Sacramento race guide leads Urban Cow half-marathon runners down wrong path

Published: Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 - 8:56 am

The lead cyclist guiding the fastest runners among 4,000 participating in Sunday's Urban Cow Half-Marathon made a wrong turn in Land Park, an error that added more than a half mile to the event, possibly affecting qualifying times for some runners.

Race officials said the mistake affected 1,400 participants – those running in the first group hoping to run the flat, fast course in less than 2 hours or set personal bests.

Shortly after the race ended, participants discussed the glitch on the race's Facebook site and in emails to The Bee. Many realized the glitch early on because they train with GPS devices and timers.

"I figured it out pretty quickly," said Alex Nichols, a participant in the first wave. "We went off course within the first mile. By Mile 2, the rumor was spreading through the crowd, because we knew we had gone too far. The second mile took me four minutes longer, so I kind of figured something was off."

Rich Hanna, a promoter with Capital Road Race Management in Sacramento, confirmed that the first-wave runners ran 13.74 miles, or 0.64 more than the half-marathon distance.

Hanna said officials decided to make a blanket time adjustment for that group. The adjustment would not necessarily disqualify them from using this half-marathon from getting into other events, he said.

"We've been doing this for eight years, and we've never had anything like this happen," Hanna said. "We worked hard to put on a good race, and having everyone follow the correct course is numero uno for us. It's disappointing to more people than you imagine, but me more than anyone."

Hanna said the lead cyclist guiding the first runners made a wrong turn near the Sacramento Zoo in William Land Park in the early part of the run. The volunteer guide led the runners onto the 5-kilometer course, a route for recreational runners and walkers, including 980 on Sunday.

"He made a major mistake, but what's done is done," said Hanna, who personally practiced the route with the guide in preparation for the run.

"We are involved in 75 races a year throughout Northern California, and unfortunately, this has happened at one of our most high-profile events."

Hanna said organizers calculated the runners' per-mile pace based on their individual times, adding 0.64 of a mile to the total distance and adjusting their time to reflect the longer course. The new times were going to be posted Sunday night on the event's website, Hanna said.

"We're sensitive to the fact that people work really hard in training, and targeted this race for months out," Hanna said. "There are no Olympians out here, but there's a battle in the pack, with people competing against others in their age group, or working toward personal goals."

Organizers said if any runner realized the mistake early and ran the correct race, they should notify organizers so their times won't be adjusted.

Hanna doesn't believe the changed course affected any placement awards, as the winners all ran the extra distance. Alan Jackson of Los Gatos won the overall individual event with a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 50 seconds.

The race, which cost entrants $65, benefits running programs in the Sacramento region, including many high school teams, and the American River Parkway Foundation. In all, nearly 5,000 participated in the half-marathon run and 5K event.

Nichols said he was not using the race as a qualifying time for other events, and was about 20 minutes behind the leader, so the mishap didn't affect him negatively. He praised the Capital Road Race Management team and volunteers and their legacy of running good races.

"Whatever happened is just flukey," he said. "I understand for some, it may be their first experience, so they may be mad, but I would run one of their (CRRM's) races any day of the week. They just had a bad morning."

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