What happened with the Portland Marathon course, anyway?

There has been a lot of chatter among Portland Marathon 2016 finishers about the course errors that led many participants to cover an extra half-mile. (Even those who didn't run it have strong thoughts about it.) Interestingly enough, the route posted on the Portland Marathon website doesn't even match the route submitted for USATF certification. The Red Lizards inquired with the Portland Marathon about this and were told, "no new certificate has been issued for the Portland Marathon since OR12023LB." Someone affiliated with the Marathon also indicates that even though there was some discussion, no official decision was made that the course changes should be recorded and submitted to USATF. No one really knows why some participants didn't turn on Couch (where organizers say they should have) or even on Davis (where the USATF map shows the route turning). But what happened could happen at nearly any event if there was a good reason. Good reasons include a medical emergency resulting in a road blockage; or a downed tree and power lines posing a safety hazard. I've even got race-director friends who have had their course markings tampered with: a turned arrow or stolen sign that can seriously lead someone astray; which is why they or a surrogate ride the course ahead of participants to verify everything is in place.

The bigger issue is the way the problem was handled. The first news report from KPTV offered some remarks that were seen as flippant by a number of affected runners, leaving people feeling frustrated. Comments about how the error wouldn’t impact people that were likely to qualify for Boston further compounded the irritation and those who missed a BQ by mere seconds or minutes came forward to share their experience. And the blaming of the Red Lizard pacers was simply wrong (and is so far the only “explanation” provided on the Portland Marathon’s website).

The Portland Marathon has a great opportunity to make this right for participants no matter who is at fault. I think a lot of drama (around anything) is created when people start focusing on “whose fault was it?” instead of on “how can we fix this?” A good start might be providing USATF with their actual course, updating the course on their website, and reaching out to the Boston Athletic Association to explain what happened and request acceptance of adjusted times on behalf of their participants. (The race director for the Vancouver Marathon, Energy Events, did this before the news broke, which was the right thing to do; perhaps the Portland Marathon has also tried to reach out but hasn’t mentioned it publicly.)

What else should they do? Well, that’s entirely up to them. Admitting there was a problem and issuing an apology will go much further than pointing the finger at anyone else; at least recognize that the error was a source of stress for many, many participants. Even if a spectator moved or blocked a course marking after the race started, which organizers really can’t control 100%, it would still be their responsibility as the host organization. A later news report from KGW included a quote from the race that did seem to recognize the gravity of the error, but the “how they’ll fix it” wasn’t addressed. Maybe a discount on the high registration price for the 2017 or 2018 event for those who were affected would be a good move, to try and earn another opportunity to show off what has been in years past a great event. And they should definitely learn from this error and review their course set-up and review procedure.

We are lucky that no one was hurt by a vehicle when they ran off course due to the missing course markings; and anyone who can run a half or full marathon probably already knows how lucky they are to even be able to do so. But running a marathon isn’t possible to do without investing months in training … and it’s up to the race to honor that investment with an accurate, safe course.

NOTE: If your time was affected by this course error, please email info@portlandmarathon.org to receive instructions on how to submit a request for correction.


About Kelly Barten (1152 Articles)
I started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because I felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. I also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support LOCAL race organizers. I'm a Creighton Bluejay (undergrad) and an Oregon Duck (Sports Marketing MBA), and I live in Tigard with my husband and two kids. My "real job" is working for an incredibly awesome math textbook company doing marketing and production.

9 Comments on What happened with the Portland Marathon course, anyway?

  1. Chad Wyatt // October 12, 2016 at 10:14 AM //

    Well said. This is one of the more expensive races out there, and I do expect a premium service for a premium price. Nothing with how this situation is being handled Rep rests professionalism or premium.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I was one of the affected runners and am mostly upset at the dismisive attitude or the director. Just because I wasn’t trying to Boston Qualify doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a fair and safe race. Mistakes happen but they need to accept that and try to make it right. I’m a native Portlander too and I’m embarrassed for my city that this happened.

