Cheating is Being Tolerated at Honolulu Marathon – My Response To Race Officials

Last week, I made a post regarding course cutting at The Honolulu Marathon. The post was not meant to be a criticism of the race itself, but more of a commentary on the prevalence of course cutting in marathons. As the response to the article verified, most people aren’t aware of how many runners cut courses and still claim their medals.
It does seem that the article and resulting coverage has struck a chord. I will take the time below to expand on the findings and respond to some comments made by Honolulu Race Director Jim Barahal.
“The idea that people will not pass through timing mats is something every race deals with,” Barahal said. The fact was our results were already reviewed by our timing team and a number of runners were disqualified based on the discrepancy in their split times had nothing to do with that website. It’s a process we do every year and so this is completely independent of anything on that website.”
“Any decision we make or don’t make has absolutely nothing to do with that website. We have no relationship with that website. We have no connection with that website and no communication with that website. We don’t support or condone that website, or use of photos or anything he does in any way.”
“It’s not an official website from some sports governing body,” Barahal said. “It seems to be one guy out there who decided this is what he’s going to do, to monitor seemingly all marathons. But it’s by no means an official website. It has no official standings, it’s not part of the sport or governing body of the sport.
“The Honolulu Marathon is an easy course to turn around on,” said Dr. Jim Barahal, Honolulu Marathon CEO and founder. “The technology that is involved with running and these large marathons makes it nearly impossible to really cheat. You’re going to get caught.”
Timing chips with radio frequencies are embedded into every racer’s bib and their time is logged at each split — every five kilometers — when they pass over a timing mat.
Officials say it’s pretty hard to miss a mat; you’d really have to avoid it or step off the course.
In total there are over 400 runners that missed 3 or more timing mats with that are still listed in the results. Nearly all of these runners are still in the official results despite race officials acknowledging that it it really hard to miss a single mat. I am not saying all 400 should be automatically disqualified, but the race officials comments would lead one to believe that these runners would initially be disqualified, and then given the opportunity to appeal.   Barahal claims that their process is independent of any outside website, yet there are hundreds of other runners with similar discrepancies that I did not call out that remain in the results, while 100% of the runners I called out are disqualified.
Additionally, I did a quick review of the 2015 Marathon to see  if they did indeed catch the obvious course cutters.
Within 5 minutes I found the following result from 2015:

Bib # 4569 M50-54 3:21:48 – 12th in Age Group BQ

5km      1:17:15
10km 2:40:31
15km  missed mat
21km missed mat
25km missed mat
30km missed mat
40km missed mat
He would have ran 20 miles in 41:17 – a 2:04/mile pace. Any review process that misses this result, needs to be examined. I found other similar results from 2015.
It is my opinion that there is either no process to automatically review discrepancies, or it is a severely flawed process. If I can find obvious discrepancies in a manner of minutes as someone that runs a non-official website with no official standing, why can’t the officials that run one of the largest marathons in the U.S. do the same?

Cheaters Welcomed Back

It was also reported that the runners that are disqualified will not be banned from future Honolulu Marathons. So if a runner wants to come to run less than 26.2 miles, grab a finisher medal for completing the full marathon, and come back and do it next year, Honolulu is accommodating. 
Berahal, as the founder and CEO of the Honolulu marathon has the right to run his race his way. Banning hundreds of runners would probably cost the marathon money in future entries.  However, condoning this behavior by not banning the runners that intentionally cut the course sends the wrong message and will have an affect on entries when legitimate runners feel that a race accepts cheaters. 
By allowing these results to stand and runners that are caught cutting the course to return, it will unfairly lead to people questioning everyone’s results that run the Honolulu Marathon.

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  1. The saddest thing I learned in all of this is that the major newspaper in Honolulu is called 'The Star Advertiser'. They don't even try to hide the intent of the publication.

    Keep up the good work though and don't get too mad. Consider it a badge of pride that Barahal spent 1 paragraph sort-of addressing the issue and then 2 paragraphs trying to distance himself from your site.

  2. The Honolulu Marathon has a unique problem, the unlimited finish time. Because people can take 16 hours, and the timing officials will not leave the mats out indefinitely on the whole course there are many people with very late finishes for whom timing mat will not show results mid-race. So using timing mat as your be-all and end-all doesn't really work. This obviously does not apply to those with a more reasonable finish time however.

  3. I guess Barahal has to turn a blind eye because the cheaters are going to be Honolulu's best tourists next December. The competitive and honest people that I run with won't touch this race with a ten foot pole. Based on this year's results, I would have easily made top 3 in AG but based on what I know of this race director, I will never spend my hard-earned money to run his race only to be edged out by an opportunist working his flawed system. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.

  4. Barahai won't like this publicity – Honolulu will become known as the cheater's marathon where real runners don't run and age group winners are really just "i found the fastest shortcut" winners. I imagine a reputation like that will cost you more registration money than a "we disqualify/ban all known cheaters" reputation.

