Unless you are a marathoner, the implications of running twenty-six miles in a single session are probably meaningless. You have no idea what it is truly like. But perhaps that wouldn’t prevent you from feeling empathy toward a marathon runner who, after winning a race, was disqualified due to his shoes. That very thing just happened in Vienna.

As reported by ESPN and a number of other sports media outlets, Ethiopian marathon runner Derara Hurisa won the Vienna Marathon by a mere three seconds. He was followed across the finish line by Kenya’s Leonard Langat and fellow Ethiopian Betesfa Getahun. Upon Hurisa’s disqualification, Langat was given the win.

Running in Different Shoes

News reports say that Hurisa originally registered for the race with a pair of shoes that met all the necessary requirements. For some reason officials have yet to explain, he ultimately wore a different pair of shoes for the race itself. Those shoes had soles that were 1 cm too thick. The extra thickness violated race rules, leading to Hurisa’s disqualification.

A single centimeter of thickness probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to most of us. Then again, we don’t run marathons. To a competitive runner though, a centimeter of padding can make all the difference in the world. Padding is especially important in a long-distance endurance race, like a marathon.

Extra padding reduces the amount of shock the feet and ankles are forced to absorb. If that padding offers advanced features resulting in even greater shock absorption, all the better. Over many miles of running, greater shock absorbing capabilities means a more comfortable run with less fatigue and a lower risk of injury.

Comfort Is a Big Deal

Shoe comfort is a big deal to long-distance runners as well. The more comfortable the shoe, the easier it is to put in mile after mile. Runners who do not have to battle with their shoes can focus all their mental energies on completing the next mile. Imagine how important that must be in a marathon.

Those of us who do not run marathons still know what uncomfortable shoes feel like. We also know that a pair of uncomfortable shoes can ruin the entire day. But why stop there? Uncomfortable overshoes, galoshes, and boots can make walking around outdoors the most unpleasant experience of all.

GC Tech, a Salt Lake City company that manufactures lightweight galoshes and shoe covers, says that foot comfort is a top priority for them. They are fully aware that customers are not likely to buy shoe covers they find uncomfortable. The same is true about shoes themselves, whether you are talking a pair of stylish oxfords or pricey running shoes for marathoners.

Ensuring Fair Competition

Getting back to the Vienna marathon for just a minute, the international rules governing competitive running exist to ensure fair competition for all. Those who oversee the sport want to see athletes win or lose based on their own merits. They do not want equipment technology artificially influencing performance.

Limits on sole thickness are intended to balance the need for adequate protection against the need to keep the running experience as organic as possible. Unfortunately, those regulations can get runners disqualified or outright banned should they choose to violate them.

For the record, this sort of thing exists throughout competitive sports. Rules designed to maintain fair competition are continually pushed as far as possible by athletes looking for a competitive edge. It is part of what makes competition what it is. Whether it’s running a marathon or riding a bike, the rules have to be followed.