Race Director Wrongly Accused Runner of Cheating in Boston Qualifier

I immediately told him that there were issues with my timing but he that fell on deaf ears and I was accused of taking a vehicle to certain parts of race which absolutely appalled me.

Prior to the 2017 Boston Marathon I was reviewing a number of qualifying races and runners for inaccurate results. When a questionable result comes to my attention, my procedure has always been to gather all the available information and send it on to race officials to review.

Questionable Result

This result was one that came to my attention:

Mile Total Time Total Pace Split Pace
6.2 0:46:42 0:07:32 0:07:32
13.1 1:35:49 0:07:19 0:07:07
19 2:30:29 0:07:55 0:09:16
26.2 3:12:53 0:07:22 0:05:53

By looking at just the data, it would appear that the runner was slowing after the half way mark before running the last 7.2 miles a full 1-1/2 minutes per mile under her average pace.

It was obvious that there was something wrong with  this result. I emailed the race asking them to please review the result.

Within a few days I heard back from the race:

“I obtained a Garmin file from the runner and it agrees with the overall time of the event. Upon questioning the timer, she didn’t read on the third mat and they manually keyed a time in for her and obviously didn’t do a good job of that. That practice has been addressed with them as well.

Her time is good, she deserves the spot.”

At the time I didn’t think much of the reply. I was glad her time was validated and that she legitimately qualified for Boston.

Race Director Accuses Runner of Cheating

After Boston, I received an email from the runner. She wasn’t previously contacted  because I was never accusing her of having cheated, and never planned an article on her. I simply requested a review of an inaccurate result.

I was one of the athletes that was questioned for suspicious timing in the 2016 ****** Marathon. After I finished the race, I saw there was a timing issue. I told the timing people and they “fixed” it.  Anyway, I trained my butt of for a year to run sub 3:10 at ***** Marathon. I finished with a 3:12 after falling somewhat apart at mile 23. Was little upset about my time but that was a PR for me so nothing to be ashamed of. I signed up for Boston in September. I didn’t think about the timing issues again and that is a lesson I learned.

On Monday the 10th, ***** race director called me to tell me there was question with my split times. I immediately told him that there were issues with my timing but he that fell on deaf ears and I was accused of taking a vehicle to certain parts of race which absolutely appalled me. He told me that the race’s timing mats were unaltered and accurate. I told him I disagreed. To make long story short, thank god I still had my Garmin file to prove I had ran the race fair and square!

I absolutely hated receiving this email. I was thankful that she was able to prove her time was legitimate and that she was able to run Boston.

The race director was out of line if he accused her of taking a vehicle before he contacted the timer. Had the race contacted the timer initially, this entire review likely would have been completed without causing any stress to the runner.

When a result is deemed ‘questionable’, I will always contact the race first. I do not want to send a message and alarm a participant if there was a timing error. The initial response that I received from the race director didn’t initially bother me. But, in retrospect, they should have checked with the timer prior to contacting the runner.

I replied to the runner, and let her know that I never accused her of cheating. I simply asked for a review of the result. We had a good back and forth, and I explained my process and assured her that I would not have written an article on her regardless. Her history clearly shows that she was capable of a BQ time.

Summary

I have learned that there are legitimate timing issues. Often times they follow the same pattern as above.

Now, when I send a race an email relating to questionable mat reading, my first question is to ask if there were any technical issues. I also try to copy the timing company on all correspondence.

While it is the mission of the site to keep cheaters out of Boston, it would be devastating if my work leads to a legitimate runner being kept out. I would much rather miss out on catching a cheater than to be overzealous and keep a deserving runner out.

I posted this article to show that things are not always cut and dry. While I never accused the runner of cheating, my email could have resulted in an unjust disqualification. I am sure that this may serve as fuel to those that are critical of the work, but I always strive to be transparent.

-Derek

 

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Categories
2017 Boston Marathon
17 Comments on this post.
  • Brian Glotzbach
    7 August 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Interesting.

    I don’t race with a Garmin. I use my Timex stopwatch so I can manually hit my splits when I hit each mile marker.