  5. I strongly agree that any suspicious finishing times in regards to AG placing and qualifications for other races should be investigated and if necessary should lead to disqualification.
    However, the Honolulu marathon is supposed to be a fun marathon. It's a people's run. Everyone comes out. And yes, it happens that people only run part of the course, people turn around early. So what. They are out there, moving and having fun. They are part of one of the big events in town at that time. If they or someone else paid for the entry, get a finisher medal. What's the big deal.
    Any serious runner would never claim a finisher's medal for a race he didn't complete. And I personally agree. But for some people just completing a part of this makes them feel proud, or it's a great souvenir for this event. They paid for it, why not.

  6. The terrible thing about people doing whatever they please is that the consequences are inherently destructive. To that end, a response to your proposal:

    So some website publishes the names of people who cheated – why not?
    So they're struck from the race results – what's the big deal?
    And maybe people want the RD to make everyone play by the same rules, stop coming because he doesn't, and the race goes under from lack of participation – so what?

  7. They used to be two newspapers: The Star-Bulletin, and Honolulu Advertiser. As is the case with many middle markets, two newspapers couldn't survive, so they merged some years ago. Their name should not reflect on the "intent of the publication."

  8. I knew there would be an 'all participants are winners' person out there to either troll or because they just don't get it. "But for some people just completing a part of this makes them feel proud, or it's a great souvenir for this event. They paid for it, why not." – The finisher's medal says: Honolulu Marathon, not Honolulu Marathon Fun Run as Much as you want. How can anyone with an honest conscience be proud to display this or claim a time with anything less than a 42K effort? I have run this marathon 9 times and I take 4-6 months of my year training for this race,….. so that I can complete it! When I see the results year after year, it infuriates me to see other runners finishing in front of me with multiple missed mats, especially after the 10K (where the finish line meets the 10K part of the course). Sure they paid the money to participate and be a part of the festivities on race day, but an entry fee is not a free ticket to the 'finish' line, 'finishers' medal, and 'finishers' t-shirt! I have run in multiple other marathons, and the unique part of Honolulu that makes it so great for runners of all levels, there is no time limit. For that reason alone, there are NO excuses for not finishing this race unless your injured, your extremely under prepared (mileage, heat, humidity) or you just shouldn't be running distances that far for physical reasons. There are no shortages of races from 5K to 30K on the island, so there is no reason to enter a marathon if you haven't incrementally tested your running level at these races before hand, especially for the first time marathoners. "If they or someone else paid for the entry, get a finisher medal. What's the big deal." – You are really a clueless individual! Being a marathon finisher is quite an accomplishment and at least 98% of the Honolulu Marathon runners put in an honest run to the finish this year. To say that if you pay the entry fee, you get a medal is just completely wrong and waters down the sport for everyone that treats this as a serious and important accomplishment in their life. I love running the HM and the only thing these cheaters have done to this race is make it less of a competing marathon on the world stage and give it the now bad reputation as the cheaters marathon. As a Boston Qualifier, the race organizers of HM should have NEVER let the cheating get to this level of complacency!

  9. This shouldn't be too hard to fix. Anyone with two or more missed mats can automatically be crossed out from the official finishing times, with right to contest. That should take care of anyone turning around early and cutting course.
    Then it can remain a great BQ event for the serious runners and a fun run for everyone.
    Sure, a marathon finish is a great accomplishment! But the the HM is special as it allows everyone to come out and play, whether they do the entire course or not. And wether they get a finisher medal and shirt and display it or not, that's up to them and does not diminish the finish value of someone who ran the entire course. If they are not in the official results, who cares.

  10. It's cool that people run all or part of this marathon, if that's what the spirit of the race is. Live and let live, right? What's not cool is that it sounds like some people are running less than the full 26.2 here, being listed as a MARATHON FINISHER, and using that result to get into Boston. If Boston had unlimited entries for those who hit their BQ standards it would be a lesser deal, but as we've seen the last 5+/- years people who hit their BQ time aren't getting to race in Boston and part of that is because of this issue.

    I also assume Honolulu is a USATF sanctioned race. If it is, part of the paperwork the RD fills out asserts that the race was conducted according to USATF competition guidelines. Listing finishers who did not run the course as laid out would be a violation of the competition rules.

  11. Is there any chance their timing system is to blame? These look like times way beyond what your standard course-cutting would show, and for there to be hundreds of suspect times? I'm a slowie and I hate cheating of any kind but I'd want to rule out the chips first.

  12. Many, many years ago I stopped wearing a chip in any distance less than the full so I never show up in results though I always finish the whole distance. I'm not anywhere near winning or placing so why does it matter? It's super obvious from my times I'm not pretending I went fast. ?

  13. Actually, the BAA typically defers to the qualifying marathon to disqualify the runner e.g. Mike Rossi. Maybe they should just invalidate some qualifying races altogether based on the RDs' indifference to cheaters. Then maybe RDs will take some interest in calling out obvious cheaters.

  14. Thank you for opening a donation page! Just donated! I'm 2 minutes under my minimum BQ time for 2018 — right on the cusp! Cheaters could have a real impact on my ability to qualify. Keep up the great work!

  15. read a lot of your posts and got to get on you: the past participle of "to run" is "run" not "ran" – "he would have run" not "he would have ran" – also "affect" is usually a verb and "effect" a noun – you get the wrong here

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