Thursday, May 10, 2012
Cheaters In Our Midst
It may be hard to believe, but not all runners are honest. There is a very small percentage of runners who feel it is okay to cheat in order to “win” an age group award or for some other personal benefit. Many of us remember or are familiar with Rosie Ruiz. Ms. Ruiz was initially credited with being the women’s winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon. However she allegedly dropped out of the marathon and rode the subway to within a mile of the finish. From there she ran in and was initially declared the “winner”. She was an unknown among the elite of women's marathoning. There were a number of things that drew suspicion including not sweating or being fatigued at the finish, not understanding routine training terms, and a resting heart rate later found to be at least 20 beats/minute faster than world class women of the time. Others said her thighs were too “flabby” to be a world class marathoner. None of the numerous spotters saw her pass Canadian Jacqueline Gareau, the leader at 18 miles and actual winner. Not only did Rosie cheat in the attempt to claim victory, she also cheated Ms. Gareau of her moment of glory at the awards ceremony when race officials place the laurel wreath on the head of the winner.
A few years ago I ran and won the 65-69 year old age group in a half marathon. The following year I finished second in the age group to a 69 year old man from out of state. While reviewing the results I noticed although he had a time for the start (gun vs. chip) and finish of the race—the chip timing mats had not registered a time at the 5 or 10 mile check points. I immediately suspected he had not run the entire course. I googled his uncommon name and found him listed on a website called Athlinks. Athlinks listed times and dates for over 30 races he had run during the previous four years. Although he had averaged well under 8 min/mi. during this half marathon, he had not run that fast for any race on the list, even a 5K. How could he run a half marathon so fast but not be able to average under 8 min/mile for much shorter races? I was able to pull up his race photos, and in photos less than a half mile from the finish, he was walking. Some weeks later, I asked a local race director with over 25 years experience his thoughts of not registering a time at both the five and ten mile checkpoints. He said he would suspect the runner did not run the prescribed course. Did he cheat? I don’t know conclusively, but the evidence certainly indicates he did.
There is an older runner I have known for over 20 years who is a known course-cutter. I have actually run in races and seen him cut the course. Other runners have noted his course-cutting as well. One year, he supposedly won his age group at the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in Indianapolis. A few days later, his name was stricken from the results and he was disqualified. After reviewing both moving and still photography, officials supposedly found no evidence he had run the 2.5 mile Indy 500 race track. The Mini officials are very good at verifying age group award winners to ensure they have completed the entire 13.1 mile course. The last several years I ran the Mini, this runner was seen climbing the corral fence seconds after the start so as to begin very close to the front instead of starting in his assigned corral much further from the start.
Several years ago I ran a 5K in Pendleton, IN. Before the start I recognized a runner in my age group with whom I had been very competitive. He had recently turned 60 years old, and I knew from previous races we ran similar times. I was determined to beat him this day. I saw him just prior to and shortly after the race but he “disappeared” and I didn’t see him again during the race. Since there were 270 runners or so, I assumed I had passed him at some point. At the award ceremony, which he did not attend, I was surprised to discover he had not only beaten me but ran a sub-19 minute 5K. I had known this particular runner for a number of years and had never known him to run such a fast race and especially at 60 years of age. I later reviewed race websites for his results both before and after the Pendleton race. All of his times for a 5K were in the 21-minute range or slower. Since he was a yearly participant in the 500 Festival Mini Marathon, I suspect he wanted a qualifying time that would place him in the first corral near the start.
Above are three examples of suspected cheating. I imagine many of you are aware of other examples of runners who haven’t always played by the rules. What compels these folks to cheat in order to gain an unfair advantage? How can you feel good about yourself if you received an award you didn’t deserve? How can you proudly show your spouse, children, or other runners an award you didn’t earn? You may as well buy an award for yourself, as it holds just as much meaning. It is my feeling that if someone would cheat in something as trivial as a road race, they probably have cheated in other aspects of their lives. There are ways to cheat other than course-cutting. I’ve heard of runners claiming to be older than they really are so as to be listed in an older age group. I’ve also heard of substitute runners wearing an older/slower runner’s race number/timing chip so as to run a good time and win an age group award. Also, how about a registered walker running during an event? I’m sure there are plenty of ways to cheat that I’ve not touched on. What do you think?
My name is Lance Daugherty, I'm 68 years old, and I run…for reasons much more satisfying than a 15 cent piece of pot metal dangling from a colored string.
LANCE DAUGHERTY is one of Perspective's regular columnists. He retired in 2007 after working nearly 38 years in various aspects of Quality Assurance in the food industry. He lives near Mooresville, IN and has been running for 22 years (not including high school and college). Lance has run nearly 550 races including 16 marathons (running the Boston Marathon twice). He won the Magnificent 7 Road Race Series 60-69 AG championship in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 and is a volunteer for the series, tracking series points. Lance enjoys reading, fishing, hiking, bird watching, and yard work.
Writer: Lance Daugherty