From BQ to DQ – Runner Loses Boston Qualifying Result For Using a Pacer

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Ashley Rollins ran her dream race at The 2018 California International Marathon. Ashley ran a time of 3:28:06. Her time was one minute and fifty four seconds under the new qualifying standards for The Boston Marathon.

Ashley did not cut the course, or use a bib mule to run in her place. Still, I received an email regarding Ashley’s participation. Ashley ran the race with an unregistered pacer.

I received an email shortly after the race, before the results were stamped official.

The emailer wrote that they were aware that an unregistered runner had run at least half of the race with Ashley.

“I know that CIM is very strict on their policies, so I was wondering if this was a violation?…I was just a little surprised to hear them talking about it so wanted to check with you”

I work directly with CIM on their results verification committee. As such, I was obligated to follow up on the email and make the other committee members aware of the situation.

USATF Rule 144

The California International Marathon (CIM) is a USATF sanctioned event. The race was also served as The USATF National Championship. As a USATF sanctioned event, CIM is obligated to enforce the USATF rules and procedures.

It was determined that Ashley violated rule 144.

Rule 144 ASSISTANCE TO ATHLETES
3. 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 any kind of technical device other than those permitted under Rule 144.4 (d).

USATF Rule 144 (3) prohibits runners from using pacers that are not participating in the event.

Ashley posted on her blog that her friend had paced her, photos and on course videos confirmed the identity of the pacer. She was unregistered.

At mile 13, I saw Becky. Lauren was having some issues and told us we were about 10 seconds off our pace time. I knew that Becky had it handled and I just dialed in. Zoned in. Forgot everything else.

Ashley used a pacer. Ashley was Disqualified. Ashley lost her Boston Qualifying time.

Rogue Running

Ashley is a coach for Rogue Running. Ashley and I appeared the Running Rogue podcast. She detailed her preparation and how her friend jumped in at the half way point at the relay exchange, and in her words, as sort of a comfort blanket. Her friend ran with her the rest of the way.

I don’t typically search out runners using pacers. It is not something I have written much about. But, I did talk to CIM Race Director Eli Ash about this on The Marathon Investigation Podcast. We talk about this situation beginning at the 20 minute point in the interview.

Eli looked at this situation as a failure to educate. He (nor I) did not feel that Ashley was malicious in her attempt or that she should be labeled a cheater.

The reason for the rule, in Eli’s belief, is that if you allow everyone to bring their own personal pacer that “it turns it into everyone’s own personal Breaking 2:00 attempt.”

“You can’t turn a race that has their own existing rules of competiton into your own personal Breaking Two Attempt”

Besides the competition aspect, Eli goes on to make the point that races do not have the resources to allow runners to bring pacers.

“In order to have rules, you have to enforce them.”

We also discussed different situations. Even if a runner is registered for the event, they cannot jump in after the start to pace another runner. You can only run with other runners that are competing for the entirety of the race. If you have any questions regarding a specific circumstance, you should contact race officials prior to the event.

Aftermath

After we appeared on The Running Rogue podcast, Ashley wrote a follow up blog post – “An Open Letter To The Person That Protested My Boston Qualifier”

I’d like to think that all people are inherently good. While this specific act, at its core, was mean-spirited and deplorable, it doesn’t change the true outcome of the marathon for me.

I receive tips all the time. This did not appear to be a case where the tipster was mean-spirited at all. This was the case where a runner that was aware of a situation that they thought may have been a violation of the rules. I hope that Ashley can accept full personal responsibility for what happened.

The tipster is not to blame for her disqualification. While this situation may not have come to light without receiving the tip. Ashley is the one that is responsible. I do not agree with the vilification of the tipster.

There have been cases where it becomes evident that a tipster holds a personal grudge, and is attempting to enact some sort of revenge, but that was not the case in this situation.

It is possible that Ashley would have run a Boston Qualifying time without the help. But, it is also possible that the extra support bought her those two minutes that she needed.

As Ashley said in her blog post, it is possible that her CIM time would not have been enough to gain her entry. Maybe this will push her to run a faster time within the 2020 Boston Qualifying window.

