I’ve talked about cheating at races before, including about the people I’ve seen cheating at Disney races. But it seems to be an ongoing problem. If you aren’t already following Marathon Investigation, you should. Derek does an amazing job calling out cheaters at races. While his articles do typically focus on people who are cheating and winning awards or cheating to get into the Boston Marathon, he does also post about the average cheater, the person who wasn’t going to win anyway, but decides to cheat in some way.
There are a couple of different types of cheating. You have course cutters, who just refuse to complete the distance. You have people who create fake race bibs, either copying a friend’s or finding a photo online and using it to print a bib. Then there are the extra creative cheaters, like the people who turn a race into a relay, so one person starts the course, then they sneakily swap bibs, and another person finishes.
In this kind of information age, I’m always shocked by people who try to cheat and then deny it when they get called out. Not only should there be tracking data from a timing chip provided by the race, but frequently there are photos, and oftentimes, runners also have GPS data from their watches or phones.
Timing chips are never perfect. In recent years, I’ve had two different races where timing chip data was an issue. In one, my chip just didn’t register. In the other, I lost my chip taking off my wetsuit and didn’t realize it. But in both, I had GPS data to prove that I completed the entire race. I was never questioned on it, but if I had been, I had the information to back it up.
(I used to joke that no one would look at my results and think I was cheating, but I’ve come to see that that isn’t true – people aren’t just cheating to qualify for awards, they’re cheating just to get a finisher’s medal, which seems absolutely insane.)
The question is what should races do about these cheaters? Many of them are ultimately disqualified in the results, but if you’re just cheating to get a medal, you probably don’t care about that at all. Should they be banned from future races? For the repeat offenders, absolutely. And maybe the threat of banning after one incident would also stop some of the cheating.
Disney has tried to make it harder for people to get Goofy and Dopey medals. There are wristbands. There are photos (or so I’m told – I’ve never run either). But people can still cut the course or jump on to the course late in the race and still “finish.” Apparently, this year during the Disney marathon, there were runners seen on the monorail and runners jumping into the race at the Beach Club, which is just a couple of miles from the finish line. I really wonder Disney actually cares. What’s the harm in a small percentage of runners cheating the system, if the vast majority are doing what they’re supposed to do? Shouldn’t their focus be placed on making sure that those runners have an awesome, safe race?
While I’m not a huge fan of public shaming, I do enjoy seeing these cheaters getting called out, specifically the ones who have bragged about their “accomplishment” online. They did something wrong, they know they did something wrong, and maybe this will force them to see the truth.
And maybe it will help convince others that a DNF is worth so much more than a fake finish. There is a ton of integrity in fighting through a race, not giving up, but not being able to finish. At the end of the day, a medal is a fun shiny object, but knowing you did the right thing carries much more weight.