Runner's Heartbreak: Sunday's Gulf Coast Marathon was 1,555 feet short

Updated: Dec. 12, 2017 at 4:48 PM CST
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Crushing" is how one runner described learning the Gulf Coast Marathon course was .295 miles short of the 26.2 miles needed to be a full marathon.

Saturday's race was billed as a qualifying event for the prestigious Boston Marathon, but the shortage leaves those runners still chasing that dream.

Race director Jonathan Dziuba told WLOX News Now he takes full responsibility for the course being mismarked.

"It was my absent mindedness that led to communicating...  I know that the marathon course was 1,555' 1" short," Dziuba said an email sent to 441 people who completed the race.

"It was a slip of the tongue," Dziuba told WLOX News Now explaining he mistakenly told the person marking the turn around point on the course. 
The final leg for those running the marathon took them up the I-110 overpass where they turned around and ended at MGM Park. Course markings instructed runners to turn around at the second truss on the bridge instead of the third, Dziuba said.
The only recourse for those who thought they had qualified for the Boston Marathon will be to run another race.

The following is a copy of the letter sent to all Gulf Coast Marathon runners:

It is with a heavy heart and personal disappointment that I write these words to you today.  Starting Sunday afternoon, we began getting complaints about the marathon course being short.  That continued into Monday when people were able to post Strava and Garmin data for us to see.  Initially, our Runner Support team was responding to the inquiries with our standard response to distance discrepancies related to satellite data.  I realized then that we did not get a timing mat past the half marathon turnaround and assumed that many of the distance differences were due to runners accidentally turning around at the halfway mark instead of the full mark.  I also spoke to the person who set the turnarounds and they performed that task exactly how they were instructed.  In my mind, there was nothing more that could be done to look into this matter.  Based on the number of complaints and responses I did go back to the original measurement notes taken and compared those to the satellite images of the I-110 interstate.  The course was indeed short and it was my failure in communication that lead to it being so.

Here is an explanation of what happened:  I personally measured the course to be submitted for certification.  We had access to Interstate I-110 for only a couple hours early one Sunday morning to do so.  This required police escorts and for the interstate to be partially closed.  There was not enough time to measure that portion of the course two times and then make a third trip to measure and mark the turnarounds.  The next time we would have access to be on the interstate would be race morning.  Due to that, I measured and set marks at every light pole and interstate truss sign along that portion of the interstate.  (These are all approximately 260 feet apart on average.)  Once the final distance of the course was measured and verified, I had made enough marks to be able to set the turnaround(s) race morning and knew which marks to measure from for those turnarounds.  The marathon turnaround was meant to be set 105' north of the interstate truss that is just south of Percy St.  That is the third interstate truss sign you pass when heading north from Hwy 90.  I instructed the person measuring and setting the turnaround to go 105' north of the second interstate truss mark.  It was my absent mindedness that lead to communicating to that person incorrect instructions.  Because of the measurement notes and verification that the turnaround was marked exactly per my instructions, I know that the marathon course was 1,555' 1" short.  That is approximately .295 miles.  The half marathon was executed per certification and was correct.

I am deeply sorry for this series of events.  I am sorry that I didn't recognize it earlier and that our responses have not been on point due to that.  I always trust my staff and my people and they confirmed they did exactly as instructed.  It wasn't until later that I realized my instructions were wrong.  I have always taken a great deal of pride in the fact that runners can have faith in us to have a correct, safe and complete course no matter what.  It's painful to let so many down in that regard.  Unfortunately, BAA does not currently allow exceptions for people not running the complete marathon distance at a race even if it is the event producer's fault.  For those runners who were able to make your BAA qualifying time, I am deeply saddened by my mistake especially for you.


Jonathan Dziuba
Race Director
Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon