The race was on and the course route was twice around the track and then up a hill, into the fog, and around a course. One clear leader emerged immediately. This race would start as many others around the world do, with a tall thin Ethiopian who looks like he was born running way out in front. My son was in the pack chasing him around the track. We watched them rocket up the muddy hill and out of sight. We decided to go up the hill and find a place to watch the runners come by. We stood near what we were pretty sure was a turn in the course. It was a bit difficult to tell, as ladies in big furry jackets, walking dogs and drinking lattes, were sauntering all over. They barely got out of the way as the Ethiopian came out of the fog and rounded the corner. And chasing him was our son! And chasing our son was the pack. I just about jumped out of my skin to see that my son was clearly in second place and pushing hard to catch up with the kid in front of him. I totally forgot I had a camera around my neck. No pictures.
We rushed down the wet muddy stairs, avoiding the texting woman also running down the stairs, and made our way to a good viewing area at the finish. Soon, out of the fog the runners emerged.
We look. We look again. We strain to see who is coming down the track.
No Ethiopian. No son chasing Ethiopian.
Then they appear, running as fast as they can, in about 30th place. What happened?
Word quickly spreads; the leader and perhaps the first 20 kids went the WRONG WAY.
I was totally unaware this could happen in a race. I wanted to cry. I wanted to find the race organizers and strangle someone.
We hear later that the lead group ran an additional hilly part of the course, misdirected by a bystander.
I couldn't imagine how upset my son was going to be. I couldn't believe how upset I was. I couldn't believe how calm my husband was. He knew something I didn't; the results of this race didn't really "count." Count or not count, I didn't care, someone screwed this whole race up. There were some very upset and sweaty runners wandering around, and a few parents who were fired up but couldn't figure out who to talk to.
The next freshman boys' heat lined up and BOOM they were off. After one lap around the track, they were off. Oops. They were supposed to run two laps around the track. So neither heat ran the race correctly and all the results were seriously messed up.
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In talking to other parents, I learned that running off course during a race is not all that uncommon. In a race last year, the leader finished, and five minutes later kids came running out of the woods from all directions to the finish line.
This weekend I learned that not only do you have to be a great runner, you also have to be good at guessing which unmarked path to take and making instant judgements about whether to trust bystanders or not.
Cross country is a whole lot harder than I thought.