It was a still and cool atmosphere on the morning of Sunday 2nd October 2016, with no wind and a little fog in the air. After my usual breakfast I packed some food and water supplies into my rucksack and headed to Pollock Park. I had volunteered to marshal at the race again this year but with such perfect racing conditions I was gutted not to be a part of the race.
The start was scheduled for 11.30am and by this time the fog had lifted to reveal the sunshine. I was in position just before the 6 mile marker ready to keep runners on course, cheer everyone on and hopefully see some quick times recorded. With Callum Hawkins in fine form of late after a world class 9th place finish in the Olympic marathon we knew it wouldn’t be long until he and the other race leaders would be upon us. And indeed they were. The front group of three were all looking comfortable, tucked in close behind the timing car. Not far behind them, some of Scotland’s finest club runners competing for individual honors and looking to make the most of this PB opportunity. Some recognizable faces on the running circuit such as Paul Sorrie and Bryan Mackie were putting in their usual fine performances. Close behind them, Cris Walsh was leading the charge for my own club Bellahouston Harriers.
Over the next couple of hours thousands upon thousands of runners passed, most with a smile on their faces, a few grimaces, some taking the opportunity to run in fancy dress, unless that really was Batman chewing on jelly babies. Some runners even stopping at the side of the road for a snack. A few required shouts of encouragement to keep them going. Ok maybe more than a few. Lots of them required shouts of encouragement to keep them going! To their credit, every one of them giving 100%, no matter their ability, to complete the course. It wasn’t too much longer until the back marker passed and my duties were relieved.
Results started to filter through on various social media platforms. A Scottish victory, course record and new national record with a superb run from Callum Hawkins in 60:23. A women’s course record also. Slightly further back into the club runners and there seems to be PB’s all round. 44 of the top 50 finishers and 92 out of the top 100 getting either a PB or SB. Now that’s the kind of stat that you don’t hear too often. I’m starting to wonder if anybody has seen Lance Armstrong tampering with the Scottish water supply. I’m also really regretting not racing.
Rumours started to circulate of a short course and GPS watches from a lot of the fast finishers and club runners coming in at under 13 miles. Interesting in itself considering that statistics show the most reported GPS distance for a marathon is actually 26.5 miles (from fetcheveryone.com), a full 0.3 miles longer than the course. (Of course as a runner, when your GPS watch measures long, it’s because the course was long. When it measures short it’s an error in your GPS.) Running in this type of situation always causes a degree of weaving, hence why your GPS watch should always measure a longer distance than the actual race. The course being short would explain the fast times, but it’s unusual for a huge event such as this to have a short course. They normally measure slightly long to make sure that they cover the distance. Strange, I’m beginning to wonder what has happened. Further news filters through that the run has missed a section of the route that is on the route map. A section which crosses the river at King George 5th bridge, along Clyde Place and immediately back across the river again. Sure, a small distance but that would make up the distance that seemed to fall short.
By the time I had got home, a statement had been released by the organisers on social media. Apparently the route map was wrong but the course that had been run was in fact the correct half marathon distance. I had my official marshals map in front of me with what the organisers called final race instructions. The route on here was not a computer aided graphic, it was a geographical map with buildings, trees and roads. Strangely it had the same route as the apparent “wrong” route map that had been published. So who had the right map? Was the person who set up the course at the riverside, avoiding the turn across the King George 5th bridge the only person who had the “correct” route? And what route map did the IAAF have when measuring the course? The confusion for me continued.
The easy way to work out whether the second river crossing was supposed to be part of the route would be to measure the final mile of the route which was ran, which included this section, but not measuring this section over the river. So that’s what I did. I measured from the 12 mile marker painted on the road, straight along the North side of river, into Glasgow Green and up to the finish line. It was bang on 1.1 miles. So it was true, the map did have an error and this river crossing wasn’t part of the route. But the inquisitive, science geek side of my brain was still suspicious.
