Vancouver marathon 'long course' a lesson that lasted

Since joining event in 2013, race director Eric Chéné doubled the double-checking

jock and jill

I got a response this afternoon from the folks at the BMO Vancouver Marathon about the 2012 race course that ran long. It was more than 350 metres too long, a distance that affected the fastest competitors to reach the finish line. 

The error was identified and addressed during the race. The logistics of this astound and impress me. Imagine the terrible stress of discovering this error and then working to fix it. This must be the stuff of nightmares for a guy like Eric Chéné, the current BMO Vancouver Marathon race director, and others in his place.

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(To back up for a second, on April 1 this year, some jokesters at Vancouver's only marathon made a gag about cutting down the official distances to rounder, prettier sums of 20km and 40km. The headline writer in me likes this. However, the joke fell flat for some because it landed too close to reality. Read all about that here.)

The event in 2012 marked the first time the half- and full-marathon distances took different point-to-point routes. It was two new courses, which is no small undertaking. 

Eric Chéné came in as the race operations director at the end of that year. Here's what he discovered from the 2012 race, and what actions he took to prevent the mistake from repeating:

  • He said, "After they measured the new course in April 2012, to my understanding, they needed additional distance on both the half and marathon courses." 
  • To accommodate for this extra distance, Chéné said the organizers created what they called a “trombone,” located in a parking lot in Spanish Banks. The "trombone" was designed to be 568 metres. However, for the marathon, "apparently the volunteers did not place the cones correctly, so the first 150 or so runners ran long. They fixed the error, but obviously the fastest runners had passed through the area."


Of the 12,612 finishers that year, a fraction was affected.

In regards to official qualifying times for the Boston Marathon, the race organizers contacted the Boston Athletic Association and were granted permission to "adjust the runners' times based on if they would have ran the correct course," according to Chéné, whose comments were forwarded to me today by email. From what it seems, no one was denied entry if he or she was affected by this course error. If this isn't the case, ping me. 

running marathon
The winner of the 1974 Vancouver Marathon, Tom Howard crosses the finish line as an official marks his time with a stop watch. Back then, the course looped around Stanley Park four times and has been changed numerous times.It now begins in Queen Elizabeth Park with a downtown finish after the marathon route circles Stanley Park and the half-marathon course goes through it. Photo BMO Vancouver Marathon

Here's what Chéné said he did to prevent the error from repeating.

  • "In 2013 when I took over, I felt that the 'trombone' left room for interpretation on how to mark the course, so after consultation with AIMS officials, other race directors and BC Athletics, I felt the best solution was to create an out-and-back on each course." This decision was also approved by the board of directors, and is what he said explained the added sections on Blanca and Quebec streets. "Almost all that I spoke to recommended against using a 'trombone,'" he added.
  • From that point, he said, "I ensured that I personally clearly marked both out-an-backs and bring both my zone leaders and course leads to the area. We continue this practice every year. I also do the same with all my lead drivers, bike team and race officials." 
  • They doubled the size of the bike team from 25 and now have more than 60 riders. "During the four training rides, we clearly indicate the mark and explain why it is important to run the correct course."
  • There is a lot of experience on his team, said Chéné. Approximately 85 per cent of the team has been working the event since he joined at the end of 2012. "Prior to my arrival, only 30 per cent or so would return year over year."
  • "As a redundancy, I personally mark the spot two days prior to race day with more chalk paint to make it absolutely clear to everyone," he said. He then has numerous team leaders also check the cones marking the out-and-back portions and has them "call in/text/radio to the command centre to ensure we are good for race start."
  • "Finally, I added a water station as extra redundancy at the location to help assist with the turn-around point to ensure runners do not cut the course." And, to track runners and corner-cutters, they added more timing mats at each 5km interval.

Registration for the 2017 Vancouver Marathon and Half-Marathon is online here. I plan to run the half though I might want to stop at 20km.

I also hear there could be a wedding on the course. Hope to bring that story to you soon.

Twitter: @MHStewart

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