Even before I wrote the first article on The Mexico City Marathon: Thousands Accused of Cheating At The Mexico City Marathon, I had heard the suggestions that the runners were not cheating for Boston or to brag about their times. “They did it for the medal”
I did not report on this theory initially. The reason is that I had not ruled out some sort of systematic timing failure. I, like many, had a difficult time coming to grips with 5000 + runners crossing the finish line without having run the entire 26.2 miles.
Things started to become clearer shortly after I posted the follow up: Over 5000 Disqualified From The Mexico City Marathon. I mentioned in that article an anomaly related to the large numbers of runners that are show that their chip start was at the exact same time as the gun start.
Chip Time = Gun Time
In a chip timed marathon, you expect that nearly all runners will have a chip time less than the gun time. This is because for non elite runners, times are measured from the time when the runner crosses the start mat.
4608 runners appeared in the initial results with a Chip Time equaling their gun time. Typically this would be seen if a runner did not register at the start, but registered at mats along the course or at the finish.
I started to look at these runners more closely (nearly all were on the list of disqualified runners). I looked at missed mats for these runners:
The pattern is clear and the conclusion is apparent: The vast majority of these runners did not cross the starting line at all: They jumped in at various points along the course. At every interval, more of these runners showed up on the course.
There is also anecdotal evidence to support this happening:
The above photo, taken from the lead car shows runners walking along the side of the course. It also provides important confirmation in that the runner pictured was creditted with crossing the starting mat line the moment the gun sounded. The woman in front missed the first two intermediate timing mats. Her first registered time came at 15k (She was disqualified).
“They Did it For The Medal”
Of course, I cannot speak to the motivation of all the disqualified runners, but many have posted and contacted me regarding the likely motivation: the medal.
For the past 5 years, finishers have received a single letter to spell “Mexico”. This year they received the “C”. I have received multiple examples of runners who have been disqualified with their medals. Next year is the final year – runners will receive the ‘O”. It has been reported that the race will send 1 missing letter to anyone that asks for it to fill out their collection if they did not compete in one year. While this may cut down on cheating – it is a slap in the face to those that worked legitimately for their medals.
Why does it matter?
Does it really matter if most of these runners just wanted the medal to help complete their collection? Yes it does.
Beyond the distaste that taking a medal that wasn’t earned, it is still an issue.
You have thousands of runners jumping on the course at various intervals. The majority of runners were attempting to run a legitimate race. They were racing for personal records, or perhaps a Boston qualifying time. It is to the detriment to these runners putting forth a legitimate effort that they potentially have to deal with slower runners jumping on the course ahead of them.
I also found this comment on my blog particularly interesting:
Cheating is a strong word. I can’t talk for everybody but myself.
After running the 2016 edition of this marathon I wanted to repeat the experience and I paid for the entry fee last year to run the 2017 edition. Later on the year, I decided that I wanted to do an international marathon so I applied for the Chicago marathon and I got a place through the lottery. I am not an experienced runner and I thought that it was too much for me to run two marathons in +30 days, so I decided to focus on the Chicago one. At first, I just wasn’t going to run the Mexico Marathon, but then a friend convinced me to use it as a training, and so I did. I ran 32k that day. I never said I ran the full 2017 Marathon or posted everywhere a picture of myself at the finish line, I just took advantage of a place in an organized race to do a long distance training, but of course, I am among those +5000 disqualified runners (which is fair) because I didn’t cover the entire distance.
Is that cheating?, I let you decide.
I would agree, that this is not cheating in the true sense of the word. I am sure there are others out of the 5000+ that did the same as this runner. It would appear, since this runner apparently did appear in the original results, that he jumped in late and ran to the finish. I would have zero issue if he started in his corral and pulled out early. Again, jumping in after the start causes logistical issues.
I do not see what happened in Mexico City as a cultural phenomenon. We see similar actions (on a smaller scale) at Disney races. Cutting the course short for the medal is not unique to Mexico City.
The 1500 Runners
In addition to the over 5000 runners that were disqualified, 1500 were added to the final results. As part of my research I turned to Brian Davis. I know Brian from work he has done analyzing patterns at The Disney races.
The runners that were added weren’t Boston qualifiers. They finished in over 5 hours. Nearly all finished with gun times between 4 hours and 5:12:00.
There is still something wrong with the data assigned to these runners. A large band of these runners are given start times outside of all other runners. It would seem that there was some sort of data failure and these runners were added after the fact. I am not questioning that these runners deserve finishing times. I hope the race will make a statement regarding these runners. Many have posted something to the affect that these runners were simply added to the results and don’t deserve the times. I don’t believe that is the case.
Putting aside the added runners, there was no evidence of any widespread or systematic timing error. There were no gaps in results suggesting any sort of outage. There were only the typical small percent of random misses that are expected with a large # of runners.
The marathon did remove most of the questionable results prior to submitting qualified runners to Boston. The male carrying ‘Maria’s’ bib has now been disquailified.
Thank you everyone that contributed and provided information regarding The Mexico City Marathon.
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