cheating in long-distance running

This morning, I was reading at breakfast a NYT article on a presumed cheat by the winner of the 2015 Ironman Canada race, in the category of women ages 40-44… (This gruelling race takes place around Whistler, with a 2.4-mile swim, a 112 mile bike race with a huge differential, and a complete marathon!) Leading to reassess earlier victories by the same runner and ending up by her being barred from running in Ironman and Triathlon Canada races (and loosing her title for the 2015 race as well). This reminded me of Darren Wraith pointing out to me an article in Runner’s World where an independent volunteer was checking times of road-runners across the US towards detecting inconsistencies in split times and between races, or in pictures at alleged split times, eventually exposing a significant number of cheaters that had been undetected by the organisers. While I find the temptation to cheat less of a surprise than the article authors, even when nothing more than local and much temporary fame is at stake, and particularly so when a podium or a selection for a more prestigious race is at stake, the limited involvement of race officials is an issue, given how easy it is to spot those inconsistencies. Actually, it is ridiculously easy to cheat as well: when I ran the last Gertrude Cox scholarship race at JSM in 2009, my wife and I picked our tags together and ended up switching them by mistake. Which made my wife the female winner of the race until I pointed out the switch later that afternoon to the organisers. And spoke with the true winner who was surprised but unsuspecting at not being the winner. This may well be a reason for the phenomenon to be so widespread, namely that it does seem to make sense to try to cheat for a middle-of-the-pack rank, so little sense that one does not bother to voice suspicions to course officials. For instance, when I ran my most recent half-marathon in Argentan, I crossed a runner coming backward on the course route around the 11th kilometre and thought he had either given up or was acting as a pacemaker for another runner. Later I however spotted him during the awards ceremony in the first ten runners of the half-marathon! But did not do anything as I was not 100% sure it was the same runner and as being on the podium was the only reward of a possible cheat… In addition, there was no split time and hence little if any hard fact to back up my story. Maybe I’ll pay more attention on the next race!

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