Summary

Ashley publicly acknowledged the disqualification. I would not have revealed her identity, had she not already posted and spoke about her situation through her blog and on The Running Rogue Podcast.

What I want to accomplish with this article is to inform runners of The USATF rule against pacing. Runners are responsible for knowing the rules of any race that they enter. There may be races that have different rules, but generally:

  • You cannot be paced by a runner that is not participating in the event. You can also be disqualified if a registered runner jumps in after the start of the race to pace you for a portion of the event.
  • Non registered runners are not allowed on the course
  • If you receive unauthorized assistance, you risk disqualification

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54 COMMENTS

  1. The rule against unauthorized assistance is one that gets overlooked quite often, I think because most people view it as not really having an effect for people not competing for an award. But just as one example, if you your friend is spectating and you stop to say hi and grab a water bottle from them, that’s against the rules. Same for a bandaid or vaseline or whatever. If you’re not taking aid from an official aid station, you’re subject to a DQ.

    • Yeah, many rules that are designed for elite competition rather than mass participation.

      Try to apply that “no refreshments except at official stations” at Boston on a warm day. Probably DQ 3/4 of the field.

  2. On the scale of things, this is a far less egregious violation than cutting a course or using a bib mule, and should be treated as such as it was here. But it is absolutely against the rules. Some races have official pacers (themselves registered runners) and some don’t. If you need a pacer, sign up for a race that has one at your target time. Or have your friend sign up for the race. The DQ was justified–as they say, ignorance of the rules is not an excuse.

  3. My initial reaction: that really sucks for you that you got DQ’d for not knowing the rules.

    My reaction after reading the blog post: Hmm, I could have had some real sympathy for you if you hadn’t stooped to the “mean-spirited and deplorable” comment. Plus, you talk about running with other training partners, but it sure sounds like you pre-planned to have your friend pace you for the second half.

    Final reaction: I wish you well in the Eugene Marathon, but I hope you figure out a way to forgive and apologize first.

    • Agreed. I felt bad for her until I saw her comment. Sometimes you just have to admit that you broke a rule and live with it, even if it was unintentional.

      • I agree- felt bad at first, but then read that she blogged it, is a coach, and did not want to accept responsibility for her own error. As a coach, she absolutely should have known better and has a responsibility to be a role model for others. Unregistered runners shouldn’t be joining in to races ever, in my opinion. Too much time, money, and effort goes into making the courses safe for registered runners.

  4. Question – If I complete a race and then go back out onto the course a half mile or so from the finish to cheer on other finishers, would either of us get DQ’d if I were to run the last 1/4 mile with a friend who’s finishing? My thought is that I may no longer be considered a “participant” once I crossed the finish line the first time. The real reason I ask is because I’m doing a triathlon with friends who are doing their first. I expect to complete the event and go back out onto the course to run with each for the final distance to the finish. I would not cross the finish a second time nor accept a second finisher’s medal.

    • They could be. You’re no longer competing in the race after you cross the finish so you’re not allowed to pace them.

    • If the race doesn’t allow pacers then you risk getting them disqualified. I suppose if you stop short of the finish line you can run back and pace them.

      • I think technically if you stop and run backwards on the course, you’re abandoning the race–again no longer a competitor and against the rules to pace someone.

  5. The CIM, like most every major marathon has pace groups. In fact the CIM specifically has pace groups for Boston qualifying times: From their website: “CIM pace group times are aligned with the new 2020 Boston Marathon Qualifying times. See below for a list of each pace group.” So her personal unregistered pacer was totally unnecessary. Clearly she was either unaware of the rule or didn’t even think about it. If a person wanted a personal pacer – especially for a 3:30 time – it wouldn’t be that hard to find somebody capable of easily running that time and having them register. That would be legal, right?

      • I think because it’s such a poplar OTQ race, they adhere to the rules pretty strictly. “This includes pacing by a coach, friend or family member, even if this person is officially entered.” I can see this being enforced for males pacing female runners, but what if you’re running with a training partner who has the same goal. I’m not sure how they’d enforce this.

