Milwaukee Marathon comes up short after course error

MILWAUKEE - For the second year in a row, the distance for the PNC Milwaukee Marathon has been wrong.

Last year, the marathon course was measured too long by the technical race organizers and some cones were kicked off the course, so all runners went beyond the standard 26.2-mile distance by at least a half a mile and in a about a dozen cases, even more.

This year, the marathon course fell short.

Although the race is under new ownership — ROC Productions bought the event from its creator, Chris Ponteri — the same experts were used to measure out the course, which changed from last year.

The result was a shortcoming of about eight-tenths of a mile.

And that will likely mean those with Boston Marathon qualifying times Sunday may not in fact be able to use those times.

In an email sent to marathon or 10K specific race participants Sunday, Joe Zimmerman, president of ROC Productions, said that the full marathon turnaround and 10K turnaround were set short of the USATF Certification markings by technical race director Chad Antcliff.

“Though we were assured that the course was checked and then rechecked to verify that all cones were in the proper place, our post-race investigation confirms that they were in fact set short,” wrote Zimmerman. “We deeply regret that this human error by experienced professionals happened and are notifying all concerned.”

Antcliff measured both the 2016 and 2017 courses. In the same email, he said there was a misinterpretation of the route certification map that caused the turnaround on the Hank Aaron State Trail to be set in the incorrect spot, causing the route to be approximately 4,200 feet short.

“It was my responsibility as the technical race director to ensure race staff and vendors clearly understand the route, its markings, and intricacies. I failed to make clear the key points with the layout of the course,” Antcliff wrote.

Many runners in both the marathon and 10K were alarmed when their fitness trackers came up short; two local running coaches told the Journal Sentinel most races will show that they are long on GPS.

To try to make amends last year, Ponteri adjusted the race times downward for runners who exceeded the 26.2, but an official at the Boston Marathon would only accept the standard qualifying times even when the runner went farther than 26.2 miles.

This year, even if the PNC Marathon made some kind of appeal to Boston Marathon officials to adjust the times the other way, it isn’t likely those adjusted times will be accepted either.

Ponteri, who wasn’t involved with this race after March, said he’s run in marathons that came up short before.

“You get this kind of sick feeling in your stomach when you realize it — like I didn’t really run a full marathon,” said Ponteri. “It doesn't sit well with you."

Ponteri said he felt bad for this to happen to the PNC Milwaukee Marathon race the second year in a row.

"Runners are pretty forgiving when it happens once," said Ponteri. "They don’t forget, but they forgive. When it happens a second time ... I'm not sure there will be the same forgiveness, and that’s unfortunate because obviously I want this race to succeed in a big way."

Zimmerman did not return phone calls from the Journal Sentinel.

Here’s the full email message from the PNC Milwaukee Marathon:

After last year’s experience with vandalized cones in the 2016 Milwaukee Running Festival, course accuracy became our top priority for 2017 (right behind participant safety). Having said that, we took every precaution, hiring two separate course management companies – both experts in the space and highly respected by their peers and other large events — to ensure absolute accuracy.

Immediately after hearing about potential problems from some race participants, we began an all-hands investigation with the Race Director, Route Sector Captains, and the professional firms employed to set up the course. In spite of these experienced professionals’ consistently successful track record working other races, we’ve come to the conclusion that the full marathon turnaround and 10K turnaround were set short of the USATF Certification markings.

Though we were assured that the course was checked and then rechecked to verify that all cones were in the proper place, our post-race investigation confirms that they were in fact set short. We deeply regret that this human error by experienced professionals happened and are notifying all concerned.

Delivering this news is hard, but we believe it is our duty to thoroughly investigate all concerns on behalf of our participants. We are working to identify and implement additional, “above and beyond” best practice processes that will prevent this issue from happening in the future.

-        Joe Zimmerman, President, Milwaukee Marathon


"Race Day Events worked closely with the Milwaukee Marathon and were made aware that the distance of the Marathon was short.  After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the company hired to race direct and manage the course mistakenly set the turnaround early. We are working with the event to make sure participants are made aware of the mistake and any effects it may have on their performance. We are also using the results of this investigation to make sure we have a best process in place for next year’s event to insure this does not happen again.”

-       Ryan Griessmeyer, Race Day Events


"Regrettably, the course for the marathon route for this past Sunday’s Milwaukee Marathon was set incorrectly. Misinterpretation of the route certification map caused the turnaround on the Hank Aaron State trail to be set in the incorrect spot, causing the route to be approximately 4200’ short. I was contracted by the event and it was my responsibility as the technical race director to ensure race staff and vendors clearly understand the route, its markings, and intricacies. I failed to make clear the key points with the layout of the course. I will work closely with the Milwaukee Marathon, staff, and vendors to develop safeguards to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”

-       Chad Antcliff, Race Director

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


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