January 28, 2015

Could’ve Would’ve Should’ve? Nope, You Did What You Did

One thing that has always frustrated me is when people make excuses for races. (Or really, when people make excuses for anything.) Okay, so you didn’t run as fast as you wanted because it was hot or because it was hilly – but neither did anyone else who was running that day. You got a stomachache and ended up having to make an unplanned bathroom stop halfway through? Fine – it happens to the most seasoned professional. But that doesn’t mean you get to subtract two minutes from your time. It is what it is, and you can’t retroactively adjust your finish time just because it “wasn’t your day.”

Professional athletes train for years for the Olympics, and if it’s “not their day” on the day of the games, they don’t get a gold medal for what they could have done. There are plenty of athletes who are widely considered the best, but by some stroke of bad luck, they don’t have a great performance on game day and so they don’t win – and that’s just part of the game.

Breakers Marathon 2009
Not my day, and I am none too pleased. But welcome to the unpredictable world of marathon running!

I thought that we all accepted that for what it is, and that all runners understood that you couldn’t just retroactively adjust a race time – the official results are the official results. But what happens if the official results themselves change? That’s what’s now happening with the 2015 Charleston Marathon results, and although it doesn’t affect me personally, I’m annoyed to learn about it.

I’ve run the Charleston Marathon before, finished much faster than I expected, and was generally pretty happy with the course. Unfortunately, this year, it seems there was a mishap with the lead car – tacking on an extra quarter mile to the course. What upsets me isn’t so much the mistake with the misdirection; I had this happen at the 2013 Big D Texas Marathon, except we had 1.5 miles added on. (Yikes!) But what bothers me is the outcome: the race organization has announced that they will be adjusting all runners’ times accordingly and providing that as part of the official results. Most notably, these are the times that will be submitted to the Boston Athletic Association as part of the Boston Marathon qualification process.

I totally understand how much it sucks to train and then have something out of your control mess up the outcome. When you’re trying to qualify for Boston, an extra couple of minutes is a ton of time and could easily make the difference for dozens of people in a race of this size. But I still can’t believe that the new standard is becoming to adjust finish times for mishaps like that. The BAA hasn’t yet officially stated whether it will accept these altered finish times, but in a Runner’s World Q&A last year, BAA President Dave McGillivray noted that the precedent has been set in the past for such adjustments to occur – both for entire race fields and also for individual errors.

What’s your take – is this kind of finish time adjustment legit? (Okay, it’s technically legitimate if the BAA decides it is, but do you think it should be legit?) Where do you draw the line between “let’s subtract a few minutes because the course was long” and “let’s subtract a few minutes because there were high winds” or “let’s rate every course according to its elevation profile and there will be a different BQ time for each?”


13 thoughts on “Could’ve Would’ve Should’ve? Nope, You Did What You Did”

  1. I actually think this is a business decision. While individual athletes can choose whether or not to accept that time, the Charleston Marathon screwed up, and this is their method of fixing their mistake. Since it’s only .25 miles, I’m totally fine with it. If someone would have had a BQ time but for that .25 mile error, it makes sense to me that they would fix the time. How they fix it will be important, I think (using the average pace for the race would probably make sense). But I’m fine with a business doing this in order to fix its mistake. Athletes themselves can decide if they want to count this as a PR. I definitely think it’s different from an individual making excuses for their performance on race day.

    1. Great points about it being their fault – but I still feel that you can’t “give” someone a BQ if they haven’t earned it. Most race courses are not exact by any means – I’ve found that 0.1-0.2 miles off is pretty normal, and more in larger races where it’s impossible to run perfect tangents because of the crowds. It just seems nuts to me that one race is allowed to shave time off their runners’ finishes whereas others just get stuck with what they ran.

      I think another counterpoint would be a case like Nashville or Chicago the years that they had to cancel them mid-race due to the heat and not having enough water. Arguably, that was the race’s fault for not having enough water for those temps (even though yes those temps were abnormally high), but should you extrapolate out someone’s finish time based on the pace they had held till that point, particularly if they only had a mile or two left?

      I would rather see runners just try another race if they didn’t achieve the actual BQ time.

    2. I think this case had a very clear-cut, easy to solve remedy. The race screwed up and made the course too long by .25. Note that your examples are all personal issues — not running tangents or their GPS being inexact. If someone said, “my GPS watch read out 26.5 miles and I finished in 4:01:00 so I must have gone sub-4” then I wouldn’t agree with that. But this isn’t that case. I can’t find the article I recently read on course certification, but it’s an incredibly exact science, so it isn’t at all the same as someone running out there with a Garmin watch and figuring out what 26.2 is.

