Before we dig too deep into this topic, I want to start by saying this is not an attempt to answer the question at hand. Rather, the goal of this article is to open up a conversation about what happened at the Spartan World Championships. I propose to talk about the topic more generally rather than focus on the specific event with Jon Albon.
So what happened?
Long story short, an athlete ran on the course before the event when permission had not been explicitly granted.
According to the Spartan 2019 Rules of Completion rule 3.9.4:
A competitor may not pre-run a designated Spartan course or engage with any obstacle on the course prior to race day unless explicitly approved beforehand by the Race Director and/or Head Official. Violation of this rule shall result in disqualification.
After deliberation, Spartan Race announced in a video that the athlete in question would be permitted to race at the World Championships, notwithstanding the pre-run that occurred.
On the surface, it is as simple as a rule violation resulting in an exception being awarded after the fact. Whether or not it is considered retroactive pre-approval is not the question. The question is this: should previewing the course be considered a violation worthy of disqualification?
To be clear, there is no debate as to whether a violation occurred. Based on the letter of the law Spartan wrote, a rule was broken and a consequence was triggered. Like the title suggests, should being on course before the race begins be permitted?
For an event where no course map is provided and the race director intends to surprise competitors at start time, yes, previewing should not be permitted.
But what about an event where the course map and obstacle list are public knowledge well in advance of the race? That is less clear. In the following paragraphs, I will outline some of the positions argued by those in favor of and against pre-running.
Position 1: The Pre-Run Should be Permitted
Although the rule book dictates the pre-run is not permitted, there are several arguments that make a strong case for allowing a preview run at most events. Today, most race companies are adopting the tactic of releasing the course map and obstacle list prior to competition day. By doing so, they are removing the element of surprise that many racers experienced early on in the sport’s history. Some argue that no advantage is gained by going onto or around the course as everyone should have the same knowledge regardless of if one previewed the course or not.
Additionally, having a list of what obstacles will be present leading up to a race allows an athlete to strategize well before they ever step foot on course. In the instance where a new obstacle is debuted, restricting athletes from interacting with obstacles prior to the race prevents anyone from having any practice opportunities that the rest of the field would not. So long as there is no obstacle tampering that occurs, there is no real advantage to be gained by previewing the course.
Most importantly, a race still needs to be conducted in order to determine a winner. Having a preview run does not guarantee an individual a spot on the podium. That is determined by who is able to adapt to the elements the best and who is best conditioned for the course as it is laid out on race day. At local OCRs, it is not uncommon to find athletes running alongside the course scanning the terrain and course conditions during their warm-up. Although there is a visual advantage to be gained, the athlete runs a risk of injuring themselves during a warm-up or perhaps overexerting themselves prior to the race. This could be viewed as a “leveling out” of any advantage gained. Just like in all sports, there are many instances where on paper it appears that someone should be considered a favorite to win. The race still needs to be conducted as anything can happen. Someone can slip off of a rig, miss a spear throw, or face any number of adversities. These are things that cannot be controlled by a preview run.
Pre-Running Should be considered an Unfair Advantage
For those in favor of having the pre-run be considered a violation, the bottom line is a rule was broken and the consequence should be upheld. Ultimately, race directors and organizations have the freedom to write and enforce rules as they see fit and their decisions should be subject to some deference. In addition, it can be assumed the rule was not included arbitrarily. In addition to the arguments that previewing can give an athlete a leg up on their competition, there are likely a number of liability reasons to keep people off the course. From an insurance perspective, waivers may not cover people on course prior to the event. But again, the race company itself has the right to include rules that it deems necessary.
The counter-argument to the position that having a public course map negates any advantage on race day is that the map itself does not reveal the type of terrain on the course. Having inside knowledge of whether the course is muddy, rocky, or grassy can have an impact on shoe choice which could save an athlete time on course over someone who is less prepared. Also, knowing sections of the course that change from double to single track is a significant advantage in planning where to push oneself and where to conserve energy knowing that passing will not be an option. Planning out effort levels in relation to major inclines and declines can be the difference between a podium spot and walking away with nothing as well.
Food for Thought
I simply want to leave you with this thought: In a race where previewing a course is not prohibited, would a pre-runner reaching the podium taint the results of the event?
What say you? Do you believe that preview runs should be a disqualifiable offense, or should athletes have the ability to pre-run without consequence?
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Mud Run Guide LLC, or their staff. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.