FOR exhausted amateur runners crossing the finish line in a rain-lashed Tulliallan, it was enough to put a spring in their step.
Despite the conditions, the clock hinted at some spectacular times for a 15km trail race – performances that would cheer even seasoned Olympians.
Unfortunately, it was too good to be true.
Organisers of a popular cross-country race are investigating an apparent act of sabotage which cut short the gruelling route, allowing competitors to shave off around ten minutes from their personal bests.
More than 500 runners took part in the Carnegie Harriers’ annual Devilla Forest trail race on Sunday.
With conditions wet and cold, few of those limbering up at the start would have been hoping for a stellar run.
However, the race leader romped home in 46 minutes and 46 seconds, more than nine minutes faster than the winner of the 2013 competition.
While some runners celebrated, the majority were left confused.
It was only when marshals checked the route that they realised someone had tampered with the course to shave off around 2.5km from the overall distance.
It remains unclear who was responsible for altering the route of the race – which began and ended at the site of the Scottish Police College – but some have suggested a disgruntled former member of the Harriers may have been to blame.
In a statement issued on the club’s Facebook page, president Malcolm Smith said: “Prior to the race, the route was set up and checked by members of the club and all was in order at that stage.
“However, shortly after commencement of the race, it became apparent that there was a problem with the route, with all runners going off course, and concerns were raised by marshals to the race director.
“Inquiries began immediately, while the race was ongoing.
“It was discovered that a tape had been placed on part of the route, which, together with the application of paint, had
directed athletes to land which was not part of the designated course.”
Mr Smith said that “quick-thinking” marshals helped direct runners back on to the proper route, meaning that only a “small part” of the course was lost during Sunday’s meet.
He added: “Subsequent completion of the club’s initial inquiries on race day have established that there is no doubt the tape and paint application occurred after the course was initially checked.”
Runner Mike Smith, 50, from Edinburgh, said: “There were three theories – that organisers had cut the course short because it was too muddy, that someone had simply taken a wrong turning and everyone else, like lemmings, had just followed them, or that the course was deliberately sabotaged, perhaps by a disgruntled ex-Carnegie Harriers runner.
“Speaking to people after the race, the third theory seemed to be the most popular.”
Another competitor, Owain Williams, 32, also from Edinburgh, explained: “I was just following the guy in front of me. The route was marked out with flour on the ground and it was easy to keep track of. At one point, the guy in front started to think something was wrong as the arrows were now pointing towards us instead of away.
“When we arrived at one of the water stations, the marshal told us that we had been going the wrong way all along. At the time, I was quite annoyed as we were there to do a 15km race but we ended up cutting it short by about 2.5km.”
Mr Smith said that the club was “considering the matter in its entirety” with a view to deciding what course of action to take.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Police College declined to comment.