UPDATE MAY 25 2011 (from an excellent Canadian Running Magazine article by Mihira Lakshman)
Race director Gerry Walsh doesn’t believe the Blue Nose marathon needs a makeover after the route confusion and other problems with the race in 2011, following a string of similar mishaps in previous years. However, he has accepted an invitation from local competitive runners for a focus group for making changes. We’ll see how much change gets done if he is going in with the mind set no makeover is needed.
The many loops were to keep the geographic footprint small due to emergency routes and hospital zones, supposedly. You can buy that or not, but it doesn’t have to be. Plenty of other space around. Reversing on some of a less convoluted route is an acceptable option if looping is in place now, allowing runners to see elites coming back without crisscrossing. His focus group will tell him that and plenty more good suggestions from what I’ve been hearing by some people who will be there.
Gerry also regretted his controversial statement about elites “damaging the fabric of the event”. He clarified a year later he meant he wasn’t going to pay international athletes wanting appearance fees, but stopped short of apologizing. Ah, do you know good PR spin when you see it? I guess local elite athletes not participating wasn’t a concern then. And here we all thought we had a big fuss on our hands!
Good luck to the focus group! We’ll be awaiting to see what progress they’ll be able to make!
2011 was the eighth running of the Nova Scotia Blue Nose marathon in Halifax… and they still messed up in guiding people to stay on the course to run it correctly! It is a shame that the lack of leadership from the few at the top can lead to actions that spoil the efforts of so many other great volunteers, and ruin the day for so many runners who have trained and ran hard for the race. Below are details from sources on the course and the Chronicle-Herald, put together, for a feature on the problems and not the race (the Herald did that very well).
Unnecessarily convoluted course
With plenty of land to run on between Halifax and Dartmouth, the course organizers keep choosing an unnecessarily convoluted loop that could cause a figure skater nausea from going round and round and round. Then the part in the two parks also have potential turn offs where people have taken mistakenly, to extend or shorten the official route. Look at the map below to see what I mean. See if you can find your way to your friend’s house with directions like that!
It’s a course that is unnecessary hilly, with all the loops they put in on the mainland peninsula that is essentially a hill rising out of the ocean. It’s also not that scenic as they claim, with about 5 miles of 26 along the waterfront/bridge, and the rest in the cities and woods. It’d be a lot more scenic if they ran it around the Bedford Basin along the Bedford Highway, with a loop around Point Pleasant Park via the Halifax waterfront, starting and finishing where it is or at the Sportsplex in Dartmouth.
Poorly trained course marshals
The organizers didn’t train all the course marshals properly so runners who train whole seasons for this race end up getting lost.
There were confirmations of marshals who didn’t receive any instruction and were just dropped off with a sign and no map.
One marshal left the post as walkers and runners were upset with the marshal, probably from lack of training given, so two experienced runners I know started marshaling the corner. What if they hadn’t???
There was another corner where the 5k and 10k (ran the day before) runners had to turn, while those running longer distances today were to go straight, where another fan had to start marshaling as there was no one there for a good part of the day!
Can you believe this of a big race with over 10,000 registrants among all the events put together, after eight years of repeated mistakes??? How many times can you err and not learn???
Consequences for top runners
What were the consequences of all this? Well, it’s hard to say overall, but this much has been confirmed.
The 2nd through 4th place marathon finishers ended up running an extra four kilometres!!! They turned in the wrong direction on North Street, running an extra loop through Halifax’s north end instead of across the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, according to co-chair Gerry Walsh in the Chronicle-Herald today. Due to the gap they had on the next pack, their final placings were not altered, though running about 46 at hardcore pace couldn’t have been fun if you had been training for 42.2 km.
More than half the top six half-marathoners went off course by smaller amounts. The top half marathon placings were affected outside the top 2. For example, Doug Vincent was running comfortably with a group racing for third, but ended up in 11th at 1h 24min, with his Garmin GPS showing him at 21.1 km in a time of 1h 17min. Some of his group also went with him. Scott
Those were elite runners who would have been monitored carefully, obviously, leading the race… and they went off course! I’ll deal with the pack runners later.