  3. Thanks for this post. The safety factor is very important and overlooked.

    I ran in Corral A. We turned right on Couch street and ran the full online course map correctly. My watch had 26.28 miles on it at the end. I’m glad I didn’t run extra. I also feel terrible for those who did. They should have their times adjusted. I hope Boston will accept them. How exactly did this happen starting in Corral C? I’d like to know.

    This new development in the article is disturbing. I ran a BQ, but I have to accept the possibility it might not be accepted now. It’s disappointing to have these worries. Who wants to think of running a backup marathon because of paperwork concerns? Well, some runners might, but I just want to recover.

    I will never forget the actual running of this race. No one can take that away. I know I achieved my goals on the day for the full distance no matter what happens. I run because I love running, not for time goals (although they are fun to aim for).

    There were a lot of positives to the event. The on-course support was unbelievable for the conditions! I hope this whole situation is resolved smoothly for the sake of the race. It’s already a real great event. It just needs to clean up these mishaps.

  4. I ran in corral C and just checked my GPS. I ran the extra half mile. It felt off running the cramped route coming around Hoyt and meandering through back to Naito. This was my first time running the Portland Half Marathon. I was wondering why my GPS was off according to each marker I passed. I followed the herd in the dark, wet, cold morning. Wonder how we were all led astray. Due to the weather alone I would have been happy to finish a half mile sooner. I guess my time wasn’t as bad as I thought if I ran the 13.1. Even more happier, knowing what I now know. All in all it was a great race seeing the neighborhood support and those that lined Naito on both sides.

  5. We ran in Coral E. I was a 4:25 pacer and started toward the back of the coral. We had so much congestion the first 3 miles, I never even saw the 1 mile and 2 mile markers. When I saw the third mile marker, the watch said 3.45 miles. I knew something was off, just did not understand it was that far off. For them to say only a few runners, is False. I believe it was a few thousand runners. We had the biggest corals. So I believe that Corals C-F took the extended route. That is 4 out of 8 corals? Please correct me!!

    Thank you Kelly for the article!!

  6. Mike Zima // October 12, 2016 at 9:22 PM //

    I believe it started because Coral C was held back from the start to let a train pass and didn’t have the back of Coral B to follow. If no barricades, probably didn’t know to turn on Couch.

    • Craig Hulse // October 13, 2016 at 1:45 AM //

      oh yeah.. i was in coral C and yes we did have to wait for the train to clear.. that just may be the answer !!

  7. Torsten Heycke // October 12, 2016 at 10:24 PM //

    The Strava flyby tool lets you see people’s routes (who recorded their race on Strava). If you look at this link you can see many people followed the longer route. My daughter was running and in one of the affected groups. This is a long URL, sorry, but interesting http://labs.strava.com/flyby/viewer/#739748077?c=c20fbr58&z=F&t=1N_bCS&a=7agXLJ6uGizBFRksCQ04LJzHFyy3Zxgs86sXLC0LGSx-Uhgs5RwrLCLFJSzKbBwsiq8XLKELGCzTzBcsFHYiLPCpSiy4cBcsvzAbLOpOGSzUehcsD70XLNxmGCzDZhgsvYAbLH6HGSxd2SAsAAwbLCN4HCwMoRcs4s0XLLIgGSz28SUsrNEZLCzCFiwWSCosVt8YLHqUFyzRHRksYHoVLGT7GSzTMBgsY6cXLIJpGSzwyxgsJG4dLJTXGCxFwBgszFsYLNMHHCzzyjoslW0VLIbrFSw

  8. An addendum to my previous post above. I’m confident and optimistic everything will be resolved. They did so many things right on Sunday. I would gladly run it again.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Race Recap: 2016 Portland Marathon (45th Anniversary)—Portland, OR | Kallen in Motion
  2. The Portland Marathon – 26.2 and then a little more… – October 9, 2016 | Many Steps Make Mountains
  3. Goodbye Portland Marathon: Race Canceled after 47 Years | Kallen in Motion

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