21 May 2013

Why sorry is the hardest word to say…

Especially for Athletics NI.

On Friday evening, I took part in the Les Jones Memorial 10K race at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast.  There were over 200 runners taking part, and the weather conditions were just fantastic as the race started at 19:30.  It has been several years since I last ran this race, but I remembered the course well enough to hold back before hitting the infamous hill at Barnett Demesne.  I was very happy to finish with a time of 39:42, a season best, and even better, it meant I had achieved one of my goals for the year.

But of course, I hadn’t, had I?  I was initially suspicious because I had went through the half-way point at approximately the 20:50 minutes mark, and it has been many years since I’ve ran a negative split in a 10K race.  Sure enough, a few minutes after I had finished back at the Mary Peters track, it was announced over the tannoy that there had been a mistake and the course we had ran was not the set 10K course.  And then… absolutely no further information. No indication of how short the course was off the 10K distance, and certainly no apology for the runners. It wasn’t until I got home that I learnt that the race course was approximately 400-500m short of the 10K distance, due to the runners being sent the wrong direction at Barnett Demesne.  A number of reports (here and here) state that the race organisers had apologised for the error – I certainly didn’t hear an apology on the night, and I’ve been unable to find one on any of the Athletics NI social media or on their own race report. [If you know different, please let me know via the contact form or add a comment below.]

I want to be very clear – I’m not getting at the unfortunate race marshal who sent the runners along the wrong route.  It is very definitely not this person’s fault.  Having acted as race marshal several times, I can say without hesitation it is up to the race organisers to brief the race marshals to make sure that the route is completely clear to everyone, and that each marshal is aware of their individual role in the race. Only last Wednesday, I acted as a marshal for the Purple Ladies 5K race in Ballymoney.  It was a new race on a route I‘m unfamiliar with, and after the race briefing, one of the race organisers took the time to walk out with me to my post, to point out to me the marshals before and after me on the race route, and the path that the runners were to take during the race.  It is pretty clear this didn’t happen as part of the preparations for the Les Jones 10K race.

As an aside, it seems this type of error is happening too often – see the Angry Jogger’s take on the Marathon of the North fiasco.  Isn’t there a set response for race organisers when this happens? If there isn’t, there should be!

It should be pointed out that this was a race organised by the Athletics NI team.  We should be able to expect better from the administrators of the sport.  It is also worth considering that the race is held to remember the late Les Jones, a former Athletics NI official who helped organised some great athletics meets and running races in the past.  Before the race, the MC hoped that we could see those glory days return again to the Mary Peters Track.  Based on Athletics NI team’s performance on Friday night, I think that is very unlikely.

Update 21/05/2103

John Allen from Athletics NI has emailed to confirm that an apology was made on the Results page of the Athletics NI website. I had missed this, as I had accessed the results directly from the race report. I also accept that I also must have missed an apology made over the PA system on the night. Given this,the tone of the initial post above will seem harsh, and you might wander what the point of it is. The fact is, I left the race not knowing exactly what had happened, and despite checking Twitter/Facebook and the Athletics website, still didn’t know until I read the race report posted on the NI Running site.  Despite John’s gracious email, I’m still unclear how this mistake happened, and what Athletics NI plan to do to prevent it happening again.  I also believe Athletics NI need to look again at how they communicate with runners when these mistakes do happen, so that all relevant information is easily available.  Think differently?  Leave a comment.

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