“MarathonJunkie” Chuck Engle Among Two Disqualified From Heartland Marathon

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When you visit the Heartland Marathon Homepage, you are greeted with the following statement:

No other details were available publicly. I have been in contact with one of the runners involved and with race officials, who provided more detail behind the disqualifications.

Chuck Engle crossed the finish line first. He was disqualified under USATF Rule 163 6.

Engel was disqualified from the unofficial results of the 2018 Heartland Marathon in accordance with USATF Rule 163 6. (c), which reads as follows: “In any track event of 20,000 meters or more or in any road race, a competitor may leave the marked course with the permission and under the control of a judge or other authorized official, provided that by going off or returning to the course the athlete does not lessen the distance to be covered.” Mr. Engel states he was requested to deviate from the official course by an Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee because the trail was flooded. The DNR employee was not a race official and there was no flooding or other trail emergency in the area, and Mr. Engel was the only runner to allegedly be requested to deviate from the official course. Mr. Engel stated following the race that after traversing down the unauthorized detour, he turned back but was unable to locate the DNR employee. Mr. Engel then doubled back and re-entered the official course approximately one-half mile ahead of where he departed from the official course. Mr. Engel did not return to the point of departure from the official course so therefore it is our conclusion that he did not cover the entire official course. Rule 163 7. provides: “7. To be considered a finisher, a competitor must complete the race.” Mr. Engel did not cover the entire official course and therefore did not complete the race. Our decision to disqualify Mr. Engel will not be reversed.

Chuck is well-known within the marathon community as ‘Marathon Junkie’. Chuck holds the world record for most marathon wins. He has won 206 marathons.

I’ve been in contact with Chuck throughout this process. I have found him to be upfront and willing to answer all questions I had. In fact, I first heard about the disqualifications through a post that he made on Facebook.

 

Looking at his track from the portion in question, (around mile 12) the route Chuck ran was about 0.1 miles shorter than if he had remained on the official course. The arrow indicates where Chuck went off course.

As far as being the only one, the lead runner had a cyclist right with him. At the point where I left the course I was about 5 minutes ahead of 3rd place and I was unable to see first place due to corners. Again, when I was waved down, the course was not marked and I followed instructions. As I approached the next water stop, I told the oldest gentleman standing there that I was directed this way by a law enforcement officer. There was plenty of time to walk back and certainly radio to let them know that it was an error on their part to divert runners and thus it was corrected easily by the time any other runner passed by that point of the course.

 

The response from the race seemed to indicate that he cut off 1/2 mile. This is not the case – and any advantage he gained would have been negligible. While the distance he covered was less than those that remained on the course, the detour took him through a grassy field, and his Strava file indicates he did slightly slow down on this portion.

I agree, that if Chuck was the only competitor rerouted, and that he did not complete the official course, that he should be removed from the results.

If he was redirected as he claims, there is nothing else Chuck could have done. If he ignored the direction of a person he thought was a ‘law enforcement officer’ he would risk disqualification. The big mystery is why the DNR employee rerouted Chuck and no one else. At the time, Chuck says he was in 2nd place, out of sight of the first place runner.

On Chuck’s Facebook page, the course certifier chimed in:

The issue was not with the course markings, it is Chuck’s claim that he was redirected. I asked Chuck about the comment that he waited:

“Yes. On the trip back the water stop directed us to the lower section. The section that leads to a paved path up near the road is where I was directed through. It was a recently cut grass path. It all seemed to make sense. Flooding in the area, a great race that knew to redirect the path. I felt like they had just extended the out and back portion in at least two spots on the course. My watch still maintained even mile splits throughout the course.”

 

“There is no possible reason that I would leave a paved path and run about 50m through a grass path without specific instructions from someone whom I believed to be an official.”

The statement that Chuck waited seems like it’s being used against him. A runner that cuts a significant portion of the course, may wait before re-entering the course in order to make their splits more believable. In this case, Chuck would have waited for a longer period of time than he saved by taking the slightly shorter route.

