Philadelphia Marathon Course Cutting Detected in Initial Review


The problem is not unique to The Philadelphia Marathon. Large Marathons are all going to have their share of attempted cheating.

The issue I’ve had with Philadelphia is that they have been very inconsistent in dealing with the cheating. Last year in particular, some obvious course cutters and bib mules were left in the results.

I’ve written about Tracy for a number of years:

Tracy is the perfect example of The Philadelphia Marathon’s inconsistency.

2013 – 13.1 split – 2:50:35 – Finished Full Marathon in 3:07:12 – Not Disqualified
2014 – Listed in results – no time – Presumed Disqualified
2015 – Only hit halfway split – not in final results – Presumed Disqualified
2016 – No Splits – 3:02:04 Finish – Disqualified
2017 – No Splits – 3:26:25 Finish Not Disqualified
2018 – No Splits – 4:07:32 Finish – ???

At least he did not win an age group placement or qualify for Boston this year.

Boston Qualifiers

Again, some runners cut the course at the halfway point. Tracy did this in 2013 where he “ran” a 17 minute 2nd half.

It is possible that these runners just decided to run a half marathon after signing up for the full. Unless I can prove intent was to earn Boston Qualifiers or claim these finishes as a Full Marathon I would tend to classify these runners as ‘unintentional cheaters’.

I counted 4 runners with Boston Qualifying times that ran the 2nd Half of The Philadelphia Marathon in less than 1 hour. All of them missed the 1/2 timing mat. Their results should be removed.

Out and Back

I always receive eyewitness accounts of runners turning around before the end of this out and back. The race has a timing mat at 30k (18.6 miles) but does not publish a split at the turnaround (mile 20). There is a timing mat there which should definitively show the runners that cut this section.

The runner above is an example of someone who saw significant improvement from 30k to the finish and someone who likely cut the course. I will likely have more on this runner in a future article. She has a history of just missing out on gaining entry to Boston, and only would have needed to shave a few minutes off of her typical time. Her time in Philadelphia will likely qualify her for Boston if she is not removed from The Philadelphia Marathon Results.

There were many more instances of slower runners cutting this section as well. Runners going from 14 minute paces to 10 minute paces. Hopefully Philadelphia Marathon utilizes their data from the turnaround and disqualifies these runners whether they earned Boston Qualifying times or not. We often lose site that completing a marathon is an accomplishment, and even the slower finishes should not be disrespected by course cutters.


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    • I ran the Philly Marathon yesterday and saw plenty of people running with the 3:00/3:15 pacers who did not seem like they had run the full distance (full polar fleece outfits, hydration packs, etc. Just not the things I see sub-3:30 marathoners wear). The Philadelphia Marathon has a long, grueling, 12 mile out and back portion. Runners going out have half the street and runners coming back have the other half. Mile 20 is on Main Street in Manayunk, which is actually a pretty narrow street. I suspect that if they had a Mile 20 mat, the mat would pick up the results of everyone on the other side of the street too. My guess is that’s why they haven’t put one out there. Having said that, I think they need to try coming up with a solution. A turnaround mat, or something else, needs to be put out there.

      • Elizabeth – It’s not that challenging to set up timing mats and tune them to avoid stray reads. Somewhat challenging in certain cases, yes for sure. But really not that difficult to get it 95%+ correct, which would be a great cross check. The marathon I work for sets up a mat near the end of an out-and-back section on a road that is 40′ wide. Main St in Manayunk appears to be about 34′ wide on google earth.

        If I’m the Philly RD, I’d strongly consider a mat at 20 miles, and I’d publish that data like they do the other split points. I know that’s not the exact turnaround spot, but it’s really close. Looks like within a block or so. Would be easy to Course Monitor that location visually to make sure runners are going all the way from that mat to the turnaround. If it was longer I’d say that would be too difficult to make sure no runners turn around early. But a block is easy to watch. A mat at 20 would be good data for runners to see.