        • Exactly, what’s the difference definitionally between “pacing” and “running together”?

          • In this case it would be that “running together” is where the partner runs next to them the whole race, and “pacing” is where someone comes on mid-course, as was the case here, and runs half the course at a faster pace than they would have achieved for the full distance.

  6. Good education here. I’m curious if there are rules regarding a male pacer (starting the race) and pacing a female — would the female BQ time still qualify?

    • Official race pacers are just there to run a specific time (and, ideally, be encouraging to the people running with them). They carry a sign with that time so that others can easily identify it. They are registered runners (although their race entry fee is comped). Gender doesn’t matter.

    • Males pacing females is permitted however those races are now classified separately for record purposes.The IAAF recognizes two world records for women, a time of 2:15:25 set by Paula Radcliffe on April 13, 2003 during the London Marathon which was contested by men and women together, and a “Women Only” record of 2:17:01, set by Mary Keitany, on April 23, 2017 at the London Marathon for women only. The IAAF Congress at 2011 World Championships in Athletics passed a motion changing the record eligibility criteria effective January 2012. Initially they wanted it to be “Women Only” and so Radcliffe’s record would be scrubbed, but after pressure they decided on the double record system.

      Regarding Boston, I haven’t read the rules in detail but I imaging that male pacers would be allowed for the following reasons:

      1) Very few “Women Only” races at the recreational level
      2) Official pacers provided by the race can be either male or female
      3) Impossible to verify in a mixed race whether the female ran alone with no male company.

  7. If that picture is accurate, maybe her pacer shouldn’t have ran across the finish line with her as well.

  8. Wow, I can’t believe she can’t simply take responsibility to cheating. Even if she didn’t know the rules – it’s pretty low to target the person who simply enforced the rules.

  9. Can someone explain how the elites can have pacers in a race? I would prefer no one use pacers but I’m confused cause you see elites with pacers for marathon and yet that is ok?

  10. Really getting tired of the sense of entitlement some people have. There is no excuse for not knowing and understanding race rules, especially when a BQ is stake. Everyone has a story — if exceptions are to be made for everybody, then why have rules in the first place?

    Whining about getting caught breaking a rule and then being held accountable for it is not a good look, in my opinion.

    And I wholeheartedly second her observation that the extra two minutes may not have gotten her in to Boston, as well as Derek’s point that maybe she will use this as motivation going forward to do it on her own — like the majority of runners in every race.

    • Zooming in on the finishing pic, it looks like she’s wearing TWO watches… maybe regular watch and HRM.

  11. I have passed a portapotty about half a mile and have gone back since the next one was 1.5 miles away and I really need to go. Does that DQ me?

  12. Is it not breathtaking arrogance to have your own personal pacer on the course who has not entered the race? Regardless of being unaware of a particular rule, if every entrant did this there would be double the number of runners on the course, resulting in chaos.

  13. CIM is my local race and really enjoyed the podcast with Eli Asch. His comment about how the DQ was more about not knowing the rules than cheating was really cool. He even seemed really excited about her trying again and wished her well. Her blog post didn’t help. She can’t admit she broke a rule. Just because she believes “it takes a village” (insert eyeroll here) to BQ doesn’t mean you get your own unregistered pacer. She could have been a superstar just by saying, yep, I screwed up, but I’m moving forward. Instead it’s a cringe worthy photo of her holding a sign with a vapid quote, as if she was the victim. That said, I also wish her the best in her quest to qualify, and hope that she learns a bit of humility.

  14. I actually quit pacing other runners and banditing races after reading your blogs about kelly roberts (and the follow up runners world articles). Before, I thought intent mattered (“pacing a friend is a nice thing to do,” “the race is already going, I’ll just hop in a few miles for my workout,” or “I would have paid to do the race but it sold out,” etc). But then I realized that following rules was more important, there were safety concerns, and races have costs- not registering is stealing. So I stopped. Now I also try to explain the significance of the rules to my friends and the bigger running culture that I’m part of. Thank you for that. Education is important.

