Trail of Trouble / by Ngozi Ekeledo

RALEIGH (WTVD) --When Heidi Bretscher crossed the finish line, her immediate reaction was not all smiles.

"I'm a little frustrated," Bretscher told ABC 11's Nicole Carr following her victory. "I ran three miles off course because I didn't know which way to run in the race." 

That's not the type of victory speech you expect to hear from a marathon winner, but for the Duke graduate student, this year's Rock N' Roll Raleigh Marathon turned into a trail of trouble.

"Usually when you cross the finish line, you're really excited. I wasn't excited," she said. "I was just really nervous that I was going to get in trouble because I didn't stay on course."

Competitor Group Inc., the main company responsible for organizing the Rock N' Roll marathons, said that they worked with the city of Raleigh to make a course change from last year's inaugural event, not realizing the confusion it would cause.

"That was something that the race organizers did in cooperation with the city and the community to hopefully lessen the impact on churches and businesses during Sunday morning in downtown Raleigh," Competitor Group's Dan Cruz said. "It's just an embarrassing situation on behalf of everyone involved with Rock N' Roll and something that we're working to fix for next year."

The confusion came from a split near Lake Johnson. Runners could go either right or left, but choosing the incorrect turn put competitors, following lead bicycles, on the wrong path.

"I saw Mile 18 while I was on the trail. However, I never saw Mile 19 and eventually it became clear that we were off track," Bretscher said.

At that point, she asked the lead bikers on the race what she should do, but nobody had a clear solution, so she ran around Lake Johnson. She then found a traffic cop who tried to get her back on course.

Problem was, he dropped her back off at Mile 17 where her original troubles began.

"I was trying to talk to people there and eventually a second police officer was kind enough to drive me back on to the race. He dropped me off around mile 22," she said. "At that point, I had to start running again, but it been about half an hour since I stopped trying because I didn't know where to run anymore."

Before the mishap, Bretscher said she was on pace to run her best time ever, and her frustration really peaked during one particular moment that day.

"One of the hardest things for me, actually, was when I was in the car with the second police officer. I heard the male runner winning the race, and I knew I should have been really close to the finish line at that point," she said. "So that was really discouraging for me, but I was still so determined to win."

She did eventually win, but her finish line celebration was under scrutiny.

"There was a lot of confusion about if I could win the race because you're not meant to have gotten a ride with cops," she said.

"Determining how far she ran, looking at Heidi's splits from her Garmin, looking at the distance that she went off course and still incredibly able to win the marathon by nine minutes before the second place female, we made the determination that she deserved her $500 first place prize," Cruz said.

Competitor Group Inc. said that Bretscher was the only runner affected by the course, and as a silver lining, they're offering her a second shot at one of their other marathons, free of charge. She said that she will most likely run the Rock N' Roll Marathon held in Montreal as a consolation.

"It's going to give me the opportunity to run a marathon that I wouldn't have probably had the opportunity to do anyhow," she said. 

As for whether or not Heidi Bretscher will run this race in Raleigh next year?

"I think there's a good chance you'll see me at Rock N' Roll Raleigh again. I'm not upset," she said with a smile.

"I mean this is how I figure - the error happened this year, they're so embarrassed they're never going to let it happen again, so I'll probably be pretty safe next year, right?"