Two weeks ago Arien O'Connell ran the race of her life. The 24-year-old schoolteacher from New York City ran the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon in under three hours. She beat her own personal record by more than 12 minutes.
Officially, O'Connell finished 26th.
Twenty-five "elite" runners runners were given a 20 minute head start -- so they wouldn't have to weave their way through all the slow pokes. The top "elite" runner finished the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes.
Needless to say, "elite" womens' times are usually around 2:30.
You're probably wondering about O'Connell.
She finished in 2:55:11.
O'Connell, who describes herself as "a pretty good runner," had never managed to break three hours in five previous marathons. But as soon as she started at 7 a.m. Sunday, she knew it was her day. In fact, when she crossed the finish line 26.2 miles later, her time of 2:55:11 was so unexpectedly fast that she burst into tears.
"I ran my best time by like 12 minutes, which is insane," she said.
At the awards ceremony, the O'Connell clan looked on as the top times were announced and the "elite" female runners stepped forward to accept their trophies.
"They called out the third-place time and I thought, 'I was faster than that,' " she said. "Then they called out the second-place time and I was faster than that. And then they called out the first-place time (3:06), and I said, 'Heck, I'm faster than her first-place time, too.' "
Just to make sure, O'Connell strolled over to a results station and asked a race official to call up her time on the computer. There it was, some 11 minutes faster than the official winner.
"They were just flabbergasted," O'Connell said. "I don't think it ever crossed their minds."
What was Nike's response?
"At this point," Nike media relations manager Tanya Lopez said Monday, "we've declared our winner."
The proper response is: "We screwed up. We're sorry. Arien O'Connell ran the fastest time and we're going to do whatever we can to make it up to her."
Three days later and a ton of blistering criticism later, Nike declared O'Connell "a winner."
And then there was the CYA explanation.
In the statement, Nike officials said that "because of their earlier start time, the runners in the elite group had no knowledge of the outstanding race Arien was running and could not adjust their strategies accordingly."
To which San Francisco Chronicle writer C.W. Nevious properly retorted: "Yeah, Arien, why didn't you tip them off that you were going to run the race of your life?"
So, Nike, I'm available and you get my first bit of advice free of charge: Your next running commercial should feature someone who's not an "elite" athlete, but epitomizes the "Just do it" philosophy. I've heard about this 24-year-old schoolteacher in New York City who might be available if you asked nicely.