I thought back to the changes in the course that had been made between 2015 and 2016. I was also a course marshal in 2015 and had the official route map so I decided to do a little comparison. Ignoring the turn across the King George 5th bridge which I had already confirmed was wrongly included in the 2016 route map, there were another three alterations in the route. There was a slightly different route taken through Pollock park, a very small alteration in Bellahouston Park and a clearly shorter route taken past Festival park, whereas last year’s route went the long way round this park. It wouldn’t take Lieutenant Columbo to work out that if everything else was the same then these three changes in 2016 should add up to equal the same distance for these sections in 2015, right?
These route changes can be seen in the picture below.
Top picture: 2016 “wrong” route showing river crossing that never was, at point 45.
Bottom left: 2016 route showing longer route taken through Pollock park from 15-19 and shorter route at Festival park, 39-41.
Bottom right: 2015 route with shorter route through Pollock park at number 16 and longer route round Festival Park at 39-40.
It’s really easy to measure these distances by using runners uploaded routes from a GPS watch onto a platform such as Strava. So that’s what I did. Adding up the 3 changed sections from 2015 and 2016 gave me an interesting result. The 2016 route coming in at almost 0.17 miles shorter than 2015. Just to double check, I went out on my bike armed with my GPS watch and actually measured these sections also. I got the same result. So the only way that the route could be the full distance is if the start line or finish line had moved to allow for this shortage. Looking up footage online it was quite clear that this was not the case.
Noises from inside the race organisers camp were that last minute changes had to be made to the route due to a road closure at the far side of Festival Park. Now the interesting thing is that measuring this full course is extremely difficult to do. Measuring any course is done by riding a calibrated bike round the course. This route not only goes over the Kingston bridge, one of Glasgow’s busiest roads but it actually goes the wrong way onto the off ramp and across the bridge on what is essentially the wrong side of the road to traffic. To measure the course would require closing the bridge and I’m assuming special clearance and Police support to do so. This is not something that I would imagine happening overnight. So was the new route actually measured?
Still not fully content that this information would satisfy some people, I took it one step further and compared Callum’s splits with Haile’s splits from 2013 when he ran the previous course record of 61.09. Haile went through 15k in 43.17 whereas Callum went through in 43.32, a full 15 seconds behind. At the end of the race, 6k later, Callum had finished in 60.23 compared with Haile’s 61.09. So put into simple terms, Callum ran this 6k, 61 seconds faster than Haile. Would anybody in the world be able to make up this difference up on Haile? Not even Mo Farah or Kene Bekele. Incidentally, the 0.17 mile shortage is approximately 250 metres, so at the pace that Callum was running he would have still got the course record but by a margin of more like 10-20 seconds which sounds much more realistic.
Although far from being a scientific test, I also believe that an athlete knows realistically what he or she can achieve, on a good day with perfect conditions and everything going according to the plan. Callum’s reaction when he crossed the line said it all for me. He continually looks back at the clock with an expression of disbelief on his face. There was a great quote from him in a newspaper, “I was not expecting that. I thought I would be about 62 minutes or something like that. I still can’t believe it. Actually out on the course I thought that the mile markers had been wrongly placed. It was only close to the finish when I saw the clock that I really realized.” There are many club runners in the same boat, who also can’t believe the time that they ran.
If you are reading this and thinking, “but it’s a massive race, surely they can’t get the distance wrong.” Well some of you will know that the Manchester marathon was considerably short by 380metres between 2013 to 2015. After it was eventually re-measured all the results were declared null and void. The Association of UK Course Measurers (AUKCM) admitted to an error in the calibration wheel which was fitted to the measuring bike.
The sport of athletics in recent years has been tainted with allegations of cheating, bribery and corruption. I don’t for one minute think that this is the case for the Great Scottish Run. I believe that an honest mistake has been made, but in the interests of sporting ethics it is essential for the actual route that was run to be re-measured and runners who trained hard, ran hard and ultimately had a great day, to be given the correct result.