    What would my recourse be if I was accused of something like this and did not have a Garmin file to prove that I didn’t cheat?

    • Charlene Ragsdale
      7 August 2017 at 12:31 pm

      You might not have any recourse unless there was an over abundance of photos of you on the course like at RnR or Disney races. A garmin displays the distance and the direction you ran, which could be the make it or break it. I bought a GPS watch on Amazon for only $79. It was cheaper than my Timex stop watch.

      • Brian Glotzbach
        7 August 2017 at 2:21 pm

        Oh, I have several. But I never wear them for races because they’re not accurate. This assumes the course is USATF certified and the mile markers are placed in the correct spots of course.

        To my knowledge I’ve never had a timing chip malfunction so it seems rare although it obviously does happen.

        • Lauren
          7 August 2017 at 4:18 pm

          That isn’t correct that GPS watches are not accurate. Maybe for races with routes through cities with skyscrapers.. maybe with a lot, a LOT of cloud cover or turns… but under most conditions they are pretty darn accurate nowadays. I have seen the mile markers on race courses be pretty far off though.

          I was unjustly accused of cheating at a duathlon a few years back. Came down to the fact 2nd-4th place didn’t understand you can be passed in transition, especially if someone else uses flat pedals and doesn’t change in and out of cycling shoes but you and your buddies were all looking down at your feet when someone else already came and left. Luckily the timers never really questioned me or believed what they were trying to claim. But I was really really glad I had my Garmin data in case it came to that, and I will never ever race without it because of that experience. When people accuse you of cheating, most other people assume it is because they saw you do something- that they must be really sure and have really good reason. Those three didnt, but that didn’t stop them and other people from yelling stuff at the award ceremony. My name is probably always going to be smeared, and that result always have a little * next to it in some people’s eyes, and it is the worst feeling- but at least I have the proof I was legit and there was no basis to their claims. Best to arm yourself I say. GPS watches are small now too, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t.

          • shawn
            7 August 2017 at 5:40 pm

            “Yelling stuff at the awards ceremony” — classy bunch!

            GPS accuracy (and precision) has been excellent since the Air Force stopped dithering the civil signal in 2000. But we all have learned that doesn’t mean our inexpensive watches and smart phones will perfectly match a measured course.

            The affect of cloud cover on a GPS position would be tough to notice, since the change in the refracted distance the signals travel at the speed of light are small and would tend to average out from the multiple signals you need for a solution.

            You are correct about the potential for signal multipath or GPS gaps due to cities with tall buildings, (we call those urban canyons), though most devices now are pretty good with smoothing algorhythms so that you won’t notice those issues either.

            My watch (10 years old) can smooth thru a 40-yard tunnel if I run it, but not if I walk thru. It also sometimes misses a little distance on the switchbacks up Barr Trail here in Colorado. (It also sometimes gives me different distances going uphill versus coming down the same route, but I think that is really due to the manufacturer-specific smoothing algorhythms and isn’t really a GPS fault.)

          • Brian Glotzbach
            7 August 2017 at 7:34 pm

            They are accurate enough for training purposes. But they are not accurate as far as measuring an exact distance for a variety of reasons – hence why GPS is not used and is not allowed to be used for course certification.

            And yes, in smaller less well run races I have seen mile markers be way off. However in a race such as Boston, NYC, etc, they are where they’re supposed to be. But you’ll hear people’s GPS going off before and after the markers.

        • LK
          8 August 2017 at 1:37 pm

          You can always treat the GPS as a plain watch in a race-turn off the distance field, turn on manual lap.

          That’s what I always do in a race-you never know when you might need that data in the future…

      • Urban B
        8 August 2017 at 2:23 pm

        You can turn off auto splits and hit them manually on most GPS watches now, even the cheaper ones. If you’re really worried about it, forget about the accuracy and just use the GPS for a record. Problem solved.