      The quarter mile difference is a small enough difference that you can easily extrapolate someone’s finishing time. They’re not shaving off time; they’re removing the extra they added. It’s different from not having enough water — it’s impossible to say how that would affect all the runners’ performance. A quarter of a mile is .9% of a marathon so it wouldn’t have majorly impacted anyone’s performance, but it’s just enough time to make or break someone’s BQ. If they would have run a BQ but-for the error on the part of the race, I think it makes sense. The extrapolation is an easy one and I’d be shocked if it was that far off.

      I totally agree with you on people creating PRs for themselves due to race day conditions. I just don’t think this is that scenario.

    3. You’ve totally won me over with that argument, at least in this case. I would definitely agree that it’s up to the individual runner to run the tangents and not complain if they don’t do that.

      However, to pick on one final point (that’s not related to the specific situation I wrote about): in Dave McGillivray’s discussion with Runner’s World, he was talking about adjusting times for individual runners as well, for example, if someone took a wrong turn during the race due to a volunteer’s misdirection that didn’t affect the entire field. I definitely wouldn’t agree with that, even if it wasn’t the runner’s fault. It just seems like there has to be some level of “luck wasn’t on your side” rather than trying to account for everything that could go wrong.

  2. I held my tongue when I first read about that race, but I had the same reaction. It’s unfortunately that people had to run farther than expected, but you don’t “adjust” times. Your time is what it is.

  3. I’m torn- I don’t think this is the same as personally saying, “well my PR is X because I know I can run that if I didn’t stop in the bathroom” but yet you don’t really know what would happen in that last 1.5 miles (yes, in this case it was only 0.25, but still!)

    I’m pretty sure something similar happened a few years ago at the Green Bay, Wisconsin Marathon.

  4. I am a little bit torn on this. This was a race mess up by officials and if you were gunning for a time (like BQ) and missed it or made it but it was close due to THEIR error (and most people need to be under to actually get into Boston) I would very much be annoyed and want it adjusted if the BAA would accept that time.
    As far as deducting for other instances, no. Winds, rain, humidity, bathrooms, hills etc I would never “deduct” my time for. I still laugh because my half marathon PR of 1:53 is WITH a bathroom stop! and sure I see the stoppage time on my Garmin and see how much closer to 1:50 I would have been without those couple minutes but it is what it is.
    When training for a PR you control the course you pick, time of year, known typical conditions, course support and such so I just think it sucks if you set yourself up for a great race and they mess up the outcome.

    1. I like your point about it being the race officials’ fault – it’s true that it wasn’t on the runners. But, there is a lot of stuff that isn’t the runner’s fault – you don’t really control the conditions or course support. For example, I’ve done a lot of races where they’ve run out of water/fuel partway through, and sometimes that has affected my time. (I mean, granted, I’m not trying to BQ, but some people are.) Should runner in those races have their times adjusted for having fuel shortages? Or, what about the race where some runners got stuck at a set of railroad tracks because a train came through at a really unfortunate time? I can’t remember what race that was but I remember it affected mostly the front runners and there was a big debate about how it might have skewed the results since some people caught up to the front runners, the front runners had to stand around for a while, etc.

  5. Hmm, interesting! I’ve never heard of a race adjusting times. I can kind of see how it would make sense for an error like making the course too long. But for things like hills and wind? That would be too much!

    I’ll have to read your recap of Big D, I had several friends who ran that race (and my running club provided the pacers) and were not happy about the extra distance! Now they refer to it as the Big D Ultramarathon!

    1. Ha, Big D Ultramarathon is a great name… though hopefully they haven’t done it again since! I didn’t hate the extra distance TOO much but felt that the race organizers didn’t do a great job afterward in trying to smooth things over with the runners (e.g., no apology was sent). I haven’t done another Mellew Productions race since as a result.

  6. I think it is funny that most people who commented said that they are “torn”. I actually have very strong opinions on this…. which may surprise.

    I think that modifying the times is exactly the right thing to do. The Boston qualifying times are set for 26 mi 385 yds. Races have to certify themselves as being within a certain % of that. So, if a race that is advertised as certified goes long, or heaven forbid goes short, then they should be adjusted by some sort of weighted average. Most people might say that their garmin shows a long race anyway, so why should it matter….. but the issue there is that their garmin represents their crazy swervey route vs the perfectly ran route.

    There is actually a precedent for this in road races (trail races are a completely different animal). In fact, the 2010 rock and roll Denver marathon, which I ran, was this way. My official time was dropped by ~30 seconds because there was a turnaround cone put in the wrong spot. Similarly, the Kansas City marathon a few years before had their times extended because of a short course.

    I don’t think that runners who are obviously on the bubble should be penalized for a race’s own incompetence (which is what this is). I paid for an official time running 26 miles 385 yards and that is what I want.

    1. You definitely make some great points! I still think if it goes short, it shouldn’t count (who’s to say you wouldn’t bonk in the last bit?) but I can see taking an average time if it’s long.

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