Back to the marathoners, though, as it was the marquee event. Three of the top four runners ran an extra four kilometres! These were people who had time and prize money at stake, who the people turned out to see, and who you can guarantee weren’t running the race for recreational purposes! For that, they were rewarded by being thrown off by four kilometres??? This wasn’t four blocks. Four kilometres is a huge discrepancy from the already tough 42.2 km marathon distance, which, if you don’t train for as these runners wouldn’t have, would be a huge blow to your race plans!
Then there are those who have won age divisions or gender categories and were disqualified because they had ran the wrong route. The initial winner of the women’s marathon was disqualified when it was discovered Emile Caron of Quebec she and several other runners accidentally missed a loop of Citadel Hill. Three 5K lead runners also got DQ’ed in 2009 (thanks to the Chronicle-Herald for the history). Sure, it wouldn’t have been fair to have given them the prize, but when you have a guide cyclist and course marshals who misdirect them, how do you think they felt? What kind of compensation could you really give them for it? Do you think they really care about free entry to next year’s race as compensation that was offered to some who were misled last year?
Consequences for other runners
With the top runners, it was easy to identify who went off course. It’s a lot harder for those more in the pack. It’d be hard to know how many ran the proper course, but the percentages don’t look good if the top 4 runners who were watched the most carefully went off course!
For those other pack runners, many of whom will only ever run one marathon in their life, those who went off course, they’ll have to live with their “official 46.2 km time” for the rest of their lives. That’s provided they finished because, as said, when you train for 42.2 km, the extra 4 km could be a killer, especially on the already tough hilly course that Blue Nose already is.
Meanwhile, others runners ended up missing turns but cut off chunks of the course route. Some won’t ever know but will get to live with their “official less than 42.2 km” time. I’ve known very experienced marathon runners who ran short and were still convinced they suddenly pulled off 15 minute personal bests to brag about, and even got age division prizes as they were in the pack somewhere. Those not experienced will likely never know.
Oh, the slower walkers and runners who started early had nobody on the course to guide them, either, and some of them also went off course.
Do you know if you ran the right course?
Are you absolutely sure knowing quite a few people might not have this year? I’m not necessarily suggesting you went off course by 4 km. There were plenty of loops to accidentally repeat and/or cut out that were of smaller distances. Do you remember any intersections or turns where you weren’t sure where to go, or were confused by the streams of people going in several directions? Have a good look at that map again and try to remember if that’s the route your ran.
And what are you going to do if you didn’t think you ran the right course, or knew you ran the wrong course? What might your time have been?
Sadly, this isn’t the first time all of this stuff has happened with the Blue Nose marathon. I ran in the inaugural race in 2004 and there were similar problems then. There’s been similar problems most years since that I have heard about, or experienced myself like missing a turn off in Shubie Park one year because nobody was there. I only had to run an extra few hundred metres, as it turned out, so no big consequence, though I’ve divorced myself from the race after that third time. Runners have complained again and again, but officials just brush it off, saying runners should complain in a constructive manner rather than complain anonymously.
Seriously. Do they need emotionally sensitive formal complaints to realize they have a problem?
Step up or shut up
The organizers then complain about how the elites, for the most part, don’t participate in the race because of the hills, weather and every reason except the organizers’ shortcomings. Well, the elite runners probably know a few thing or two about races to avoid, and they don’t fear anything in Halifax considering a lot of them train here all year, through hills and weather and wind and all. The Blue Nose organizers should step up or shut up and get things right for a change.
Speaking of shutting up, Gerry Walsh’s “brilliant” comment in 2010 regarding elite runner participation doesn’t exactly endear elite runners to the race.
“(elite runner participation)’s not on the radar screen and I don’t expect to ever see it happen. I really think that would damage the fabric of the event.”