    That said, this situation gets under my skin. For CIM to enforce a rule like this that is not enforced evenly AT ALL, is unfair and it is not something to celebrate or commend.

    And of course Ashley is upset. Why would anyone bother to report this if they weren’t wishing her ill will? Are they going to report everyone else at every marathon who has a pacer? I doubt it.

    This is like police writing someone a ticket for going 2 mph over the speed limit. Get off your high horse.

    I also hate that a runner’s result can be voided due to the complaint of one anonymous person. If you wouldn’t have known about this before, what does it add to the world for you to bother getting Ashley DQ’d? If you are that worried about the integrity of the sport there are more productive ways of leading change. In the podcast, it seems you were concerned with the size of ashley’s social media following. Maybe work with her to educate her audience instead of persuading your client to slap this punishment on her.

    • Thanks for eloquently putting what I was thinking. There are USATF rules, heck even enforcement of more serious criminal/civil laws are subjective. So, I don’t buy she broke the law. She should know better. This is very grey area and quite unfortunate. I do agree that the tipster was being petty; “right or wrong?” I do not care.
      Her writing a blog post didn’t help but I can understand it. Analogy to the traffic ticket was spot on.
      When I ran my Boston marathon in 2012 (hot one), at 18 a stranger came to my rescue when I was limping with severe calf cramps and he massaged my calves, made sure I drank half a bottle of Gatorade and ran half a mile with me until he saw I picked it up. Disqualify my time from the race as well and I don’t care. I will never forget that stranger.

      I repeat this is unfortunate no matter from which angle you see it. But, whats more shocking is people throwing stones and saying oh, this is wrong and she should have known better. Rules are rules and other catchy phrases.

      • It’s a question of degree and also possible pre-planning. I agree that a mid pack runner receiving brief support from a total stranger would not be considered cheating. However, in this instance the assistance lasted from half the race and from Ashley’s comments it could well have been pre-planned: “At mile 13, I saw Becky. Lauren was having some issues and told us we were about 10 seconds off our pace time. I knew that Becky had it handled and I just dialed in.” From Ashley’s blog (there’s a link in Derek’s article) for the first half of the race Ashley was running with Lauren and Andrea, but when Lauren started to weaken Becky jumped into the race. Shortly afterwards both Lauren and Andrea dropped off the pace and Becky was pacing just Ashley. In her blog Ashley goes on the state, “Becky shouted at me that it was my day and I couldn’t focus on anyone or anything else.”. “At 22, Becky told me that we were going to speed up.”. “At 23, we started to push harder.”.

        Finally, if you look at the photo, Becky is not dressed as a typical spectator, she came with her full running gear, including her Garmin watch. If she was wearing jeans and a sweater I might believe it was spontaneous.

    • > I also hate that a runner’s result can be voided due to the complaint of one anonymous person.

      She wasn’t DQ’d because someone complained.
      She was DQ’d because she broke the rules.

      Someone complained, it was investigated and subsequently DQ’d. No one took Mr. Anon at their word and simple DQ’d. They investigated, found cause and then proceeded.

      Just to play devil’s advocate, but this is an attitude that I find prevalent for a lot of things. People are more worried how / why someone found out rather than the wrong-doing in the first place. Your comments are just loads of justifications, excuses. “It’s not a big deal, everyone does it, why DQ one person when you missed 10 people.” Attempting to excuse it, rationalize it rather than just admit ‘yeah i broke the rules’. Other people getting away with something doesn’t change whether one person was caught.

      I see it everywhere in politics, newspaper prints ‘x party did something wrong’, and instead of owning up to it, ‘we are very worried how the newspaper found out. We will plug the leak’.

  15. Part of the Rule seems to be to avoid coaching during the race – normal, and also any form of carrying.

    as for watches, google usatf rules and download, then;

    144.4 (f)Personally carrying or wearing articles of equipment such as wrist chronometers,heart rate monitors, speed distance monitors, stride sensors or similar devices during a race provided that such device cannot be used to communicate with any other person.

