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 to receive instructions on how to submit a request for correction.


About Author

We started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. We also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support local race organizers.

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