The ultra-trail community in Western Canada is close-knit, and it’s not unusual for race directors and podium finishers to be acquainted. So what happens when it turns out that someone you know and like, who won your race, broke the rules on his way to victory? Whistler Alpine Meadows race director Gary Robbins found himself in this situation recently when it became known that the 110K winner, Mike Sidic (whose time was 14:57), had run part of the course with non-registered runners (pacers are not allowed) and accepted aid outside an aid station. Sidic was assessed a one-hour penalty, and Robbins is receiving kudos for his sensitive and appropriate handling of the situation.
View this post on Instagram
Being a race director involves dealing with all kinds of stresses and challenges throughout race weekend, and from time to time, you have to assess if a runner, or runners, have broken the rules in place and need to be sanctioned appropriately. Mike Sidic was the men's winner of our WAM 110km race. During the race however multiple people reported seeing Mike run with other runners over one select small stretch (we do not allow pacers) and having a friend offer him a sip of water, and carry his poles briefly. Along with this, a video was shot by one of the runners who offered minimal assistance, and they then posted it to social media. This was not an easy thing to have to deal with. Mike is a regular at our races, one of the top trail runners in all of Canada, and a stand up guy that we all know, appreciate and admire. I reached out to Mike for clarification and he was honest in saying that two people unexpectedly hiked up the course and then ran with him for approximately 1 kilometer to the next aid station. He admitted to taking a single sip of water, but then denying a second sip, as he realized in the moment that he'd probably made a mistake. It is worth noting that Mike did not know these people would be there on course, and that these runners are experienced and should have known better. These two runners were very close to getting Mike disqualified from the race, with a few people on our end voting in that direction. After much deliberation on our end, and mainly due to the fact that Mike had no idea these people would be there, we settled on a 1 hour time penalty, bringing Mike's finish time from 14h57m to 15h57. The second place runner was 16h19m and as such this does not alter the overall podium standings. This should in no way taint Mike's performance, or the character of the person. This should however serve as notice that we take our rules very seriously and we will continue to assess each and every potential breaking or bending of the rules on a case by case basis. We will not hesitate to disqualify someone should the circumstances warrant it. There was a 2nd complaint filed by a runner towards someone in the 100 mile race, but (continued)
Robbins describes in an Instagram post how numerous people observed Sidic running with friends who showed up to surprise him, for about a kilometre. He also accepted a sip of water and briefly let someone carry his poles, and one of his friends, who offered him “minimal assistance,” posted a video on social media, exposing Sidic to the risk of disqualification.
Robbins says that Sidic was honest about what had happened, and said his friends surprised him–he did not know they would be there. And when he realized after the first sip that he should not accept water from them, he declined further assistance.
View this post on Instagram
To think I used to do bike races that were 110km long. This weekend I’ll be running that same distance in a day. There’s always unknowns venturing into races of these distances. One thing is certain and that I’m ready for it. Ready to venture into the unknown, accept adversity and overcome it. Continuous forward motion. It’s time to race! #Wam110 @sauconycanada 📷 @jessebooi
Robbins says that “a few” people in the race organization (WAM is part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, which Robbins runs with his partner, Geoff Langford) felt that Sidic should be disqualified. They settled on a one-hour penalty, making Sidic’s official time 15:57 instead of 14:57. Since Sidic won by more than an hour and 20 minutes, the podium results are unaffected.
“This should in no way taint Mike’s performance, or the character of the person,” says Robbins. Earlier in the post, he writes, “Mike is a regular at our races, one of the top trail runners in all of Canada, and a stand up guy that we all know, appreciate and admire.” He also says that Sidic’s friends should have known better. But are these comments relevant, in the circumstances? Would he have made them if the winner was someone he didn’t know personally? Do the rules not apply if it appears the runner wasn’t purposely cheating?
View this post on Instagram
When @garyrobbins asks you how your day went on the trails and you reply “is the weather always like this here?” to which he responds “yes it is!” What a difference a day makes. Friday 🌞Saturday 🌧💦but we got er done. Nice to keep the win streak going at the (often) wet and challenging Diez Vistas 50km. 23 years running! Thanks @coastmtntrail @diezvista. How about those amazing soaked volunteers? Chapeau to the volunteers, organizers and runners for slogging it out amidst the storm. Big thanks as usual to @sauconycanada for the support! Now to dry off and prep for the next one. 📷 1) @srobarts 2) @brianmccurdyphotography
It recalls a situation last year at Hardrock where frontrunner Xavier Thévenard was disqualified for very similar reasons (accepting aid and water outside an aid station), though in that case, the issue was resolved before the race ended, rather than two weeks after the fact. Race director Dale Garland received criticism for taking what some saw as a harsh stance, especially when, as some pointed out, the rules at European races (Thévenard is French) are slightly different, and suggesting that a time penalty would have been more appropriate. But even Kilian Jornet, who is also European, defended the decision. Thévenard went on to win UTMB two months later.
The comments on Robbins’ Instagram post are almost all positive and supportive of how the situation was handled. One commenter felt that an hour’s penalty was too harsh.
Update: This story has been amended to reflect some of the race director’s comments on the story that was published earlier today. Robbins informed us that the penalty was assessed immediately after the race. In response to the questions posed above, Robbins’s response was “Yes I would have made these same comments regardless. Yes I would have dealt with this in the same manner regardless of the name on the result.” He further commented that he does not know Sidic outside the context of his races, and that “he did not receive any favouritism in the slightest.”