Last October, I wrote an article about how strictly enforced rules cost not one, but two, consecutive runners a victory in the Lakefront Marathon. I mentioned that gray areas exist for reasons like those that happened in that race where one needn’t follow the exact letter of the law in order for everyone to properly enjoy the race.

Another occasion popped up at the North Carolina Marathon last weekend when the lead runner in the half-marathon was directed onto the marathon course, realized the mistake a few minutes later, and then decided to run the full marathon. He won handily over the next runner but when it was realized he was not actually entered into the full marathon, he was disqualified. Tough break for Ryan Carroll, but one I have to agree with.

Why do I think that a water bottle or iPod used during a race should not amount to a DQ but Carroll should be ousted? Sure, a little of it falls back to Potter Stewart’s Supreme Court quote of saying he cannot define pornography but “he knows it when he sees it,” but a little of it comes from experience.

With regards to the ladies in the Lakefront Marathon, neither the water bottle nor the iPod had any effect on the outcome of the race. If the water bottle had been grabbed in the official aid station area everything would have been fine. Grabbing it one foot out of the area is grounds for a DQ but ridiculous. The iPod was not a covert radio being used by the second place runner to receive detailed info on the runner ahead of her. She was just listening to music.

However, with Mr. Carroll’s misdirection and decision, he entered a brand new race. The runners behind him, who were being beaten pretty soundly, had no idea that there was another runner ahead of them to chase down. Could they have caught him if they knew this? We do not know. But that’s the point. I recently ran in a race wherein there was the option to drop down from one distance to another. While it was a low-key race, chances are that if someone had dropped from the longer distance to the shorter distance, his results would not be counted in any sort of awarding that went on. The reason? Well, runners who may have been behind him would not know they were racing him. And while world records and rabbits helping runners get them are all fine and good, the vast majority of real racing is simply beating the rest of the runners to the finish line. Absolutely we should wish to run as hard as we can as well, but if you are so far ahead of a competitor that you can ease off the throttle a little bit, that is ok too. But not knowing that there was another combatant ahead of you robs you of the ability to strive for more.