I’m not a marathon investigator like Derek Murphy, who’s way better than me at analyzing split times, photos, and videos. But I’m a longtime running journalist and a 72-year-old marathoner who’s interested in fast guys over 70. As a result, Derek’s work and mine recently intersected on the case of Frank Meza, 70, who recorded two 2:53 marathons earlier this year (in Phoenix and Los Angeles). Here’s my part of the story.
The Start of The Investigation
In mid-April, after returning home from the Boston Marathon, I decided to spend several days checking into Meza. I started with a long LetsRun message-board thread, where some supported Meza, and some accused him of cheating.
I also talked to Cal International and LA Marathon executives, and spoke directly by phone with Dr. Meza (April 18) and one of his training partners, Dr. Philip Bland (April 19). The next day (Saturday, April 20), I came in from a training run to find a threatening voicemail on my phone. The caller identified himself as Coach Lalo Diaz of Loyola High School in Pasadena, CA, where Meza is listed as an assistant cross-country coach. The message said that Meza had retained an attorney and that I should “cease and desist” from whatever I was doing.
On Monday, I called Diaz, but got his voicemail. I left a message saying that I simply wanted to learn more about Meza’s running. I never heard back.
Next I emailed and then called Derek Murphy to ask if he had done any investigative work on Meza’s races. I told him I had serious questions about Meza, based on basic internet research and several off-kilter phone calls, but didn’t have definitive proof of any wrongdoing. Derek told me that he had not had time for a deep dive into Meza’s races, but might do so in the future.
And so he did, beginning on May 28 with the first of several detailed articles on Meza. Anyone who reads the articles closely will have grave doubts about Meza’s racing.
Let me skip ahead with my story at this point. I’ll return soon with additional backfilling. While I was skeptical about Meza’s marathons, I decided not to write about him at that time (late April). I wasn’t worried about a legal threat. I knew I had done nothing wrong, and figured that anyone serious about intimidating me would have instructed an attorney to do so–not a high school coach.
I chose to leave Meza alone because he seems a respected member of the Latin American medical community in L.A., because he has been a long-time high school coach, and because he was an early supporter of an early Latin American running club, Aztlan Athletics. I value these contributions.
Also, he hadn’t run his fast-at-70 marathons on record-eligible courses. Phoenix and L.A. are both point to point courses, which are not allowed for official record setting. Thus, Meza wasn’t taking an American age-group record away from anyone. He hadn’t, in my view, done a lot of harm, though I realized there are second-place finishers and others who would disagree. [I’ve stepped forward now to support Derek Murphy’s fair and excellent work.]
THE BACK STORY
Now, here’s the backstory, brief as I can tell it. From my phone calls to marathon officials, I learned that Meza had been disqualified twice at Cal International, and had been a person of interest in the LA Marathon since 2015. After that event, where Meza recorded a 2:54:15 at age 66, the marathon had reached out to him, suggesting that he run the 2016 LA Marathon with an “observer runner” to clear the air. [He didn’t run in 2016, but returned in 2017, 2018, and this year.]
Here’s a condensed version of my phone conversation with Frank Meza on April 18. I asked if he could explain why there was such confusion about his marathon times. He answered:
“I don’t get it either. I don’t know what to do. I’ve been running since I was 14. I’ve been coaching for 35 to 40 years.
“I never focused on the marathon until I was 60. The last few years I’ve trained 100 miles a week for several months before my marathons. I do pretty fast 8-milers with the high school team. I don’t do speedwork, because it has given me injuries too often. I do a lot of hills. On Sundays I get out with some of the boys for longer runs in the parks.
“When Cal International disqualified me in 2014, they said I had run the last 10K too fast. I didn’t contest it. I said, ‘I would disqualify me, too. I can’t run 10K that fast.’
“I didn’t ask L.A. for an observer runner the last three years, because I thought that offer only extended to 2016. But I’ll do it the next time. I might run Chicago in the fall.
“Running is not the number one thing in my life. I work in a big physicians’ practice, supervising 144 other doctors. I don’t like notoriety. If I had known about the questions raised by my fast marathons, I would have slowed down.”
Dr. Phillip Bland called me out of the blue on April 19. He said, again condensed:
“Frank lives just three blocks from me. When we’re training for marathons, we do a lot of weekend runs together. We do hilly trail runs for 90 minutes to two hours in Griffith Park or Mount Wilson or Debs Park. Frank runs nice and easy. He’s a natural.
“Frank is a phenomenal runner and I have great respect for him. He’s short with a low gravity and strong quads. His marathons this spring blew me away. I’m 10 years younger than him. He was running about 3:18 10 years ago, but he’s been getting slowly better and better since then.
“When Gene Dykes came on the scene last fall, we were amazed, because we had never heard of him. He apparently got a late start. We wondered, ‘Where did he come from?’ ”
Bland added that he had gone out too fast at L.A. this March, and finished in 4:16. The several prior years, he has run marathons right around 4:00. Still, I wondered to myself how a 2:53 marathoner, Meza, could benefit from weekend runs with a 4-hour guy.
In my opinion, it’s time for Meza to prove his ability. The best approach would be for him to run a half-marathon or marathon with an observer runner. The sooner the better.
Amby Burfoot won the 1968 Boston Marathon, was longtime executive editor of Runner’s World magazine, and is the author of Run Forever: Your Complete Guide to Healthy Lifetime Running
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“The message said that Meza had retained an attorney and that I should “cease and desist” from whatever I was doing.”
