Laurel Jones is convinced she ran the annual Maine Coast Marathon on Saturday fast enough to earn a spot in next year’s Boston Marathon. Too bad she ran an extra half-mile. The extra time she logged after a course marshal misdirected her and more than half the race’s participants cost them precious time.
“I started freaking out,” she told Runner’s World about the moment she realized she was on track to run 26.7 miles opposed to the standard 26.2. “I, along with a bunch of other people in my situation, were at a loss about what to do.”
Two-time Boston Marathon veteran Kate Von Pichel had that feeling, too.
“Many of us saw our times ticking away, knowing that goal of a Boston qualifier was slipping through our fingers,” she told New Hampshire’s WMUR.
The error occurred around Mile 12, course officials later explained, when a course marshal directed runners to turn down a dead end street in Kennebunk, Maine. Some runners, like Jones, didn’t think anything of it at the time as they were told they’d have to run the length of one street twice so the course would be long enough, but others became suspicious right away.
“When I got to the bottom of the hill and I realized there wasn’t a cone or a course official, I said ‘Wait a second, what’s going on?’ ” said Betsy Tomlinson, who said she also would’ve qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon had she not run the extra half-mile, told WCVB.
Course officials became aware of the error only about 10 minutes before the first runner crossed the finish line, according to Runners World, and immediately took steps to correct it. However, there was only so much they could do.
“Since it was not a marked spot for them to turn, we don’t know where each person turned around,” race director Charles Melton told WMUR, noting without that information race officials have no way of correcting people’s times. Even if they did, however, the notoriously strict Boston Athletic Association, which manages the Boston Marathon each year, would not accept the readjusted times.
“We are only able to accept your unadjusted race results when looking towards qualification purposes for the 2018 Boston Marathon,” BAA’s Jack Fleming said in an email to Melton that he later posted on Facebook. “We are NOT able to accept any sort of time adjustment.”
Forty-three runners qualified to run the Boston event, even with the extra half mile.
Melton, meanwhile, offered those affected by the course mix-up a refund of their entry fee, as well as free entrance to next year’s race.
Neither Jones, Von Pichel nor Tomlinson indicated whether they’ll take Melton up on his offer, but they all said they understand these things can happen in a long-distance race. Jones even said she doesn’t blame the race officials.
“I’m not blaming the volunteers or the course marshals,” Melton told RW.
“Mistakes do happen, but it’s ultimately my fault,” she added, noting she should’ve trusted her GPS watch more to keep her on course.
This is the second time this year that a course error left would-be Boston Marathon qualifiers in the wind. In March, The Woodlands (Texas) Marathon accidentally sent runners down a shortened course. They ran just 25.4 miles, leaving even the top finishers of the race without a way to qualify.