Ladies & Gents:
This is a bit of a different kind of update. I'm in Arizona right now, about to head out to do my last event of the western book tour. I'm working on my iPad, and for some reason TinyLetter is not letting me do links, so please check out the sources I mention here (they're not hard to find). I was going to wait until Monday to update you on everything that I've been doing (it's a lot!) But then the Portland Marathon happened.
I ran the Portland Marathon on Sunday as a training run. I could have either run 20 miles in a strange city by myself, or join up with a marathon already happening while I was in town. I thought it'd be worth the $150 to have a marked course and aid stations, and when I finished, I thought I was mostly right. It was an okay race – not great, not terrible. I was more annoyed that they didn't have bag check than anything else. It poured – again, not great, but it is the Pacific Northwest, though the part of the race through an industrial area of the city where trucks were so close to us that they sprayed water on us when they went by wasn't fun.
But I finished in less time than I thought it wold take when doing a run/walk/run, had a beer and a burger, and thought the most I'd do post race was deal with one busted toe.
When I finished, I heard someone say their GPS watch showed the course was long. I ignored it. GPS watches aren't accurate, and unless you run the tangents to perfection, your GPS watch is always going to show a long course. Then someone posted on my Facebook page asking how long I actually ran. And then another person who'd been at my Portland book event clued me in to what people had figured out: a bunch of us ran an extra half mile.
Through social media and comparing GPS and app-generated maps, folks figured out that if they had started in the C corral or later (about 4:30 predicted finish for the marathon and later), they had been directed off the course in a way that tacked in an extra half mile in the first 5K. I was in the F corral. Two people tracking me had said that my first 5K was much much slower than the second, so this oops seemed about right to me. I hadn't seen the first three mile markers on the course, so it hadn't felt long, but my splits showed that something had been off.
If there was a mistake – a volunteer lead us the wrong way, or a barrier had been knocked over – fine. It happens. A train went through the Via Marathon this year, and the race addressed it and the consequences of that mistake immediately. They were open and honest and even though that sucked for people who got caught, their handling of the issue made it a much smaller thing if they had done something else.
The Portland Marathon did something else. At first, they did nothing. Then when a TV station dug in, and a newspaper dug in, their response was: no big deal – because it didn't affect faster runners.
Here's a quote from Oregon Live, talking to the race director:
"'We think that the people who were involved with that are not normally Boston qualifiers,' Smith said. 'The only thing that wold happen is it would impact their personal best.'
'It's not a big deal,' he added."
I didn't run this race for time. I ran the 2016 New Jersey Marathon for time and I PRed by just over 30 seconds. A half mile added to that course would have meant missing that PR, and after 16 weeks of intense training, of giving up nights out with friends, sleep, work and free time, I would have been devastated. And then for race officials go to "oh it's just her PR, not a big deal."
My marathon PR is 4:18:30. I'm never going to qualify for Boston, but a PR is still a huge deal for me. I was on cloud nine for days after that race because I put my mind to do something, worked hard, and got it. It didn't matter to me that it wouldn't get me into Boston, or that it's considered a middle of the pack time. I performed to the best of my abilities, and it showed.
For a race director – someone who should know that the average marathon finish time for men is about 4:20 and women is about 4:45, according to RunnngUSA – to step on the hard work that all those marathoners (and half marathoners too because they were also in those corrals) is breathtaking ignorance. He just dismissed a huge chunk of his race field. And – oh yeah – 4:30 is a Boston Qualifying time for a lot of older runners.
And even though I didn't run Sunday for time, I still worked hard. I didn't want to be running 26.2 miles in the rain, and I stil put my body through a tough event, and I still cried at the finish line. I'd spent much of the last 10 miles thinking about all the great things running has given me in my life, especially in the last six months since Running: A Love Story was published. So yeah. The race director's stance stings.
I think there's more to what happened here. As RunOregon pointed out, the map on the marathon website does not match the map that's certified with USATF. The same happened with the Wild Half this spring. The Wild Half folks initially handled their mis-routed course poorly, but eventually admitted that something happened and offered a discount for next year's race. And they never brushed off runners who aren't at the front of the pack.
Your move, Portland.
Jen A. Miller