Pure amateur hour. If Meza had retained a competent attorney, you would have heard from the attorney, not a third party.
Great to have some further insights and know that others were suspicious of (and investigating) Frank.
It’s telling that he didn’t contest the DQ in 2014. If he’d really run a 2:52 (or thereabouts) then he surely would’ve argued that their splits were wrong but the overall time was right. Why allow your 8min marathon PB to be wiped?
Call me naive but if I had a DQ for running a split too fast I would be firstly devastated and secondly determined to always be able to prove myself in future by the simple precaution of wearing a GPS watch. I simply do not understand the mentality that “running for fun” and wearing GPS are somehow not compatible. The odd person (and I use the word advisedly) who are opposed to GPS seem to have the strangest and quite wrong ideas about them.
Dear Mr. Burfoot,
I would like to take up the following quote: “Phoenix and L.A. are both point to point courses, which are not allowed for official record setting. Thus, Meza wasn’t taking an American age-group record away from anyone. He hadn’t, in my view, done a lot of harm, though I realized there are second-place finishers and others who would disagree.”
This argumentation has catastrophic consequences. Imagine, we all do what Derek Murphy has shown in his articles. We look for races that are not certified. We leave the course if we like it for reasons that are better kept secret. We stand for minutes off the course. When we are seen, we are so slow that it is never enough for a record. But in the end we have a fabulous finish time and all the other runners look like idiots. We clog the result archives with questionable results.
That obviously contradicts every sporting spirit and the effort that honest runners take on. Please keep in mind that outraged athletes have looked at the professional internet presence of Dr. Meza where he advertises his “successes” for himself. Have a look at the homepage of the Loyola High School (Cross Country News), quote: “The biggest mark of the weekend was left by Loyola XC/distance assistant coach Dr. Frank Meza, who won his age group race (70+) at the Sprouts Mesa-PHX Marathon. His time of 2:53:54 set a new U.S. and World Record, besting the old record of 2:54:27 set two months ago.” – Is it really necessary to explain that it is not a trivial issue? Dr. Meza easily has to prove his quality as a runner. A weekly specific marathon workout in front of witnesses would be enough.
I completely agree. What if Meza had set these times in the hallowed point-to-point course at Boston? Would Mr Burfoot have gone this easy on him? (Yes, he did state that he supports all of Derek’s work, which implies he agrees Meza is lying big time.)
“Still, I wondered to myself how a 2:53 marathoner, Meza, could benefit from weekend runs with a 4-hour guy.”
I could see benefit to Meza with such workouts.
His over explanation is troubling though.
“The best approach would be for him to run a half-marathon or marathon with an observer runner. The sooner the better.”
Doesn’t even have to be a race. Doesn’t even need to be full speed. Just needs to show he’s faster than 3:15 and in the ballpark of sub-3.
If he can run a 1:30-1:31 HM as a training run with an observer that would be enough. A 2:53 runner should easily be able to do that pace as a training run.
What about the “pretty fast 8-milers with the high school team” mentioned in the article? Without any further comment have a look at page 107 of the thread on Letsrun.com, an anonymous post at 9:40 AM from “kegboy”, so with reservations. Perhaps someone can verify that, quote:
“I am a former Loyola Cub. Frank claims to run 100 mpw during marathon season and does “fast 8 milers” with the high school team. Neither are true. He would come run with us on tuesday and thursday afternoons at the parks, most of which were no more than 6 miles. half the time he didnt show up and it was another coach because he would be busy at work. now i’m sure he’d run some miles outside of coming to our practices, but no way was it 100mpw.
I don’t remember a single fast 8 miler with him. he would send us off on intervals most of the time or sometimes send us off on fartleks, but I ran on the varsity team for four years and never once saw him dip below probably 8:15 – 8:00 pace.”
Thank you for this. I see a man who cheats, then lies, then tells a bigger lie. Soon he will be lying about the lies.
A Garmin Forerunner 35 is a $170. And he’s a veteran MD managing 144 other physicians? Anyone want to take a wild guess as to how much MONEY this man is making?
He’s been under scrutiny for years, and hasn’t bought himself a dang watch? I’m just not buying it. (And his professional and identity score are completely irrelevant.)
He has a watch. You can see it on his wrist in several of the photos in Derek’s previous articles, and even see him look down at it in the video. There’s no way he could get his course cutting and splits so precise without one. Will he ever let anyone see the output? Of course not.
It looks like he has the Black/Grey Forerunner 910XT in the photos. That color way only came in the tri-bundle (unless he bought an aftermarket watch band and switched them out). Either way, no one buys a 910XT who doesn’t know how to use it or who doesn’t figure out how to use it upon getting one.
Unless he produces GPS data, he is clearly a fraud. And it is a clear case, I think, at this point (multiple photos, history of DQs, lack of GPS data, video evidence, testimonials from people who know him, etc.).
I was wondering if his watch was identifiable from pics. He has a few triathlons on his athlinks, so that makes sense.
The threat of legal action is usually the tell-tale sign of a fraud. If his time are legit, he’d easily have enough Garmin data from training or racing to back it up, he clearly wears a watch. That, or he’d be able to replicate it in person and would want to do so to shut everyone up.
Thank you for this. I see a man who cheats, then lies, then tells a bigger lie. Soon he will be lying about the lies.
In case you missed it, he has already explained his slow time if anyone actually tries to pace or monitor one of his races in the future. “If I had known about the questions raised by my fast marathons, I would have slowed down.”
That’s so ridiculous. Slowing down just to avoid scrutiny? