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Santa Rosa Marathon director says course not problem but vows upgrades

  • (From left) Marathon lead biker, Tanya Rainey talks with marathon runner Ollie Ehlinger, and race timer Buzz Ayola about confusing signage on the course as they try to clear up if Ehlinger is the winner of the Santa Rosa Marathon at Juilliard Park in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, August 25, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

The day after three runners were disqualified from the Santa Rosa Marathon for making a wrong turn, race organizers said they're going to review the course layout and consider improving signs and staffing to prevent such mistakes in the future.

Race director Orhan Sarabi stood by the changes to this year's course that brought marathoners through additional scenic vineyard properties west of Santa Rosa but required them to turn off on a nearly mile-long dirt loop at mile 21.

"This course, from the feedback we've gotten, is A-plus," Sarabi said.

Santa Rosa Marathon

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But as he and race coordinator Arthur Webb retrieved cones and signs along the course Monday afternoon, they said they've been wracking their brains to figure out how three experienced runners could have gotten confused and bypassed the clearly marked mile-long loop on their way back into Santa Rosa.

"I stayed awake all night trying to figure out what the hell happened out here," said Webb, a 71-year-old ultra-marathoner.

As best they can tell, Ollie Ehlinger, a first-time marathoner from Sacramento, Andrew Grant and a third runner, were on their way back toward Santa Rosa running east on the Santa Rosa Creek Trail about four-tenths of a mile west of Fulton Road. Based on witnesses and timing equipment located at the 13.1-mile mark, they were running several minutes behind then race leader Benny Madrigal of Fresno.

But instead of turning off the paved trail to run the nine-tenths of a mile dirt loop as they were supposed to, the runners stayed on the paved trail, crossed a metal trestle bridge over Piner Creek and headed for home.

Runners were only supposed to take the loop on the way back, but not the way out. Having shortened their run by nearly a mile, they eventually overtook Madrigal, with Ehlinger and Grant crossing the finish line first and second and Madrigal third. Ehlinger acknowledged his error to race officials, who had no choice but to disqualify all three men identified as making the error, Sarabi said.

Ehlinger told race officials he had been confused about the dirt loop earlier, turning onto it briefly around mile 5? before realizing his error and getting back on course. It's not clear how far he went on that detour or how many runners followed him, Webb said.

The errors occurred despite course maps distributed to runners beforehand, colored-coded arrows along the route to help distinguish between the out and back routes, and volunteers giving directions at key points along the course.


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