All Cheating Matters – Even at The Back of The Pack


Some people think I should only write about people that are cheating for Boston or for Age Group wins. Some people think back of the pack runners should get a pass. I disagree.

While has evolved over the past three years, the goal has largely been the same – to catch and deter cheaters. The site initially got attention for my review of The 2015 Boston Marathon results.

Change of Process – Not a Change of Focus

When I investigated The 2015 Boston Marathon, and initially found over 60 runners that cheated, or illegally obtained bibs to gain entry, people took notice. The process was detailed in Runner’s World. I found these 60 runners through a prioritized review of approximately 3000 Boston finishers.

That project took up nearly all of my time related to the site. For months I was working on the analysis, and I was not writing about the individual cases.

My review of The 2016 Boston Marathon was similar. I looked through the top 400 runners on my prioritized list and found 40 runners that cheated to run the Marathon.

A result of catching these runners after the fact was that I had plenty of stories where I could write about runners that I knew cheated for the specific purpose of entering Boston. When someone cheats and actually enters Boston, the stories get more interest. But my goal is to prevent these runners from entering in the first place.

Beginning with 2017 Boston Qualifying races and continuing to today, my focus is on preventing these runners from ever running in Boston, and preventing them from stealing entries from legitimate runners.

Most of the times when I identify someone that cut the course that earns a qualifying time, I report them to the race and they are usually removed.

I don’t write about every runner that cuts a course with a Boston qualifying time. Runners are being caught and reported to the races and timers on a weekly basis. If I find a pattern of cheating or if the instance of cheating was particularly egregious, I may decide to write a story. If the runner is an ‘influencer’ and has lied to followers, I am likely to write a story.

While some readers may not be as interested in reading about mid pack or back of the pack cheating, it is still important to try to make an impact against all cheating. If there has been an increase in these articles, it does not represent a change in my priorities.

The best way I can judge my success is by looking at the top 100 or 200 runners on my prioritized list of Boston finishers. In the first two years, about 10% of those runners were determined to have cheated. That percentage dropped significantly with my review of The 2017 and 2018 Boston Marathon finishers.

To me, this indicates that the most obvious of cheaters are being identified before they get a chance to run in Boston.

All Cheating Matters

Beginning around 2017 I had help with the data. I was able to obtain results from most races in spreadsheet format, including splits. I automated my formulas, and could quickly identify all likely course cutters for any given race. I started writing about mass cheating at races like Honolulu, Disney, and Mexico City.

I started hearing criticism that I should be focusing only on Boston.

  • To elite runners, those cheating for a podium spot matters.
  • To runners that are at the top of their age groups, age group cheating matters.
  • To runners trying to qualify for Boston, cheating for a Boston entry matters.

In all of the examples above, the underlying action is the same. Cheating is cheating. Cheating just to finish matters, too. Cutting a course is inherently the same whether it leads to a BQ time, an age group finish, a podium spot, or just a finish under the time limit. In my opinion, all cheating matters, and course cutting, or bib muling should not be excused simply because someone didn’t cheat enough to steal a podium spot or secure a Boston entry.

The ability to pull in all the splits from every runner has allowed me to look at all course cutters with almost no additional effort.

It’s Not (Really) About The Clicks

December through February are generally slow for the site. There are a limited number of marathons. I’ve already dug deeply into qualifiers for The 2019 Boston Marathon. I don’t receive many new tips. I usually focus on some more in depth stories, and some general articles. This year was a bit of an exception. The stories regarding Disney cheating, bib stealing, Valerie Reyes, and Bre Tiesi Manziel, generated quite a bit of interest. None of these affected any awards or prize money. But they were all important.

Whenever I write a story, new visitors find the site and follow Marathon Investigation on social media. That means more people will see future articles. All of this leads to expanding the audience, which leads to more tips, and hopefully serves as a deterrent against future cheating.

I don’t write anything for clicks. If site traffic was all that mattered, I could spit out multiple articles a day and highlight each and every person caught cutting a course. I try to be responsible with the topics I chose and who I focus on, while always having an eye on the goals of the site.

Final Thoughts

The focus of the site has not changed at all. I believe that Marathon Investigation is more successful than ever at preventing cheaters from getting into Boston as well deterring cheating in general.

If I find cheaters getting into The 2019 Boston Marathon at the same rate as in 2015, I will re evaluate my processes and my focus. I am always looking at new ways to review results and runners. I know where my blind spots are and am trying new methods to weed out even more cheaters.

