Runners near the start of the 2019 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run
Runners near the start of the 2019 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run Credit: Kelyn Soong

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run race director Phil Stewart started receiving emails from concerned runners on Wednesday. They had read on that the course may have been short. The data from some GPS watches and Strava accounts appeared to confirm those suspicions.

Stewart, the race director since 1991, decided to look up the splits from the fastest finishers from the men’s and women’s races from April 7. That’s when his “heart sank a little bit,” Stewart says. The times for the middle 5K for runners were faster than the final 5Kenough of a difference that it raised a red flag.

On Friday afternoon, the race announced in a press release that the 10-mile race in D.C. had been short by 240 feet, or approximately .04 of a mile.

The mistake means that Stanley Kebenei’s time of 46 minutes will not count as an American men’s 10-mile road record. Women’s champion Rosemary Wanjiru’s time of 50:42 will also not count as an event record.

“I feel bad, I’m the race director and … one of the most basic responsibilities is to provide the runners with an accurate course,” Stewart tells City Paper. “In that regard, this year I did not live up to what I was supposed to, and I feel like the owe the running community an apology.”

The race director adds in a text message that there have been no discussions about giving runners from this year discounts or free entries into future races.

Due to road construction, the course had to be adjusted a few weeks before the race. Stewart says that the revised course had been measured and certified, but a semi-circle of cones at the turn-around point on Ohio Drive SW between miles three and four in West Potomac Park had been misplaced on race morning.

Kebenei will still receive the $10,000 record bonus for posting a faster time than Greg Meyer’s American road 10-mile record of 46:13, set at the race in 1963, and race organizers will also pay $1,000 and $750 to the first two men and women who finished under 46 and 52 minutes, respectively.

Stewart says that he anticipates that all finishers will have an asterisk next to their times to note the error. In 2015, a traffic accident the morning of the race forced a last minute re-routing of the course, resulting in a total distance of 9.39 miles.

While 240 feet may not seem like a lot, the short course means that runners who believed they had a run a personal best 10 miles did not technically run the full distance. (It’ll officially count as a 9.96-mile race.) That could mean the difference of over half a minute. Those seconds matter to runners who train months for a single event like the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

“I think the vast majority of people will take it in stride,” Stewart says, “but obviously faster runners or those concerned about a PR, I think they’ll be disappointed. We certainly will see what we can do. I think all of this really was one of those things, the perfect storm of lapses. We’ll do everything we can to make sure those lapses don’t happen again. It was an unfortunate flow of circumstances. Will I be looking at this more closely next year? Darn straight I will be.”