I will reiterate, that I do agree with Chuck being removed from the results. I do not believe there is evidence that would indicate that Chuck tried to gain an unfair advantage intentionally. The statements from the officials seem to indicate that they doubt Chuck’s story. Personally, I feel that if he were going to intentionally cut the course, that there were more likely spots in which he would have done so.

The original results for the top 3 runners were as follow:

  1. Chuck Engle 2:59:35
  2. Timothy Fry 3:02:00
  3. Miguel Carreon 3:07:38

At most, Chuck would have gained about 50 seconds by running the slightly shorter route. He still would have beaten Fry. He would have beaten Carreon by over 6 minutes.

Timothy Fry disqualification

Per the race official:

Mr. Timothy Fry was disqualified for what is known as pacing.  Two credible observers reported that a runner not officially participating in the event entered the official course more than once, ran with Mr. Fry for a number of miles each time and then exited the course.  This is in violation of Rule 144 ASSISTANCE TO ATHLETES.  The applicable paragraph of Rule 144 states as follows:

Rule 144 ASSISTANCE TO ATHLETES

  1. The following shall be considered examples of assistance:

(a) Pacing in running or walking events by persons not participating in the event, by competitors lapped or about to be lapped, or by any kind of technical device other than those permitted under Rule 144.4(d).

Engle had seen Fry running with the unregistered runner.

“When the lead cyclist offered me water, I declined stating it was illegal to accept outside aide other than that available to all other runners.
I stated to her that pacing was illegal also and that the guy, who at that point (TIM) was in second place had used a pacer for much of the race. She stated she didn’t know the rules and wasn’t clear that pacing was even illegal.
I know the rules and despite winning at the time and before my DQ, I mentioned it to what appeared to be the officials table.”
“I stated that the second place runner, I only knew him as Tim, had a pacer not entered in the race. I honestly figured that the lead cyclist said something. I didn’t BUST him. I simply mentioned it. He could blame anyone on the course for telling them that Tim was being paced. The lead cyclist, but she didn’t know the rules or so she said. But water stops along nearly the whole course saw someone with Tim. At one point I even asked someone who was directing us on the course if both the leaders were in the race. I wasn’t sure where the other runner came from as I knew there were official pacers but didn’t see this other runner with a bib or carrying a pacing sign.”

 

Summary

Whenever runners are disqualified, it is unfortunate. When the top two finishers are disqualified, that is not publicity any race, or runner wants. I feel in the case of Engle, it was most likely the result of a miscommunication. I don’t believe that Chuck ‘cheated’. I think the race should acknowledge the possibility that Chuck is sincere in his explanation.

By stating that Chuck was seen waiting and checking his watch seemed to be an attempt to provide evidence against Chuck. However, given the very small section of course that was ‘cut’, any time waiting would more than offset the time gained by cutting. He did not cut 1/2 mile off the course, he cut approximately 1/10th of a mile.

 

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Many potential conspiracy theories for this one. Either Engle is lying, an official falsely misdirected only him, or the official was a fake or plant by that other cheater Tim.

    I’ve run trail races for over 30 years, and any course issues or detours have always been announced at the start, but on the other hand I always follow the instructions of race officials, even if they lead me thru knee-deep water. Weird.

    Last but not least why would a top runner in a marathon not know the USATF rules, and while not all volunteers would, I’d think someone other than Engle should have caught Tim’s pacer.

    Not sure where the blame lies, but overall it’s a bad look for the race, and unfortunately more issues race directors have to worry about.

  2. I think its coming to light Chuck Engle only runs races that are low profile. This could be a concern to the running community that his name is out there, but he should run races that are not backyard races. Why don’t he run races that we know about? Maybe he is cutting races here and there.

    • I think it makes sense to run low profile races if he’s racing to win. You can’t win a high profile race with a 3-hour marathon, and since it seems he’s trying to rack up wins it makes sense to run smaller marathons.

