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Are there any rules about runners going up on the sidewalks on a course to cut it short? We had the Mercedes Marathon here this week-end and one runner is complaining that his competition cut the course short.
Rick Melanson

Dear Rick -

The course is not certified on the sidewalk. Any runner who takes a shortcut is liable to disqualification. Sometimes this is done, sometimes it isn't. Unless viewed by a race official, or a protest is made by another competitor, nothing happens.

If a protest is made, it's up to the race organization to handle it, usually with a Jury of Appeals which rules on the protest. If the organization hasn't set up a Jury of Appeals ahead of time, it can get messy.

I'll put this on the Bulletin Board. Perhaps someone else can shed light.
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I actually measured a course (the Westport Summer Series 10 miler, CT00028DR) that IS measured on a sidewalk, which cuts across the hypotenuse of a 90 degree turn through a small park. Runners cut this corner almost from the first year the course was run, and the RD felt it was easier to measure it that way than try to enforce it.

A related sidewalk story:
I was riding in the lead truck of a race when we made a 90 degree left and came right up against a car that had gotten on the course and was trying to exit the opposite direction. We came to a dead stop and the leader had to jump on the sidewalk to get past the vehicles. As it turned out, he went on to set a World Record that day, which has since been broken. I don't think he shaved more than a meter off the distance w/ his maneuver, but I wonder if the race was subsequently validated, and if so, if that shortcut was taken.
I recall this too, except I didn’t remember speaking with Paul afterward. What follows is a reconstructed recollection. I remember that it was Uta Pippig leading the women’s race at about halfway. Looking up past race results tells me that it was the 1993 race.

The TV broadcast was moving back and forth between the men and the women, and I didn’t get a continuous view of either race. I had measured the course with a group in 1985, and only minor changes had been made since then. What I remember is seeing Uta moving along nicely toward the camera across the Pulaski Bridge on McGuinness Avenue. At the north end of the bridge the course takes an acute left turn onto Jackson. There was a curbed triangular point at the apex of the turn. We had measured in the street, staying outside the curbline.

Here is a Google Earth view of the intersection. There is now a shortcut in place, for making a right turn from Jackson onto the bridge. I don’t recall whether the shortcut was there when we measured in 1985. The course map we produced, as well as subsequent maps, do not show this shorter, easier path.

When Uta made the turn she ran onto the sidewalk, thence onto Jackson. I saw immediately that she had cut the course.

It saved her perhaps three or four meters. No barriers were in place – she just took the natural line.

I don’t remember how close the women’s finish was.
The shortcut conversation reminds me of a big flap we had one year at the Marine Corps Marathon. I'll have to do some digging to get the year and the other details. But a French runner was leading the course from pretty early on. He was reported to have cut the course in several places by running across sidewalks and the like. So there was a big controversy and I believe the marines held up a final decision on awards until they resolved it.
What I did was to collect all the accounts of where this guy had cut the course and to interview eyewitnesses. Then I went to all of those places to measure the amount that had allegedly been cut. I figured I didn't have anything to add to the question of whether or not the runner had cut the course-- apparently he had, that wasn't really disputed-- but at least I could give them some idea of the magnitude. If memory serves, the differences amounted to something like 15 to 20 meters.
In the end the marines did not disqualify the runner, so he was officially declared the winner. A couple considerations were: he won by a margin of well over one minute, I think a minute and a half; and the possibility that the runner, with racing experience in Europe not US, may actually not have understood that the course did not include the sidewalk or any other available shortcut. (Sorry about the double negative.) There is no prize money in this race-- and I wonder how that would change things if there were money involved.
So anyway, we were thinking that races might do well to remind runners in some fashion that you are expected to stay on the road. I don't know if that is done, or if the problem is as big as I thought.

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