beat the clock

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You may have run one. You probably know of someone who has run one. Undoubtedly, you will have sponsored someone who has run one. Personally, I’ve run four. Four, full-distance, official marathons of 26.2 miles, 42,195 metres and, as my legs are most likely much shorter than yours, approximately 60,000 steps. Sadly, 258 runners in last month’s Shenzen marathon in China, saw fit to not do the hard-yards and were left red-faced after being caught cheating. Eighteen were found to be wearing fake numbers, the more devious were found to be running on behalf of others and the purely downright dim-witted just took shortcuts, jumped over barriers, doubled-back early or caught the bus!

For a sport with little in the way of material rewards, cheating within long-distance running appears to be gaining legs (groan…ed) and marathons have consistently produced some illustrious rule-benders. In 1980, the world-famous Boston Marathon was won by Rosie Ruiz, in a record time no less, until that is, she was found to have joined the race with less than a mile to go! Kip Litton, a numerous time marathon finisher, claimed first place in a race of his own invention to secure a place at the aforementioned ‘Boston’. Two twin brothers decided to share the burden of South Africa’s ‘Comrades’ 55-mile ultramarathon, before being outed when race photos showed they were wearing watches on opposite wrists. And that they weren’t identical twins. Doh.

As it turns out, after almost every major race these days, more than a handful of participants are subsequently exposed as cheats. In this year’s Mexico City Marathon more than a thousand runners were struck off the finishing list and disqualified. WTF. Which all begs the question, why?

Notwithstanding the EPO/growth hormone/steroid doping ‘proper’ elite level cheats, the rest can essentially be divided into three categories. There are the ‘bib mules’: faster runners who compete under another competitor’s number/name in order to record a faster time, perhaps one that allows the non-runner to qualify for a more prestigious race. Essentially this is for personal ‘bragging rights’. Then there are ‘bib bandits’: runners who use false numbers or numbers from a previous race. I can’t for the life of me think why someone would do this, other than to avoid paying the entry cost which makes them miserly tight-a*ses as all races need funds to continue. Finally, there are the course-cutters who engage in that most basic tactic: jumping a barrier, ducking under some tape, cutting the corner or slipping through the crowd. Again, perhaps for a faster time and all that goes with that but aren’t they merely cheating themselves?

However, the ultimate notoriety for global-class course-cutting remains reserved for London Marathon participant, Jason Scotland Williams. Having recorded the split (half-way distance) in a solid, if a little underwhelming, two hours and seven minutes, he then dug a little deeper and completed the second half in 61 minutes, faster than Mo Farah and only seconds off world-record pace! Records showed Scotland Williams had missed at least three timing mats but the cheat was having none of it: “I’m an achiever, I’m a competitive person and like to be the best at what I do.” Er, no you’re not, Jason, you’re deluded and dishonest, as are all those who take the easy route and short-change both themselves and all other competitors. You took the place of someone who could have competed in that race fairly and achieved something that would have mattered a great deal more than it obviously did to you.

Mind, it ain’t going to be me, my marathon days are well and truly behind me. As my knees & hips now testify, and contrary to Chris McDougall’s belief in the excellent ‘Born To Run’, it’s just not a normal distance and I reckon I’d finally end-up doing a ‘Scotland Williams’!