Cheating at the Marathon

on Friday, November 14, 2014 at 9:10 PM

By now, you've probably heard the story of Tabatha Hamilton who was disqualified at the Chichamauga Marathon this past weekend.  She crossed the finish line first in a not to shabby time of 2:55 or so. She had a really good day and ran a 1:18 negative split.  That is, she ran a 1 HOUR and 18 minute negative split.  That's right. After crossing the half mark in 2:06:51, she then proceeded to run the second half in 48 minutes. To give you some reference, the men's half marathon world record is 58 minutes and change. 

Now she claims that the timing half timing mat was wrong and that she crossed at about 1:36:51 which put her second half at 1:17:30. That's still a 19 minute negative split. I'm sorry, but you don't accidentally run a 19 minute negative split.  It's fairly obvious that she cheated. Now I will admit that I've given some thought to how best it would be to cheat at a marathon. Not that I would ever do it (or so i think), but it's an interesting mental exercise.

Here are some tips that I think might be useful if you want to cheat at a marathon.

1) Don't set a world record.
This is fairly easy.  If you're cheating at the marathon and want to get caught fairly quickly, be sure that you run the race, or portions of the race at a pace that's faster than any other human being has run in the past.

2) Don't win.
This is another fairly easy rule to keep in mind.  Leaders of a race usually have a bike or escort of somekind.  If you suddenly pop up in front of the escort without the escort seeing you pass them, it's a definite red flag.

3) Know the course.
Knowing the course ahead of time allows you to plan your route, you can easily see where you can cut portions of the course if you need to.  Marathons will usually post the course route on the website.   Course that have out and backs are good to cheat with as are courses with loops, as you can cut out portions of the race but still generally be around where you need to be. The caveat being that if the race has a timing mat in the loop, this can get you into trouble (see point 4).  Courses that are point to point in one direction are harder to cheat at unless you have "alternative" transportation.

4) Know the location of the timing mats and do the math.
This is what ended up betraying Ms. Hamilton.  If you know where the timing mats are, you can plan exactly where you have to be at certain times and cross the mats at those times to give the illusion that you are running continuously.  I would say that you have to be fairly precise about this. Your pace between the various mats has to be fairly consistent.  For some races, this is generally easy as they will have a mat at the half and finish. So you need to figure out what time you want to run, head to the half mark and cross the mat at about half what your goal time is and then head to finish and cross the mat at your goal time. Some races may only have a mat at the end so it's really easy to cheat at those races.  A race like NY is going to be very hard to cheat at, just simply because they have so many timing mats and they aren't all advertised.  Also some of the mats are on bridges and they will be generally hard to get to unless you are running in the right direction.  Also the mats aren't precisely positioned so even though you may figure out that you need to cross the 8 mile mat at a certain time, if the mat is actually at 8.3 miles and everyone elses times is delayed by that, a "proper" 8 mile split will still out you. If you haven't run the course before, you can find out locations of timing mats by looking at the results of previous races. 

5) Figure out your alternative transportation.
Even if a course has out and backs and loops, the presence of timing mats at the turnaround portion can seriouly affect your ability to cheat as you will need to travel to the turnaround point to cross the mat. This is of course, why they have the mats there in the first place.  While you could just simply run there, which is what you're supposed to do, you need to get there faster so you will need some form of alternative transportation.  Rosie Ruiz had the Boston public transportation system at her disposal which I think runs parallel to the route so that would have worked out well. I think you might be able to do it with a bicycle or if you have an accomplice with a car, that might work too.  Again, this would be highly dependent on where the race is.  If it's in an urban setting with lots of streets that are blocked off, a bike might be the best option.  If you're running in Boston with a lot of roads than run parallel to the race route, a car might work better.  It would certainly leave you more room for error.  

6) Try to blend in.
One of the trickier parts I would think would be how to casually join the race to get onto the course so you cross the mat and then how to casually leave the course in an inconspicuous manner.   The easiest way I think would be to join the race at a portapotty stop.  No one on the course is going to question a runner that appears to join from a portapotty.  Likewise, no one is going to question someone who appears to be stopping for a bathroom break.  If no portapotties are around, if you can plan it ahead of time, you might find a store or a fast food restaurant that you jump into/out of with the excuse that you had to stop to use the bathroom.  One of the potential problems I see is not so much with runners, but more so with spectators.  Runners on the course are constantly coming and going so the likelihood of anyone questioning you is low. On the other hand, a spectator who has been standing in the same spot, might notice that you've joined the course, crossed the mat and then left the course again which leads to my next point.

7) Conceal your bib.
The point of cheating at a race is not to get caught and in our world of smart phones and camera's, it's extremely easy for someone to get a pic of you if they suspect you're cheating.  Of course, having a picture of you is only half the battle since they still won't know who you are. If they get a picture of your bib number though, the battle is lost. With that, they can figure out your name, what your finish time was and any past results to see if anything is up.  With Ms. Hamilton, her previous fastest marathon was 4:25. Visible bib number's also allow race photographers to indirectly map your progress which can be helpful to prove that you were at a certain point at a certain time, but they can also be a detriment since if there aren't pics of you at other points of the course then it potential raises some questions.  Now you don't necessarily have to not wear your bib. You just have to show enough of it so that people know that you aren't a bandit. You could fold it in half or pin half of it to the lower part of a shirt and then cover up the top portion of the bib  with a fuel belt or a jacket or something.

8) Don't be too aggressive in your goal time.
You should pick a time that allows you to run a pace that you can actually hold for a few miles. This is for a few reasons. It will be likely that you wont be able to join and leave the race at the timing mats exactly so you may have to join and leave the race some distance away from the mats.  If you can't maintain the pace you're going for, you will stick out like a sore thumb to spectators as everyone is streaming by you.  For Ms. Hamilton, her average "pace" was to be 6:42min/mile. I have my doubts that she could maintain that pace for 400m, let alone for 4 miles. Her time goal was too aggressive.  Also, it helps that if you can run with a few other runners and are seen by spectators as these act as potential witnesses to your athletic feat. 

Well that's pretty much all I can think of. This is fairly common sense stuff, yet cheaters seems to be ignore these obvious pitfalls.  I guess if you want to be lazy at running a marathon, you might as well be lazy at cheating in a marathon too.


Snoskred said...

Hey there, I found you via the NaBloPoMo blogroll.

No, I had not heard this story! But I love your thoughts on how best to do this. :) I'm like terrible at plotting these kinds of things.. Also, if I were going to cheat, I'd just be at the local cheese cake factory with a Lava Flow and some chicken taquitos, plus cheesecake fr dessert!

As part of NaBloPoMo I try to comment on as many participating blogs as I can, and I also add participating blogs to my feed reader.

So I’m just dropping by to let you know I’ve added your blog to my feedreader, I’m reading you loud and clear, I have a link up going at my place so my readers can find participating blogs which you are more than welcome to add your blog link to.

Looking forward to seeing your posts, and you’ll likely see me drop by again during November.

Happy NaBloPoMo to you!