Mexico City Marathon Controversy – “They Did It For The Medal”


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:

Missed Timing Mats from Runners That Were Originally Credited With a Start Time Equal To The Gun Time
Count of Runners That Hit Each Intermediate Timing Mat from Runners That Were Originally Credited With a Start Time Equal To The Gun Time


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:


Notice the spectators on the side of the road at the 21 kilometer point of the course- wearing bibs as the elite runners pass by




taken from the lead vehicle

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).

More runners as seen from the lead vehicle


“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.

courtesy of Brian Davis, #NTRD, PHD

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.

courtesy of Brian Davis, #NTRD, PHD


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.


One Time Contribution


  1. “They did it for the medal”? If that’s the case, I’ve got a box of medals collecting dust I need to get rid of. I’ll charge you a fraction of the cost of the marathon. You don’t even have to worry about the hassle of crossing the finish line that way you can sleep in. I’ll even send you the bib and t-shirt if I still have them. All you have to do is stay off the course so the runners who run for more than just a medal can do what they trained for. You’re spending $100+ for a $5 piece of cheap metal that no one cares that you have except yourself. And every time you look at you’ll know how you got it. By cheating.

  2. The fact that there were so many people that did this shows that there was a lot of talk/buzz about this being seen as an option beforehand. The race had to know about it. The fact that they did not initially disqualify those who missed the first timing mats seems to show that they tacitly sanctioned the behaviour until they got called on it.

    As to the question of whether or not it’s cheating – yes it is cheating to get the medal for finishing something you did not. Perhaps the race should just allow people to receive a “participation medal” like they do in kids track meets. Of course then it wouldn’t have the same “meaning.”

  3. It’s cheating! They don’t deserve the medal and the race is terrible for just giving any person a missing letter!

  4. The guy who justifies his actions as “just a long training day” in preparation for another marathon, has a pretty lame excuse. You can have a long training day without wearing your timing chip and crossing the finish line, thus making it look like you completed the race. I think he was cheating, got caught, and now wants to minimize his wrongful action.

    • Thanks for this explanation! I had not known about the letter medals. Now it makes perfect sense to me.

      Next year will be even worse if the race organizers don’t do anything about it.

      • (ignore the comment above.)

        The Mexico City marathon race is really a very good way to d a long run in this city. I don’t know any other option where you can run 30+km without traffic or a long commute.

        And, as Derek wrote, entering a race with the intention to drop out later, is perfectly reasonable. Entering later and running to the race goal is not, though.

        • Adidas organizes a 30K split 3 weeks before Mexico City Marathon. There are plenty of places where you can try that in Mexico City as well. It’s just that people don’t have the nerve and the guts to do loops in order to cover that distance. Excuses for me.

  5. Thanks for this explanation! I had not known about the letter medals. Now it makes perfect sense to me.

    Next year will be even worse if the race organizers don’t do anything about it.

  6. It’s beyond my comprehension that anyone wants a medal they didn’t earn. In this situation and the other stories you bring to light with cheating, the cheater knows they didn’t earn it, the medal or the time. How can they even enjoy the accomplishment?

  7. I’m noticing a popular trend of tourists using a major city marathon as a walking tour of a city (no traffic, beverages along the way, and medal as souvenir). I’m happy anyone can sign up for most races and experience the joy of a marathon. They pay the same entry fee and boost the economy of the host city. BUT I hope they start in the appropriate corrals and don’t course cut/accept age awards/BQ illegally.

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