      That doesn’t mean that there is no way he ever cheated to get there, but the races he’s choosing still make sense for a non-cheater.

      • Chuck runs 40-50 marathons per year, sometimes two per weekend, traversing the entire country on little sleep to make it happen. So, yes, he does choose some smaller races, because large ones are not held every weekend. But he has absolutely no need to cheat. He is an incredibly high-quality athlete with a storied history of success in the marathon. He is an invited guest to many of the marathons he races, so I don’t think he would want to purposely tarnish that history he has worked so hard to earn for so many years.

    • Races you know about? Have you heard of the Marine Corps Marathon or the Boston Marathon? These are among the largest races in America. He runs a lot of marathons every year, so of course most of them are smaller races. I’m sure he chooses some of the smaller races that he thinks he can win, but that’s not cheating. His times are pretty consistent.

  3. How are they using USATF rules if this is not a USATF sanctioned race? In addition the host organization is not a USATF sanctioned team? This was also a open course anyone could have been on the trails at any time.

    • There is a difference between USATF sanctioned, USATF Certified, and following the USATF Rulebook. They’re all somewhat related, but they each have different purposes. A lot of people kind of interchange usage of those terms and it ends up leading to confusion.

      ANY race can be USATF Certified if the course is measured per the USATF RRTC standards. That usually means use of a Jones Counter to measure the distance (you could also use a steel tape but in most cases that would take a really long time, a Jones Counter is a lot faster to use), as well as filling out certification paperwork and submitting a course map to your State Certifier. Plus the measurer has to pay a small fee ($25-$40) to the certifier for them to check the work and issue the approval certificate. A race does not have to be USATF Sanctioned to be USATF Certified, in fact many many races do not get USATF Sanctioning but they are held on USATF Certified courses. A race may not even pay for certification of the course they use, they may use a course that already exists on the certified list on the USATF website.

      USATF Sanctioned means that a race has filled out the sanctioning paperwork and agreed to conduct the competition according to certain USATF rules and protocols. USATF Sanctioning is mutually exclusive from USATF Certification, a race can be held on a non-certified course but still be USATF Sanctioned. A good example of this would be mountain races where the course cannot be Certified due to technical limitations with the process.

      “USATF Sanctioned Team” isn’t really a thing for any race host organization. USATF doesn’t sanction race producers per se, they provide a process by which a race can choose to sanction the process they are conducting the race under. For example, the race production company I work for produces 5 races each year, but we only Sanction one of them. Our company is in no way a USATF Sanctioned Team. We do conduct all out races according to the USATF rules, but due to various reasons we only produce 1 race that really needs the things that USATF Sanctioning brings.

      Using USATF rules is a 3rd thing entirely. Any race can choose to follow USATF rules or they can make up their own rules. The rulebook is published on the USATF website and anyone can peruse it. It’s like any other sport, say I want to put on a golf tournament, I can choose that USGA rules are in effect or I can tell potential entrants that we’re changing/modifying certain rules to suit whatever format I want. With running, races regularly modify USATF rules. Here’s a relevant example, Rule 243 of the current rulebook addresses Course Marking And Monitoring. Section 1 of that rule states “Running courses shall be adequately marked at strategic points to keep the competitors on course. (a) Each turn and intersection shall be clearly marked in such a way that there will be no doubt as to the direction the runner shall go to stay on course.”. Section 2 of that rules states “Turns and major intersections on the course shall be monitored.” Note that both of these rules say SHALL, not MAY.

      In this case, if the Heartland Marathon states that they are following USATF rules, my interpretation of the USATF Rulebook would be that they in fact did not follow USATF Rules in regards to their own responsibilities in course setup and monitoring. The RD was quick to reference the rule that Mr. Engle broke (going off course, not returning to the point he left the course), and IMO was correct in their interpretation of that rule. However, the RD should have also noted that the race was guilty of not following USATF Rule 243. I don’t think it’s right to pick and choose which parts of the Rulebook a race is going to follow unless that is noted in advance.

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