Thursday, September 4, 2014

Running and Cheating

 "A lie dies not consist in the indirect position of words, but in the desire and intention, by false speaking, to deceive and injure your neighbour." ~ Jonathan Swift
Registration for the 2015 Boston Marathon opens up this coming Monday. Many will be vying for a coveted spot in this race of races - experience of experiences - for runners. Five years ago I had few thoughts of ever running Boston, or really caring much either way. Boy have things changed...

After last years Boston Bib Counterfeiting scandal, I started thinking about some of the scams and cheating I've witnessed in running over the years. I asked a question on Facebook (posted in some running groups and my 4000+ friends and followers) about how people feel about cheating in races. Most of the responses were on the order of: Well, that's their deal and they should feel like crap but I'm not going to say anything. Well, I have said things (usually ignored). And the sad thing is that cheating doesn't only cheat the cheater, it cheats us all.

A runner who I coach got her BQ this spring after training like a crazy woman through a grim Wisconsin winter. She mentioned that she saw a pace group (the 3:45 group, so a BQ for some) cut the course short by several 100 meters. She called out 'cheaters' at them, but they went on their merry way - On to get their BQs and PRs and dreams of cheating glory. Something to be proud of? Consider the runner I coached to a 13 second BQ last year, who gave everything she had on that day and on every training run, day in and day out, who didn't get a spot because it filled before her time qualified in. How many cheaters were ahead of her? This isn't just about the cheater. This is not just a self-regarding vice. Cheating hurts others by stealing from them what you do not earn.  

Five years ago I ran my second marathon, 15 years after running my first marathon, the Maine Marathon, in Portland, Maine. When I ran that first marathon I had no clue what I was really doing, I just ran it. I trained a little - ran some long runs and had been maintaining a steady diet of 50-70 mpw in those days, even though I had given up racing several years prior. I just ran, and ran a lot. And so for kicks I ran a marathon, in the pouring rain and 35 degrees. And I had no idea what my BQ time was. I knew I'd be moving from Maine to Colorado soon for graduate school anyway, so running Boston out of the question. Several days after crossing the finish of that first marathon I discovered that I missed qualifying by 21 seconds. Whatever. I didn't care.

Now, fast forward to 2009. September, Boulder, Colorado. I'm toeing the line for my second marathon. My only aim is to complete it since I made a pact with the powers that be that if I recovered from an injury I was told I would never recover from, then I would run a marathon and raise money for a charity. I need to finish so that I can collect the dough and make good on the promise.

At the start the mercury is already climbing into the 70s with a steady, dry, desiccating wind, and the forecast is for the high 80s. But hey, I just need to do it, I don't need to do it fast.

This was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I swore off marathons FOREVER. Somehow I got 3rd in my age group. And this led me to look at the results and that led me to notice something odd about the 2 women who beat me, both of whom managed to get BQs on that cloudless 88 degree day - not a drop of water or Gatorade to be found and with the unnerving sounds of sirens ringing through the air.

At the 10k mat my split was 55:05 (about an 8:55 pace). The two women who beat me were running together and hit 10k at 1:15:05 - 20 minutes behind me and running about a 12 minute per mile pace. At just past the 13 mile mark the course does an out and back off of a loop which leads back to the finish - turning around at 17ish miles (no mats at the turnaround), and then crossing a mat at 20 miles. I started coming undone at about 16 miles and by 19 miles the cramps took hold. At 20 my pace had slowed to 9:30ish and then the final 6 miles was a slow hobble, ending in my slowest marathon @ 4:27. The women who beat be had no 20 mile split after which it joins back up with the loop. These things happen. Technology is not infallible (I had people freaking out when one of my splits never recorded in NYC last November and yes, I did run the whole thing). But BOTH chips didn't record??? Hmmmmm.  Their finishing time was 3:57. A 9:04 average pace - which, if you calculate the pace they would have had to run from that 10k mark, means a blistering negative split on a very hot day. Maybe not impossible, but very very very unlikely. The fact that they BQed by almost 3 minutes (at that time the time they needed was 4:00) made me question the lack of that intermediate split and how they could have managed running that time when at 10k they were on pace for a time well over 5 hours. Could they have actually run this race in it's entirety? I went to looked at their race pictures - both wore long black tights and skirts. Hmmmm. This was a small race. I certainly didn't see them pass me. I would have noticed that attire on that day. I wrote to the RD. He said he would check into the irregularities and get back to me. He never did...This was all before I ever cared about running Boston, and BQs and all of that. But now I see this extra dimension added to the problem of cheating.

Last year I ran the Great Cranberry Island 50k. This race is also a Boston qualifier and records your marathon split but the BQ only counts if you finish the 50k. The race is about 8 laps up and back down the one road on the island (I should say 'was' because 2013 was the last year this race was run). The turnarounds have no mats. The start/finish area which you cross 8 times and the marathon point were the only mats. At one point I saw a woman turn around about 1/2 a mile before the turnaround at the boat landing. It was in a more heavily treed area where I saw people occasionally hop behind a tree to pee, but in this case I saw her turn around early. At this point she was one of the top female runners in the race, so I kept an eye on her. At some point she dropped out, and I let the whole thing go. But the fact is that anyone could have done that. When I saw her there was a little lull in the runner traffic, and she may have not seen me. As the day went on, people became more spread out. So, did others do this??? Did others see others do this. Do any of us care??

Earlier this year I was a course marshal for a half marathon/10k combo. My station was just about 100 meters past the 10k turnaround (again, no mat at the turnaround). At first my attention was consumed by directing traffic and making sure the half marathoners didn't get run over. But as things slowed down I glanced up the road and noticed people randomly turning around on the 10k route, not anywhere near the actual turnaround point. And did anyone say anything? I didn't hear anything. So I started yelling at the perpetrators that they turned too early. I was after all a course marshal so I should be doing this - but that actually wasn't what I was sent out to do.

Sure, maybe none of this matters in the grand scheme of things, but I doubt I'm the only one who sees this stuff.  

Well, maybe no one else cares about this but I do. When my runner told me about what happened with the pace group, I contacted the RD. I thought that he should know what his pace leaders, at the very least, were doing and in plain sight. Did anyone else say anything (I know my runner did)? How many of these people will be sending in their registrations for Boston next week? How many people who deserve to run will be locked out due to the numbers game?

What I find so disheartening is the apathetic, 'It's all good', 'Whatever' type attitude that so many seem to adopt. Why? Probably because it's easy. It's hard to call people on their crap. It's hard to stick one's neck out.  And in our silence, we become complicit. One of the character building aspects of sport, the character we carry with us into the world at large, is the satisfaction of honest effort and clear outcomes. Cheating has no place here. But, it's easier to shake one's head and go get a beer...

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.” ~ Walter Lippman


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. I would call someone out in a heartbeat.

  2. Just reading the anecdotes makes me angry. Witnessing them would have me calling out the cheaters, too. It doesn't matter how many (if any) people it affects. It's wrong. There's no grey area when it comes to these situations.
    I'm glad you spoke up when the situations called for it.


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