        • Joe, I totally agree with you. Plus, the spot where they actually set up the mile 20 marker (which, i still believe was the wrong spot) was actually almost immediately after the turnaround (maybe 5 or 10 yards), so even if it picked up stray data from the other side, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference as far as monitoring who turned around early.

        • Oh that’s interesting. I figured the stray reads would be rampant on Main Street. Regardless, the Philly Marathon needs to register more splits. We only have 10k, 13.1, and 30k. I did the half in 2015, which was the final year of them doing the half and full on the same day. I finished my race, went to track a friend running the full, and became convinced she dropped out when nothing registered after the 30k. There is so much race left after 30k, and the 30k spot is positioned in an area that is far too easy to cheat from. Notably, 30k on the one part of Kelly Drive that’s split. They could easily throw down a 35k mat on the other side. It may not register people who don’t go all the way out to Manayunk, but if they did 30k and then 35k, course-cutters would probably have splits between those two markers and it would be more obvious.

    • Appears you missed that detail. They do have a timing mat at the 20m turnaround but didn’t publish the splits. If the mat was functional they should have that data internally and can easily pluck the cheaters.

      • I didn’t see a timing mat at the turnaround point, which also surprised me as I was looking for it. There was some chalk or paint around the turn point, and some spectators and officials I think.

  1. I ran this year and I don’t remember there being a timing mat at mile 20. I was also surprised that the mile marker itself was after the turn-around (I was expecting it before the turn-around) and I think that was a mistake, so maybe I just missed it while trying to figure out while my mile 20 + 21 mile splits were so off (I manual lap during races).

    • Yeah, based on the course map it looks like it should be on the outbound side of the course. Plus my time at the 20 mile clock was off from what it should have been. I didn’t notice a timing mat there either. There was just one at 30k. I passed a few people on the way back who didn’t look like they should be there. I hate to judge any runner based on their body shape or running form, but sometimes you can just tell.

  2. I fail to understand marathon racers. All that time, all that effort, and for what? An expensive “achievement”, of a distance derived from a mythical tale, which few modern observers care about. Also, for the more popular races, some non-negligible amount of the participants apparently “achieved” the completed race by cheating.

    I can’t help but notice, as I observe the typical high-level marathon racer, that becoming fast enough to qualify for Boston also means transforming the body into something resembling a seriously ill person. For that reason, and many others, no thanks. 5Ks, and the occasional 10K or Sprint Tri, suits me just fine. I get my competitive fitness, and still have plenty of time for other things.

    • I imagine you REALLY fail to understand ultra runners then. Believe it or not, there are people who run 50 mile, 100 mile, and 200 mile races. They also run 3-day and 6-day races, covering hundreds of miles during that time. To each their own as they say…

    • I fail to understand 5K/10K racers. All that time, all that effort, and for what? An expensive “achievement”, of a distance derived using round numbers, which few modern observers care about. Also, for the more popular races, some non-negligible amount of the participants apparently “achieved” the completed race by cheating.

      I can’t help but notice, as I observe the typical high-level 5K/10K racer, that becoming fast enough to place in age group also means transforming the body into something resembling a seriously ill person. For that reason, and many others, no thanks. Jogging around the neighborhood suits me just fine. I get my fitness, and still have plenty of time for other things.

    • Because 5ks, 10ks, and sprint tris are not arbitrary distances, and because modern observers care about them so much more?

      The marathoner could look at the 5k runner and wonder why s/he even bothers waking up for that. The warrior dasher could look at any runner and say “if you don’t have to climb over barbed wire, it’s not worth is.” A 5k winner could look at the MOP runner and say, “if you’re not doing it under 15 minutes, you’re wasting your time.” The average American could look at any of us and think we’re all stupid, please pass the potato chips and the remote.

      We like it, it’s fun, it’s a challenge. That actually seems pretty easy to understand.

    • Comedy Central released a video earlier this month, entitled “First Person to Run a Marathon Without Talking About It”. They get EXACTLY my point. Because that IS comedy. I saw denials, I saw attacks, but none of you were convincing.

