Friday, August 20, 2010


This is a word I thought I would never hear.  First of all, I am basically a nobody in the running community.  What I mean is the bigger and longer the race, the more I become one of the masses, dressed in their favorite running attire, giving it their best to meet their own personal goals.  Sure, in the small, local 5ks I might win my age group, but most of the time I just blend.  Few "official" eyes are on me because I am not a main competitor.

Second, I am a goody-two-shoes, especially when it comes to obeying the rules.  I drive the speed limit (most of the time), I wait my turn, and I follow instructions.  Both of my parents worked in education and they taught me that no matter how I felt about a rule, I had to obey it.  Period. 

And yet, on November 8, 2008 I was disqualified from the Huntsville Half-marathon.  Here's the story.

It had been a while since I had run a half-marathon.  My focus had been mostly on marathons and I didn't often run shorter races, although this began to change once I met Jason.  I had no idea what my time could or should be for a half-marathon, but I was aiming for 2 hours which would be a 10 minute personal record.

Well, the race was amazing.  It was the perfect day and I ran hard and strong, finishing in 1:50 which was way better than anything I had imagined.  I was ecstatic!  We hung around talking to friends, cheering in the remaining runners we knew before making our way to the results posted in the gym where the awards ceremony would be.  I searched the results, but I could not find my name.  A running pal said he would go check in to it.  He said they probably had skipped over my number by accident.  He returned a few minutes later to tell me I had been disqualified. 

"For what?"  I asked in disbelief.

"For wearing headphones," he replied.

"But I didn't have any headphones," I responded. He patted me on the shoulder and said he was very sorry.  As if that were the end of it.  I meant to get to the bottom of this.  Jason went on the war path.

Here is what happened.  The president of the track club (we will call him Pres), upon finishing the race himself had been standing somewhere near the finish when he saw me and Jason approaching the finish line.  Jason had finished his race long ago and had gone to the car to get his headphones in order to run a few more miles.  When he found me, however, he took them off to carry them in his hand because headphones were not allowed in the race.

Headphones in Huntsville races are a big fat no-no.  It is one of the first things runner's see when visiting the Huntsville Track Club website, and it is protested loudly at every race.  I may not wholeheartedly agree with everything they say about headphones, but I know that if I want to participate in these events, I have to abide by the rules.  Despite the fact that Jason was no longer racing or wearing his race number, he didn't want to appear to disregard race rules either, so he took them off and carried them in his hand.

When Pres saw Jason and I running to the finish with Jason carrying headphones, he assumed they were mine and that I had used them during my race.  He then went to the race director and those in charge of the results and told them to disqualify me.  They did.

Jason was livid.  Mom was fast on his heals.  Those two alone can be formidable foes, but together...look out.  Jason searched high and low for Pres and the race director.  Neither could be located.  Jason did find the owner of our local Fleet Feet store who was helping with the race and told him (quite heatedly) about the predicament.  Mom, meanwhile, was talking to the guys at the results computers, explaining the situation and asking them to put me back into the results.  What was I doing?  I was protecting everyone from the two of them (not literally, but you get the idea).

In the end, they put me back in the results. Still, what had been an amazing race for me was somewhat tainted by the almost-disqualification and I was bothered by it.  I was bothered that my name, known locally because of my husband, would be marred by a disqualification and set a bad example for other runners in the community.  While I am a headphone wearer and think the HTC's approach to headphones is a little over the top, I do not wear my headphones when participating in their races. 

I was bothered that the Pres did not even talk to me or Jason about the disqualification, knowing very well who we were and how involved we were in the running community.  Also, he was not attending the race as a race official, but as a runner himself and happened to be simply hanging out when he spotted headphones.  Then, to top it all off, they weren't even in my possession when he made the assumption that they were mine and acted on it. 

All of it was frustrating, annoying and bizarre.  Jason and I discussed it at length over a celebratory dinner at Olive Garden that afternoon.  It was tempting to have nothing to do with the HTC or the local races if that was how they handled things.  We enjoyed being involved however, so we did not want to punish ourselves for what someone else had done.  I decided to write Pres an e-mail and share my thoughts.  I said everything I wanted to say and he returned my e-mail with sincere apologies for the misunderstanding.

So everything turned out okay, despite all the craziness that surrounded the event.  I am more sensitive now, however, to the headphone issue and just how heated discussions of their use in races can become.  Now, when entering a marathon in another town, I call or e-mail the race director to make sure headphone use is allowed before I wear mine.  A marathon is usually the only race during which I like to wear my headphones, and I do not want to break the rules and be disqualified.

It was a running experience I certainly did not imagine for myself, but it makes for a good story on long runs...and while I think I've let it go, the remembering often makes me run just a tad bit faster.


  1. i got penalized 4 minutes once in a half-ironman. the car judge said i was drafting another cyclist.

    it was one of my first triathlons (and my first of that size and distance), and i'd studied the rules a lot to make sure i didn't break them. i didn't draft. what made me angry is that there were a couple of these big groups of cyclists who would fly by me in pelotons.

    i asked around afterwards and was told that sometimes guys who are kind of drafting will know the car judge is coming and pass someone really quick and just sit right there in front of them. i'm not sure if that's what happened or not, but i was pretty mad.

    congratulations on having your name cleared. i never got my 4 minutes back.

  2. You know, at first I really worried about all those triathlon rules, but just like in running, I think I'm too far back to really matter much. I don't do a lot of passing on a bike. ;)

    And that was why I thought this was so bizarre! I mean, understanding the WHY of it...I've been wanting to write about it, just because of its uniqueness in my running experience, but I thought I'd let all the dust get good and settled first.

  3. Glad you wrote about it! I was just as shocked by this written story as much as when you told it to me not to long ago!
    Oh, and I hope you got your air conditioner fixed!! If not you are welcome to come stay in my, I mean, your basement :)

  4. I am SO sorry this happened to you, but SO glad you were able to get it straightened out. Another really good example of how making assumptions can ruin people.

    Having been an insurance adjuster for 10 years, and a personal injury attorney's assistant for a day when we're together on a nice long run, we can have a REALLY good discussion on why exactly it is so important NOT to wear headphones in races.

    Now I know why race directors here are so very reluctant to disqualify headphone wearers, and why they made an announcement at a recent HTC meeting that two people have to independently witness an offender to get someone disqualified (not two people who are running together, two people who basically don't even know each other).

  5. Well, first of all, thank you for visiting my blog! And I hope we get to meet sometime.

    However, if we are ever on a nice long run, I definitely hope we discuss better things than headphone use. It is a topic that wearies me greatly, not simply because of the experience I have shared here, but because of all the arguments and discussions (heated and otherwise) I have witnessed. You may have a few new arguments to express because of what you do/have done, but I've probably already heard most of them.

    I also doubt that this one experience affected what you are talking about...although I don't really know. Very few (I think) around here knew about it at the time...although word does tend to travel fast among the running community here.

    I do think it is important that if the rule is going to be enforced by disqualification, it should be written/stated somewhere so that all runners have access to the information(although that does not guarantee they will read/hear it), AND have race officials designated for that specific task. They aren't running, they aren't passing out water, they are there to enforce the headphone rule and keep people safe. Otherwise I think it gets too sticky.