Swiss misdirect night-time marathoners, cut race short by 7.5 km

Somewhere along the way, the Swiss noted the growing popularity of marathons. Factoring in that as many as  a half-million Americans complete them in a year, and about 500 marathons are held worldwide annually, our local Swiss decided 42 kilometres must be too easy.

And so the Swiss of Biel/Bienne introduced a 100-kilometre race, and to protect against it growing too popular, and therefore, easy, they run it at night. It is going on right now, as I write this, although it is just after noon here, but that is what happens when you run a ridiculously long race – it becomes an around-the-clock event.

Runners were here.

If history is an indicator, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,500 runners took off from downtown Biel, running right past our hotel, so at a few minutes before 10, Dave announced it was time to go downstairs to watch the runners. At precisely that moment, my Skype box popped up, showing a friend who has been wrangling with a head injury was online.

“You go ahead,” I said. “I’ll just see how the head injury is coming along.” I said this because I believed it would take the runners 10 minutes to get to our corner and that it would be the same as past races I’ve attended or covered as a reporter – in other words there would be at least 10 solid minutes of human flesh pounding the pavement.

It turns out I was wrong about that. Before I had gotten a full report on my friend’s condition, Dave returned to the hotel room. The runners had surged past in one giant overflowing bubble, instead of the long train we had expected.

This is a good time to point out that Dave has scored a victory in the “Hurry up, Jo, we’re going to miss it” department of our marital history. Good for him. He wins. I have learned my lesson.

The runners were supposed to loop around our area twice, so I abandoned my friend and raced down to catch the second surge.

It never appeared. Police officers controlled the intersections with gates, the roads were closed to traffic and down the road we could see throngs of spectators. But no runners. We wandered a block down, and saw a few stragglers on the course. We waited. The crowd’s energy flattened, although music still blared over the loudspeakers.

Then two front-runners came into view, whipped around the corner decisively and were gone. Ah, the pack must be coming soon, we said.

We were wrong about that.

After more than 10 minutes a single runner came down the street that was flanked with overarching balloons and marathon paraphernalia, which suddenly looked like a lot of fuss over not much.

I readied the camera for him to turn the corner, but then instead of turning he went straight. No one stopped him. Not speaking the local languages and unable to discern whether the idiots were us or the race-marshalls, we shrugged and waited.

Minutes passed, the spectators started to break up, and then another lone runner appeared. This one turned the corner where the front-runners had and we surmised that the earlier lone runner had made a dreadful mistake, or perhaps he was on one of the shorter races that runs concurrent to the 100-km race.

Then this last runner turned back, ran up to one of the reflective-jacket-wearing race marshalls who directed him back up the road.

A runner going in the opposite direction of other runners at the Biel/Bienne 100k on June 17. Either he is the only guy to memorize the course and so he's ignoring the race marshalls, or he is but the first of many on a misdirected course.

As we neared our hotel we saw another lone runner, but this one running in the opposite direction of the other runners we had seen. I snapped a photo and we continued to puzzle over the mysterious disappearance of thousands. We walked along dark barricaded roads, passing officers, who we suspected might be thinking the same thing as us, that is,  “Where is everybody?”

It turns out we were right about that.

This morning I checked the race website to see an announcement that gosh-darn-it the organizers are blushing, but it seems that the entire field of runners was misdirected, thus cutting seven kilometres off the race.

Here is the Google Translate version: As a result of a misdirection in the city of Biel (crossing road freight / Murtenstrasse) the runners of the marathon, half marathon and walking without additional round was conducted directly on the route.This lack these routes around 7.5 km distance.

I don’t know yet what this means for the 100-kilometre runners, but some marathoners are going to be mighty pleased with their race times.

Update: Race officials are giving affected runners’ vouchers to waive fees in their events (marathon, half-marathon and walking) in  the 2012 100 KM race, along with a “letter of excuse.” 

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