Running a marathon is one of the most physically demanding sporting achievements. Now imagine crossing that finish line at last... only to discover that you should have stopped running about a half kilometre ago.
That's what happened to everyone who finished the Belfast Marathon this weekend, as course organisers admitted the race was too long by about 460 metres.
The standard Olympic Marathon is 42.195 kilometres, based on the legend of a soldier who ran from the Greek coastal town of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the Greek army's victory against the Persians. In the legend, the distance (and perhaps a battle wound) proved too much for him, and he collapsed and died — good thing the city of Athens wasn't 460 metres farther away.
Organisers of the Belfast Marathon said the problem occurred because of 'human error' — the lead vehicle diverted from the officially measured route twice along the way, leading the runners slightly off-course and making for an extended race. In a statement, Belfast Marathon chairman David Seaton said that race procedures are being looked at, and "protocols will be put in place to ensure this never happens again."
Both the mens' and the womens' races were won by Kenyans — Joel Kositany won the male race for the fourth time, with an initial time of 2:18:40. Caroline Jepchirchir managed to set a new record for the fastest women's time of 2:36:38, even in the face of the extra-long course. Organisers apologised to all runners for the error, acknowledging that it's demoralising for those who were working towards specific times.
Marathon finisher: "Overall, it was a great day."
Race finisher Garrett Martin said he had an inkling even before he'd finished the race that something was off.
"We had an idea when we were running around the course from our watches, that the mile markers weren't quite right," he told Good Morning Europe on Monday.
"And then when we had 26.2 miles up on the watch, it was a bit frustrating to realise that I had almost another half a mile to run. So yeah, it was a bit frustrating, but you're always glad to finish the marathon, we got there in the end thankfully."
The consequences of a longer race is about more than just the physical task of running more. Marathon runners are out for glory as well as a finisher's medal — whether it's a course record, a season's best or a personal best.
"I suppose it's not that much farther, but at the end of the day, if you're looking for a time, which a lot of people are, it added three or four minutes on to the time," said Martin.
"They in fairness got the mistake sorted, communicated it and they're adjusting peoples' times accordingly. So they sorted it in the end, but it certainly was a bit frustrating at the time, when you are so physically exhausted. Thankfully, I got my personal best. I came in at 3:17:47 but they adjusted that accordingly and I had 3:14, which was good."
But despite the problems caused by the mistake, the attitude amongst the racers was good, according to Martin.
"Overall it was a great day, Belfast, the supporters were out in force. The weather was actually a bit cold, but conditions were perfect for running a marathon. Overall, it was a success, but they obviously need to make sure that sort of thing doesn't happen again."
Martin's now looking forward to lacing up his sneakers for the next — hopefully slightly shorter — marathon.
"I'm due to do Berlin in September, so if I can keep in shape and keep training properly, then hopefully I can do Berlin."