ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Ha! Switzerland is the place I experienced a stopped race due to passing trains!

      When I ran cross country in England, they never really seems to measure, or maybe they just didn’t properly communicate the course distance. It’s very dispiriting to be told you’re running a 3.5 mile course, and after 35 minutes you’re still not done and think there must be something seriously wrong with you, but then it turns out the course was actually 4.2 miles or something.

      None of these things really impacted me in terms of qualifying for a more “important” race, though!

  3. While I feel horrible for the people that were involved in those incidents I think they were handled properly by the BAA…with the one exception being the short course and letting the runners go MONTHS thinking they had BQ’d and not finding out until it was too late to run another. THAT could have been handled differently, giving runners another chance before registration.

    When it comes to knowing the course- yes it’s frustrating when volunteer or someone leads you off course (been there- in a 5k and some other races, luckily not a full) but at the same time it is the responsibility of the runners to know the course. Most races have this disclaimer in their rules and race information. But I get that it’s frustrating, I’ve lost prize money for going off course as directed- wasn’t missing out on a BQ or something but I was still very frustrated and can understand people being upset. This has also led me to studying courses more in depth so I know as much as I can ahead of time.

    As for the train. In this instance the train stopped people at mile 7ish. There is no way of determining how that would affect a runners time, it isn’t as simple as subtracting the time that they stopped. Especially with it stopped that soon in the race, 19 miles to go is a long way. No way of accurately predicting how each person will handle that, or 19 miles without a train stop. A lot can happen in the last 1-2 or 6 miles of a race (we all know that), a hell of a lot more can happen in 19 miles. So yes it’s horrible situation and I feel bad for the people affected but I do think it’s a fair call on the BAA, as they cannot let people in on a hypothetical race time.

    1. I totally agree with you on the train thing. If I was on the bubble and Boston or some other goal was going to be close, I would have dropped out right then and there (I think – but not being there it’s easy to think I’d know what I’d do). I think the race has an obligation to make the course clear. Either clear signage, course marshals at intersections, or bike escorts, etc that KNOW the course. Looking at a course map is one thing, but knowing how it translates to a race while running with balls to the wall is another ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Re: knowing the race course, I agree in principle. Practically speaking, I get into race-zombie mode and can’t concentrate well enough to remember the course (when I got lost I had actually run the same race the year before!). I get what you’re saying, I just think the RD is obligated to mark the course clearly.

      1. Oh I agree with both of you for sure. RD’s should have race clearly marked- but at the root of it all its runners responsibility. It would be nice if races took every possible chance to eliminate the risk of wrong way turns etc. For starters- making sure volunteers are very clearly aware of where they are sending people as a lot of times this is where the misdirect comes in. I know they’re all human, and doing a good thing taking time to help out- but making sure everyone has the information they need (runners, volunteers, everyone) to have a successful day is important.

    3. The Santa Rosa marathoners were led off course at mile 3. I agree, that is way too soon in a course to know how it would affect a person’s final time.

      1. Shawanna- part of my pre race mental training is studying a course. It’s a nerd thing, but helps me know what I’m up against. I like to be as prepared as possible for race day, that means no surprise hills or weird turn sections that I don’t know about, and it also helps me mentally plan out which turns or mile markers I will use to shift gears. Am I perfect with my method, NO. Could I easily make a mistake? Yes. But I don’t think it’s fair to put everything 100% on the race. If a race tells you they are going to have random gel flavors at one stop, I would never bank on them having the ONE flavor that I actually like, so I bring my own. I would never bank on a race to 100% be perfect. Controlling what you can control starts with being prepared. You go into a race knowing there is a half and full turnoff- know ahead of time which way you need to go. Go into a race knowing there is a 2 mile section with a few random turns, make a point to at least be more aware during those miles.

        Maybe we don’t need to know every crack on a marathon course, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have runners take a little responsibility for their race and know something ahead of time. This helps reduce chances of problems for the runner and the race itself. Should a race have well marked course and volunteers who know what they’re doing, yes! But how many times do we read these articles about misdirection and other snaffoo’s? Wouldn’t it be worth your time to spend a half hour looking over a marathon website or at least reading the newsletters races send out (which usually contain information on important course things)?

        1. Agree – runners have a responsibility to be familiar with the course and many spend absolutely no time on this expecting to have their hands held be led confidently down the primrose path. They also ought to plan to be self-sufficient instead of expecting to be spoon-fed the perfect bite at every aid station.

          I put a lot of time into my race prep, including familiarizing myself with the course. And, I do commit the major features – including areas where heightened awareness is required (such as other race turn-offs, turn-around points, etc.) – to memory.
          But, I would be hard-pressed to run a new-to-me urban marathon from memory during a race when fatigue becomes confounding, landmarks that may have been visible during a course preview become obliterated/transformed by spectators & banners & stuff, and course markings or marshals may provide improper direction.