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  1. Appreciate your work Derek, whether it is exposing those who are running/ran Boston or those who simply cheat for the medal/likes. I hope that all cheaters will think twice about their actions because of hearing about and/or reading one of your articles.

  2. I get that some people don’t believe that BOP-ers cheating at races / runs are no big deal in the scheme of things. And to some extent, I even kind of agree. It’s a typical “first world” problem. I’m far from a great runner. I came late to running (mid-40’s). I train, I work to be faster than I was yesterday. I’m not always successful and I’m not in it to win it. But…. I am honestly dismayed at how much cheating goes on. My first half marathon was last year at DLP. I saw quite a few people just blatantly cut the course at an out and back loop outside of the park. This is a run weekend. If you do the 5, 10 and half you can get 5 medals and the medals seem to be really sought after, so I do get that its not a big prestigious race, nor is it a qualifier and some people are in it for the bling, but the person who finished last in this race took over 4 hours to cover the half. Just looking at that time I could feel their struggle and I think that those people who cut the course, somehow diminish the effort of the people who push on and cover it all, regardless of how long it took them.
    In 2 triathlons last year I was bested by people who quite clearly cut the course: on the run course the woman in front of me ran a 26 min 10k (missed a loop, but let her time stand) and at the other event, someone missed a loop of the bike (seen from the timing splits). Both are shown clearly as finishing.
    It’s not a big deal for me. They cheated themselves and it would not have altered my time at all. But in my first try – I myself missed a loop of the run course and immediately declared to the finish line team, got my DQ, put it down to experience and moved on – making sure I will NEVER do that again.

    Has social media made liars out of people ? Is it that we don’t need to BE faster, better, stronger than we were yesterday, we just need to LOOK faster, better stronger ?
    I don’t know the answer, but I’m truly interested by this and would like to hear others views

  3. I agree all cheating matters. You tend to focus as far as I’ve seen on particular hypocritical runners, especially those that cheated and then later claimed on social media/the press to have legimately run the race. I run I’m usually about mid pack, not really good to think some of those in front likely cheated, albeit a small percentage, so anything that can be done to catch them is good. For some just completing a given race distance is a real achievement.

  4. I appreciate your articles and your efforts to clean up our races.

    I also appreciate that you encourage healthy discussion in the comment section, and forgiveness for those who seek it.

  5. I enjoy your site and feel a lot of what you do is very beneficial to the running community. But I do worry that you may be becoming a bit overzealous and run the risk of being seen as a “Get off my lawn” grumpy old man by the non running community.

    My opinion is the ones you should be targeting are the ones who cheat with knowledge aforethought. Whether they are course cutters, bib mules, bib forgers, etc. they are the ones who had planned to cheat before the event even started. Usually their motivation will be obvious, Boston, prize money, social media followers, personal training customers etc. and the non running community will be as outraged as we are.

    On the other hand I feel the ‘bit off more than I can chew’ cheats should be given a bit of slack. They signed up for some marathon, trained as best they could, after about 2/3rds of the course realized they weren’t going to make it and so took a short cut to the finish. At the finish line they got caught up in the excitement, took the medal and the photos and enjoyed being part of the event. For them the running they did on that day was way beyond what they could do six months earlier so they genuinely feel a sense of achievement. If you expose them there is the risk the non running community will say why are you bullying this person?

    The only caveat I would add is there is a third category, the ‘bit off more than I can chew’ cheats who double down on their actions and deny, deny, deny. The two pink ladies and the failed politician from a few months ago come to mind. There it is the attempted cover up that is the story. Had they just admitted they couldn’t do the whole distance no one would have bothered.

    • Raddison: I would argue that Derek does give the “bit off more than I can chew” runner more latitude. I can’t remember a story about one of those types of runners (who didn’t then double down on their assertions, like in your last category). From what I can remember from Derek’s past stories, some of these runners are only talked about in the general sense (i.e., Derek can see from the results that X number of runners cut the course).

      I think Scotty Kummer is a great addition to Derek’s podcast because he brings a level of empathy that keeps both the podcast and the articles focused on real cheaters and liars, as opposed to someone who just cut the course because they had a rough day and/or didn’t train well enough.

  6. I am old, slow and have never been more than middle of the pack. I train hard for my 5-50K races, try my best and accept my fate on race day. I could never, ever think about cheating and I cannot grasp why anyone would?

    I applaud your efforts and contribute in my modest way financially. Thanks for what you do Derek,

    all the best from Cabo


  7. Sometimes the BOP cheaters matter more – if a race runs out of food/water/medals for the “funner” runners, it may be because bandits/course cutters finished ahead of them and took items they shouldn’t have.

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