Imagine running for 100 miles, setting a world record, and then finding out it doesn’t count.
The 40-year-old finished the race in 12 hours 41 minutes 11 seconds — a 7:37-per-mile pace — and beat the second-place finisher and first male athlete, Arlen Glick, by nearly 30 minutes. The race served as the USA Track & Field 100 Mile Road Championships, and Herron garnered international acclaim for her world record victory.
In doing so, Herron also beat her own world record of 12:42:40, which she set in 2017, by more than a minute.
Or at least that’s what she thought.
After the course was remeasured, in February and again in October, it was determined that the course had been slightly altered and was short by 716 feet. As a result, a USA Track & Field committee decided not to ratify the record.
Herron and her husband and coach, Conor Holt, have questioned the findings and expressed frustration at what they say has been a lack of transparency and communication from USATF. In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, the race director, Ken Rubeli, argued to a USATF official that the findings were “open to subjectivity” and questioned the accuracy of measurements made eight months after a race.
Herron said the situation has been “very stressful” for her. “I set a world record in that race, and now they’re telling us that we don’t know whether the course was 100 miles or not,” she said. “So it’s been very upsetting to me the past several months. I’ve had races since then, and this has weighed heavy on me and impacted my performances.”
David Katz, chair of the USATF Road Running Technical Council, wrote in a statement to The Post that the measurements taken on the day of the Jackpot 100-mile race and after the event “produced a course less than the 100 miles.”
A USATF council “decided not to ratify the record because the course was changed from what was certified,” Katz wrote. In a phone interview, Katz said that the organization has been careful to gather all the facts and that the “ratification process takes a long time.”
Katz said in his statement that the course was measured four times by two top A-level measurers — twice in February and twice in October — and it came up short. The Post obtained a measuring report that indicates the course was measured on Oct. 25 by Brandon Wilson, a World Athletics measurer with an A rating, the highest distinction for racecourse measurers. Wilson’s report concluded that the 100-mile course’s actual length was 99.864336 miles, or 716 feet short.
“Due to overwhelming documentation, photos, first-hand accounts, and live video coverage of the race this fact is not in dispute, no runners in any contest ran certified courses on race-day,” Wilson said in the report.
Rubeli, who has since sold the Jackpot event, wrote in a three-page letter sent to Nancy Hobbs, the chair of the USATF Mountain, Ultra and Trail Sport Council, that he takes issue with the measurements and being excluded from the process.
“Trying to measure a course’s shortest possible route 8 months after a race, is challenging at best and open to subjectivity, especially if the measurement individuals don’t know the relevance of the green course paint marks relative to cone placement,” Rubeli wrote. “Inches matter in a short loop course with over nearly 90 laps.”
Rubeli states in the letter that he changed one turn on the course for safety reasons, “due to a near collision between a runner and a baby stroller,” adding, “I compensated for this turn change with precise cone placements on the course.”
In a phone interview, Rubeli said he made the change before the 2020 Jackpot Ultra race but that he did not know the altered course needed to be re-certified and USATF officials never brought it to his attention.
On Feb. 27, about a week after the race, Rubeli hired Paul Fritz, a World Athletics level B measurer, to measure the course, and Fritz came up with 100.00396 miles based on the shortest possible route on the altered course.
Herron said she believes that she ran 100 miles that day in February.
“I hope I get another opportunity at the record, but I may not — you don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “So this is highly impactful on me and my career. I mean, I’m 40 years old, you know. My time is now that I’m in the best shape of my life. And, I mean, these moments can be fleeting. I put my heart and soul into that performance, and it was such a big deal for the sport and the history of the sport that it needs to count.”
Course errors have happened before
This is not the first time a racecourse error has voided records. Whenever a runner sets a record, whether it is a world record, American record or age group record, the course must be verified by an official measurer before the record can be ratified.
Although it’s not common, runners have lost out on records in the past because of a course error, some occurring in high-profile events. And when a racecourse error occurs, it’s not just the elites who are affected. Amateur runners who thought they had run a personal best in a race distance can no longer officially claim the time.
In 2019, the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in D.C. was short by 240 feet — 0.04 of a mile — because of misplaced cones at a turnaround point, meaning that Stanley Kebenei’s time of 46 minutes did not count as an American men’s 10-mile road record and Rosemary Wanjiru’s time of 50:42 also did not count as the official women’s event record. All runners who finished the race have a note next to their results indicating that the course was short.
In early October, Scottish Olympic runner Eilish McColgan’s European and British 10,000-meter road race record of 30:18 was wiped out because the course at the Great Scottish Run 10K in Glasgow was discovered to be 150 meters short. The Great Scottish Run half marathon was also roughly 150 meters short in 2016, meaning that Callum Hawkins’s time of 1 hour 24 seconds did not count as a Scottish national record.
Discovering a flaw in the course
Herron’s 100-mile record at the Jackpot race, which featured a 1.17-mile loop held on “95 percent asphalt and/or concrete surfaces” and 5 percent crushed gravel paths, was called into question after Wilson, the measurer, happened to attend the event because his wife was running in the 100-mile race.
Wilson downloaded the certified course map from the USATF website and noticed that the course being run was not the same as the one certified by USATF or World Athletics. Wilson then performed a measurement on the second day of the race, Feb. 19 and another measurement of the course a few days later, and found the course to be short. Eight months later, when the course was remeasured in October by Wilson and another top-level measurer, the results all came up short, Katz said.
Rubeli said his concern is that some of the measurements being considered by USATF were taken during the race, a chaotic time that he said would produce unreliable results. He asked Fritz, the level B measurer, to measure when the race was over, and Fritz found the course was above the 100-mile mark.
But Katz said only a level A measurer can verify a world record, according to USATF rules.
“The bottom line here is that the course was not certified before the race," Katz said. “Everything else after that, we did for the benefit of the athlete to try to save the record.”
In September, Beyond Limits Running, which Rubeli co-founded, announced it had sold the Jackpot Running Festival to privately owned Aravaipa Running. On the current Jackpot race website, organizers tout the 100-mile course for its fast times. “The course is specifically designed to give runners a chance to set records, achieve optimal results, etc.,” the website reads.
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