– Gerry Walsh, Blue Nose Marathon co-chairman in 2010 and 2011 (via Nova Scotia elite runner Eric Gillis’ blog)
Gerry’s ego is obviously even bigger than his mouth. He’s clearly the yellow stain in the fabric here. Gerry followed it up with a less “brilliant”, but nevertheless similar dismissive comment this year.
“When you run an event in a city like this with (so) many people in the relatively small geographic footprint that we operate on you end up crisscrossing a number of streets. There was signage there, but it may not have been sufficient. We do a post-race review of all aspects of the event, including incidents like this, so definitely we’ll be reviewing it for next year’s event.”
– Gerry Walsh (in today’s Chronicle-Herald)
Uh, Gerry, given the “changes” made over the past years that haven’t worked, the change needs to be you and possibly some others, cause you and your people obviously aren’t too open to see your errors. There is no small geographic print, Gerry. That’s your doing! The crisscrossing of streets is your doing cause there’s a lot of the peninsula that’s not even used, never mind the rest of Halifax and Dartmouth! The signage is your doing cause a few trained volunteers would have been nice at any crisscrossing, for the love of running! You getting the message now, Gerry? You drop that ego and your running times would be a lot faster, too, never mind benefiting the runners.
By the way, what does the other co-chair have to say about this? Surely s/he can’t be this bad at media presence and public relations!
Hopefully, the organizers will make changes or they will be replaced for change rather than just shutting up. The Blue Nose Marathon event does serve this community extremely well to get people in shape. The volunteers generally do a great job to make it a good event. It isn’t their fault if they aren’t provided the right training, or that the course is unnecessarily complicated. It’s time the race got some new organizers and make some major changes. Sponsors should definitely demand this. I’d like to ask Scotiabank, Johnson Insurance, Goodlife Fitness and other sponsors if they got to where they are today by putting up with repeated incompetence like this?
People should also stop putting up with the errors. Look elsewhere to run if things don’t change. If most of the elites are doing it, maybe they should think about it. There are plenty of great marathons and half-marathons in Nova Scotia, the Maritimes, Canada, the US and around the world. Reward yourself for your training while you’re at it instead of having to pay good money to run in your own streets in what is becoming a questionable experience. Demand better, people! You deserve better!
Congrats, condolences and results links
Congratulations to all who finished the races on the Blue Nose marathon weekend. Hopefully, you didn’t go off-course, or got corrected quickly enough, that you got a fair time. Some specific congratulations go to:
- Greg Wieczorek who ran the course in a record 2:28:53
- Mylene Sancoucy who won the women’s division in 3:00:56
- Frank Reinhardt, who came back despite having been left stranded to go off course last year past 20 miles, to run a great 3:03:24 for 7th overall
- Dave Nevitt who finished 9th overall with a great time of 3:06:14, winning his age division easily, and had a whole intergenerational family participate and win awards
- My other running friends who participated on the weekend
Condolences to the second to fourth place marathon finishers (Scott Clark, Kevin Tulloch and Ryan Nutbrown), who ran the extra four kilometres and came in around the three hour time. One can only wonder the time you might have ran if you hadn’t gone off course because it’s not as simple as linearly interpolating to get that time. Best wishes for better times and luck to come for you in your marathon running future. Same goes for the top half-marathoners who went off course… or anyone else who went off course, for that matter.
Does (sponsor) Johnson Insurance have a Misled Runner policy?
They should given what’s going down at the Blue Nose all these years! :-)
You half-marathoners who went off course should check!
Thank yous and look forward
Finally, thank you to all those who turned out to work and/or volunteer to make the event happen this weekend. The Blue Nose debacle is not a fair reflection on you and your efforts, but those at the top need to face the consequences of their incompetence. It’s too bad some of you felt really embarrassed to have been associated with this event afterward (and voiced it on social media) for all your efforts. Let’s hope leadership listen and make the appropriate changes for the event in 2012 before more people get their big day ruined!