Twice in the last year I’ve been on different sides of a the same issue and it has to do with knowing and following the rules in racing. I think it may be helpful to think this through, because whether you’re a leader or a follower, the bottom line is that you need to follow the rules of the race — whether the race officials follow their own rules in application is a question for them, not you.
Yesterday I was running in a mid-sized 10K race. I say mid-sized (about 1,000 runners in the 10K distance and 5,000 in all distances) because it was a well organized race and you’d expect the course to be well marked. I was sitting in a comfortable fourth place, well out of contention and enjoying myself. I was there to get in a good workout and I was happy to sit back and watch the top three guys up there fighting it out. But then we came to a fork in the road, literally. I knew that we were supposed to take a right turn, but I saw the two leaders keep going straight. There was no volunteer at the intersection and it was otherwise unmarked. The third place runner slowed as he came to the intersection and then he looked back at me — I pointed to the right and he went right, but slowed down to let me catch up.
I was certain that the course turned right at that intersection, because I run this route probably twice a week in training. This is my hood. Unfortunately, I also knew that the road the leaders were following was going to shorten their course pretty significantly. Either road would have lead to a turn-around at the half-way point of the course and then we would have headed straight back to the finish, so it wasn’t a matter of getting lost. It was just a matter of running the right course and the right distance.
So did we make the right choice? Well, first a review of the rules. In both running and triathlon it is the responsibility of the athlete to know the course. Going off course, whether on purpose or not, is against the rules because it could result in shortening (or lengthening the course). There has been high-profile cases of leaders taking wrong turns in marathons and getting disqualified, but race organizers hate doing this because it almost always means that something wasn’t marked correctly.
The rules then say that you as a runner need to know and follow the course. My thought process yesterday was, first, that there could have been a timing mat at the turn-around and second that if someone did file a compliant (like the guy ahead of me in third place) that we would move up into first and second place, putting us both in the prize money. I wasn’t going to make a stink about this, because I wasn’t in contention anyway, but I was concerned that the leaders might set a course record by shorting the course.
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