          Guess that makes me a slouch.

          1. Who said that would make you a slouch? Certainly not me, and I even admitted I could easily make mistake (and have in a shorter race). Sounds like you do a great job pre-race prep and making a point to know as much as you can beforehand to be prepared (for whatever).

  4. At last weekend’s ultramarathon (finishing in the heart of Duluth, MN) I got stopped for 5 min by a drawbridge, about 1.5 mi from the finish. I was over 7 hours into the race and all I could do was stand there and laugh.

  5. Although I agree it is ultimately the responsibility of a runner to “know” the course, it isn’t realistic. For a local 5k I would be annoyed if the course wasn’t well staffed with volunteers, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if something went wrong there. However, for a marathon or some other even that required months of training and a hefty entry fee, despite the disclaimer, I just don’t think there’s any excuse for a poorly marked or unstaffed situation. I would never do such a race again.

  6. At THE major marathon in Alaska in 2015, a volunteer messed up and had runners turning around too early…..course was short by nearly a mile. (http://www.adn.com/sports/article/short-marathon-course-puts-boston-hold-big-wild-life-runners/2015/08/20/) BAA actually accepted all of those runners with a pro-rated time for the extra mile!
    Last week in his XC race, my son was way-laid by a bull moose in the path. He lost about 10 seconds waiting to get by the big dude! Definitely a case of better safe than sorry!

    1. I don’t understand BAA adjusting for one short course but not another. It seems like they should just have a blanket policy to point to in each of these situations.

  7. I once did a 5+ mile 5k, thanks to a lack of signage (there were lots of us!). Luckily it was just a local school fundraiser and not a big event, but still kind of annoying. Can’t imagine how I’d feel if it were a mismeasured 26.2!

  8. A couple years ago at the Urban Cow Half Marathon in Sacramento the lead cyclists took a wrong turn for the first wave of runners and led us an extra 1/2 mile or so. We basically did an extra loop, and figured it out once we found ourselves running alongside wave 2 runners. The race director made up for it by offering to be lead cyclist the following year, sending us a sticker that said “13.6, An udderly long half marathon” (misspelling intended – cow theme), and a discount for the next year. I thought it was more than he needed to do, but everyone seemed pleased by the apology. Granted, this wasn’t a BQ event, but people were still gunning for PRs.

  9. I’ve been misdirected twice in smaller marathons, but the course itself was correct. Once a volunteer had been sitting on the direction cone and couldn’t remember which way the arrow should point. Several people went the wrong way. The other time I police officer on the semi-closed course directed me, but he was wrong! I don’t think anyone else went the wrong way, but I ran an entire extra mile and chased down several people I’d passed earlier in the race. It was bizarre.

    1. Ugh stinks that you have been in that situation multiple times. The cop thing always makes me nervous because what if they are trying to direct you different way because of accident or emergency? Obviously that wasn’t the case for you but I have a friend who ran a half and knew the cop was telling her the wrong way but wasn’t sure what to do (we want to listen to the police trying to help us). Sure enough they were rerouting for something that happened on course.

  10. Not mine, but several friends did the IM 70.3 worlds in Australia, and a number of competitors went astray on what seems to have been a badly marked bike course: http://www.slowtwitch.com/News/Bike_Course_Confusion_at_70.3_WC_5994.html

    My own personal #racefail was the half marathon I did in a monsoon. Halfway through, a huge thunderstorm started up, with massive bolts of lightning terrifyingly nearby. We asked the volunteers – is the race being called off? No one had any clue. I knew the rest of the course was pretty exposed, so I waited it out under a bus shelter. Later, when I got back to bag drop, it turned out that race organisers had indeed called off the race due to lightning…and sent out notifications TO RUNNERS’ PHONES. Great, thanks for being totally useless.

  11. Greetings from Portland, where some fraction of marathoners–including me–were somehow led half a mile off course this past Sunday. And honestly, I could deal with that if the race director’s response were something other than, “It didn’t affect people who were going to BQ, just the slow people, so it doesn’t matter.” ? (That’s paraphrased, but less than you probably think.)

    As a slow non-BQ’er, I assure you that it DOES matter! There are also people who claim that the error did in fact cause them to miss their BQ time. I’ve heard a lot of different things about which corrals were affected.

    IMO the big #racefail here wasn’t the mistake, but the incredibly lame refusal to take responsibility for it. ๐Ÿ™

    1. UGH!!! Yes!!!! When will humanity learn that it’s not the mistake that’s a problem, we all make them after all. The problem is when you’re a jerkface in the way you handle the mistake. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Tina!