  16. A lot of people seem to miss the point that Pacers NOT participating in the race are banned. Rabbits are allowed if they are participating. Sometimes the rabbits win.

    • Exactly. If she needed her friend to pace her that badly, she should have paid for her friend’s registration.

  17. I have friends who do this almost every race because they are accustomed to the way ultras work, where you have to have a support crew. Now, they know full well they’re not in an ultra in a road race but they just do it anyway. And when I say pacing, I mean riding a bike alongside someone, handing them food, etc.

    Now, the catch. These people are mid-back of the pack. They’re not trying for a BQ, they’re certainly not going to win anything. We’re talking a 4:30 marathon PR.

    Does it still matter if you’re not in contention for anything? If Ashley had been just another runner plugging along in the back would it matter?

    • @stacysaw: I’m sorry, but I really have to speak up about pacing a runner, especially while on a bicycle.

      Last year at a combined half-marathon and full marathon event, a group of kids was running the half. One was being paced by bicyclist, who was constantly weaving in and out of the course. She had entered unnoticed at some unknown and unmonitored early point, where there was still enough room to maneuver.

      By the time the half-marathoners were at mile 10-11 (approximately), the first few elite marathoners were passing us. We were told repeatedly by course stewards — who could be heard and understood quite clearly — to keep away from the curb lane. The bicyclist, riding on the line between the curb and the half course, paid no attention to the repeated demands to move — but then she abruptly turned toward the curb and directly into the path of a lead marathoner. They came within inches of colliding — if they had hit, it would have been horrific. The quick reflexes and agility of the runner probably saved her life.

      So yes, it DOES matter when unregistered and/or unauthorized people are on a course, safety being number one. What that bicyclist did for the benefit of ONE runner out of THOUSANDS was selfish and reckless. The attitude of “Well, she’s not chasing Boston or he won’t be a podium finisher” is shortsighted and beside the point. If a runner needs an individual pacer, then that pacer should enter the race like everyone else; or the runner should run with the desired pace group; or — even better — train so that a pacer (registered or not) isn’t needed in the first place.

      (And I won’t even touch on the “wisdom” of having any kind of unauthorized, wheeled device being in the middle of a running event.)

      This “who’s it hurting” mindset has got to go. There are too many variables and too many unforeseen/unintended consequences to think otherwise, especially in major races.

      (I mentioned this incident in my postrace feedback, and I hope that officials are made more aware of nonsense like this and that it never happens again.)

  18. As a former T&F official, I wonder what rule enforcement strategies could be available other than a DQ. For example, in a Track meet, if a runner in the 400 starts in lane 4 but accidentally finishes in lane 5, they should be DQed right? If however, no other runner is impeded and the runner gained no advantage (like running into lane 3 on a curve) there is no DQ. Maybe USATF and sanctioned races could arrive at some enforcement methods short of a DQ that still satisfy the integrity of the rules? Just food for thought. I realize in this case, that might have been the only option as the rules are today. In my mind, a DQ for this seems a little harsh.

  19. What a serious hit piece. Are there no real cheaters to catch that you’re relegated to trolling people like this? I’m not defending Ashley or claiming she didnt break the rules, but there was 0 need to call her out like this.

  20. Hard to believe that this story was worthy of so much coverage.
    I’m still waiting on a report that Oppy’s time in the Martian Marathon is wrong because NASA didn’t include the shortness prevention factor.

  21. Along the lines of this if you OTQ while using music do you get DQ’d? I have seen a few claims of ppl who have run otq times but started the race with headphones and handhelds. From the usatf rules I know I don’t believe that is allowed. But I may be off.

  22. How about calling out her friend that essentially Bandit Ran a Half Marathon? Ashley knows this is wrong for her friend to bandit run let alone pace her. Cry a river…no sympathy for you!

  23. My bigger issue even if she didn’t know that having someone pace you for over half the race was wrong, you should have known an unregistered racer on the course was wrong. In fact she acknowledged during the podcast that they tried to get there pacer a bib but couldnt as the race as sold out. So obviously you must have had some inkling what you were doing was wrong.

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