      • Dude, your media is as stale as your crabbing – that video is at least three years old. Anyone here could tell you WHY to run a marathon. Now get off my lawn!

        • Ok, so they reposted it after having inherited the rights from some older media service named “Above Average”. I’m just now seeing it on YouTube, but I don’t see how it matters that I didn’t notice it the first time. The video’s criticism about distance runners, and their social media narcissism, is more relevant NOW than it was “three years” ago.

          There’s a moment in the original Jurassic Park film when Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, says emphatically, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

          I am confident I COULD run a marathon, and I’ve decided I’d rather do OTHER THINGS instead, since life is short. Did all Marathoners “stop to think”, as Jeff Goldblum is suggested people do, before launching into a huge project? I doubt it.

    • What you are terming a “seriously ill person” is what humans are actually supposed to look like, obesity has taken such a grip that we have forgotten what shape people should be.

    • I know you are just trolling, badly. But guess what? Most marathon runners run all those shorter races as training. Can you say the reverse?

      Also, I and my friends who run these distances (even the Boston qualifiers – which I am not) are far from emaciated, sadly. I do like the fact that when in training I can get back down to what I used to be and drop the 10-15 lbs I shouldn’t be carrying. Also I eat real good – all the food – when in training, and still lose weight. Typical marathon burn = 4500 calories for me.

  3. Also there are reports that the first place woman had a non-racing pacer for a portion of the race. You might want to look into that too.

    • I saw the first place woman – she had a motorcycle with a camera in front of her – she definitely appeared to have a pacer, and I distinctly remembered that her “escort” was not wearing a race bib.

    • Since the top woman had an official cyclist escort as is the norm in any race , I’m pretty sure the race directors would be pretty aware of anything withou much of an investigation or reports

  4. this was my 3rd time running both the half and the full and I feel like they’ve beefed up on trying to stop cutters. I’m a back of the pack marathoner and this year a race official was following our corral from mile 3 all the way to the finish (for some reason I got paranoid every time I saw him!)
    There was also an official at the timing mat leading into Manayunk who was checking that bibs were registering as we crossed over.
    I do agree that it’s very easy to turn around early on that main st and there needs to be a mat at the turn-around, especially since the portapotties are on one side of the course so you can easily go into one of those and come out and run in the other direction.

  5. You stated: “It is possible that these runners just decided to run a half marathon after signing up for the full. Unless I can prove intent was to earn Boston Qualifiers or claim these finishes as a Full Marathon I would tend to classify these runners as ‘unintentional cheaters’.” The problem is, they could have only decided to run a half if they ran Saturday – there was no half on Sunday, only a full. I ran this race – the timing mat should be placed at the 20m turnaround point, not at an arbitrary 30k distance. I saw what was happening, and after that 30k mat it would have been so easy to stop, tie your shoe, and then run right instead of left toward Mayanank. The temptation to cheat should not be enabled to be as easy as it was in Philly.

    • It’s sad that cheating is so rampant that race directors even need to think about “removing the temptation” to cheat, but as evidenced by this website alone, its clearly the case. I know it costs more to add more timing mats, but I guess i’m still surprised that as this marathon has grown over the years that they haven’t added done that. Most big city marathons have them every 5k at this point – not only does it deter cheating (especially on a course with so many places to turn around) but it also adds value by making it easier for spectators to track runners.

  6. This is a disgrace, for any sport cheating is unacceptable, and all the runners in question should be disqualified. I ran in the marathon Sunday my first one ever, I trained very hard for 15 weeks with nike app. And I finished the race which was extremely challenging after like the 1l8th mile. I don’t care if the cheaters time doesn’t qualify them for Boston it should be scratched because they cheated.

  7. Is there any update on the female cheaters mentioned in this article and whether they will be removed from the results? Both claimed Boston qualifying times for their ages. It’s clear that the first one must have cut the course right at or just after the mid point which isn’t impossible to do given how the course is set up, and the other would have done it further out on the out-and-back. Either way, both intentional cheaters who crossed the finish line and claimed an illegitimate time.

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