(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
March 2002 (retitled in the magazine). Running is a fundamentally honest sport. Runners as a group are basically honorable people.
You run a certain distance in a certain time, and that’s the runner you are that day. Shortcutting the distance to improve your time is cheating, and for most of us this is unthinkable.
Cheaters creep out of hiding occasionally. When caught, they make news because they’re so rare.
At the New York City Marathon last fall, 99.99 percent of finishers competed honestly. A deviant tried to “finish” a race he hadn’t run in full, but he was caught.
We shook our heads in disgust as this “runner” (I can’t bring myself to remove the quote marks) pulled a “Rosie” (so named for the most infamous of cheaters). There’s no greater sin in this sport than trying to steal someone else’s prize – and in this case, prize money.
Keith Dowling was the potential victim. The would-be thief attempted to run off with Dowling’s $4500 as the true fifth-place American at New York City. In sixth, Keith would have earned nothing.
This was no harmless prank. It could have been prosecuted as a criminal act.
No charges were filed (or ever have been in such cases, as far as I know). But the perpetrator didn’t get away unpunished.
He forever branded himself as an outlaw against all that’s honest in the sport. May he never again have the gall to show his face at a race. Exposure and exile will stop his cheating, if not make him repentant.
Our best defense against cheating is a healthy conscience. Most of us couldn’t live with ourselves for a fraudulent race result.
My longest race was meant to be 100 miles. It ended at 70, which still was my longest though I can’t claim it as anything but a DNF.
We ran that day on a multi-lap course with an out-and-back stretch at one end. I joked to fellow runner Peter Mattei, “Let’s cut off this section each time we come around. It’s dark out here, and no one would see us. I won’t tell if you won’t.”
This was no joking matter with Mattei. “I would know I’d only run 97 miles,” he said, “and I’d never forgive myself.”
Cheating is unimaginable when you think this way, as most runners do. But cheating has broader definitions than claiming a fraudulent finish.
We sometimes commit lesser sins without fully realizing they are sinful. I confess to having cheated in most of the ways below, and maybe you have too:
Exaggerating times. The older some runners are, the faster they were. Did I ever tell you about my marathon PR, set in the last century, of about 2:40 (meaning I once barely broke 2:49:59)?
Running as an unregistered bandit. Sure, it’s a public road. Go ahead and steal the services paid for by the number-wearers.
Wearing someone else’s number. I heard recently of a man “borrowing” a woman’s number, winning an award and sending a young girl up to collect it “for my mother.”
Starting ahead of the starting line... or before the official starting time... or farther forward than your ability warrants. You avoid congestion these ways. You also run less than the full distance... or mess up the results... or interfere with faster runners.
Entering a race “for training” while never intending to go all the way.. or jumping into midrace to pace someone... or recruiting such a pacer for yourself. Planning to run less than full distance, or encouraging others to do so, cheats against the spirit of racing.
Shortening the course by crossing lawns or cutting through gas stations at corners. Cutting the tangents of the road is fair; that’s how courses are measured. Shortcutting the prescribed route may lead to PRn’ts – fast times for substandard distances.
Confession to these and other past transgressions helps us to live with them, and to go and sin no more. All are attacks on the basic self-policing honesty of the sport, and all are insults to the vast majority of runners who follow the honor code of the road.
That is: Be true to yourself and the runners around you. True winners never cheat, and cheaters never truly win.
2018 Update. Technology has done what shame couldn’t. Chip timing has largely eliminated the worst sin in races, not running the full distance. Some of the lesser sins remain with us.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]