With qualifications for the Boston Marathon well underway for next April’s run, controversy has marred recent two qualifying races.
A wrong turn in California and a freight train in Pennsylvania have left several runners out of contention to qualify, and despite protests and time adjustments, the Boston Athletic Association will stick by its protocol and not accept adjusted times from either race.
“They were very similar situations,” said BAA communications director Jack Fleming. “We are only accepting elapsed times.”
The controversy started on Aug. 28 in California when the Santa Rosa Marathon’s pace-setter took a wrong turn. The runner, who was on pace for a time of 3:03, realized something was wrong within a half-mile of the blunder.
Another runner, Abe Sheppard of Irvine, Calif., told The Press Democrat, “We just realized there was traffic on the course and it didn’t seem right. It seemed like we were going in the wrong direction.”
Sheppard finished in 3:16:38, just missing the BAA qualifying time of 3:15 for 40- to 44-year-old male runners.
Two weeks later, in Lehigh Valley, Pa., the 10th running of the Via Marathon was brought to a halt by a slow freight train that unexpectedly blocked the race route.
It wasn’t the first time a train had halted marathoners along this route. In 2010, a train held runners at the crossing for about 90 seconds.
Marathon officials reportedly had spoken with operators of the Norfolk Southern rail line, who agreed to halt service during the race.
“We are looking internally at who said what to whom,” said Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon. “We can, on rare occasion, accommodate community events. But emergencies come up and our customers demand efficiency and we must meet their demands.
“Nobody from Via spoke directly to me.”
Norfolk Southern also reprimanded runners who decided to leap through the car-length gaps in the train to continue the race, which was interrupted for about 10 minutes. No injuries were reported.
“Our focus is getting the word out on why it is a terrible decision to crawl under or jump over a moving train,” said Pidgeon. “We are seriously concerned by people doing this. No event is worth your life.”
Runner Charlie Young, 22, missed the qualifying time by a full eight minutes, according to the Associated Press.
Via released a statement saying it was looking to reevaluate results on an individual basis, but regardless, BAA protocol does not allow for adjusted times to be accepted.
“We cannot accept adjusted times,” said Fleming. “We’re not adjusting results. We are only accepting unadjusted results.”
Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.