        • Brian Glotzbach
          8 August 2017 at 6:54 pm

          I’m actually not terribly worried about it, the likelihood of it happening to me is pretty small and I’m a creature of habit so I’m not going to stop using my Timex. If I ever did have a missed split there’s not going to be a huge change in pace between splits, and if there is, it will be because I “blew up” which has happened to me a couple times in the marathon – no one is going to accuse someone of cheating in a marathon when their last 10K split is a minute and a half slower per mile then the first 20 miles.

          My OP was simply a hypothetical for someone that finds themselves in the situation that this lady did and did not wear a GPS and therefore had no way to “prove” she didn’t cheat other than her word.

  • Justin
    7 August 2017 at 1:21 pm

    It seems silly that the timer would just input a totally random time due to a missed mat. Is that common practice? I can’t see the reason for it, just leave it blank.

    • jweeks
      7 August 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Sometimes the race timers have both a primary and a back-up system. They might have pulled her time from the backup system and manually entered it into the primary system. But in this case, they messed it up. They might have gotten confused between 2 different runners. Another possibility is that they had multiple races going at once with different start times, like the marathon at 8 AM, half at 8:30, and 5K/10K at 9AM. The backup system might have been on a different start time and they forgot to do the math. Fortunately, timing errors are rare and photos and Garmin data is common.

  • Peabody
    8 August 2017 at 9:55 am

    I had a timing chip completely malfunction as in it did not register at any mats, start and finish included. Instead I was listed as a DNS (did not start). It was a smaller race and the race directory knew who I was and that I did run it. I thankfully ran with a GPS watch and just emailed the data to them and was added to the results. I’m not sure that would have worked in a major race.

  • Puzzled Runner
    8 August 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Something similar happened to me once and I was worried that it made me look like a cheater. I learned to next day that my posted 5k time for a small, local triathlon was way faster than I am capable of running. I emailed the race director and he replied suspiciously-curtly that all times were accurate to the best of his knowledge. But before I received his reply, I looked up the guy who placed immediately behind me and told him I may have unintentionally taken his spot, and also contacted another participant, who clued me in on what had happened. The timing company was using newly-acquired, used equipment, which turned out not to read chips consistently for many participants, and missed my T2, among MANY others, so they manually recorded overall finish times and then filled in SWAGs for missing data. My overall time was apparently accurate, but my split was just their inaccurate guess.

    • derek murphy
      8 August 2017 at 10:53 pm

      Over the last 1-1/2 years, I have learned that it is typically a timing error when I see a really slow split followed by a real fast split if the overall pace is consistent.

  • D T
    9 August 2017 at 11:34 pm

    I’m somewhat amazed that GPS data is viewed as proof here. Isn’t that just a human readable/editable/spoofable XML file?

  • Kevin
    10 August 2017 at 8:55 am

    This is a bit disconcerting for those of us who don’t run with a GPS (or any watch at all). In the unlikely event I was mistimed and questioned, I guess I have to live with the fact that I have no recourse, other than a long history of race times. Sad days.

  • Gracie
    17 August 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Oddly enough, I have had TWO timing issues (both using bib chips) and my brother has had one. In one race (Publix marathon), the very last mat at the finish line didn’t pick up my chip and I was omitted from results. However, that was easily rectified as video footage at the finish showed me finishing. The second was probably human error – it was RnR New Orleans, and I was left off the leaderboard, yet my results were searchable. I contacted the race and they fixed it, but assured me that my place was recorded correctly and that the leaderboard is really just a website feature – not used for timing. My brother’s error was also a RnR race, and I never figured out exactly what happened. He had a number like 1023, and somehow his time was transposed with bib 11023 – which was like a 5 hours marathon (my brother ran a 2:47). Weird, because that seems so manual to me, and I thought it would be much more automated. Perhaps the chips were swapped before they were attached to the bibs?
    Neither of my issues required GPS data, but I did have it if needed. My brother didn’t, since he runs watchless, but race photos proved that he was indeed the runner of the 2:47 race! The director did confide in him, however, that he considered the request suspicious: my brother was a teenager when he ran that race. However, he had run a 2:49 on the same course the prior year, so the director took his request seriously.

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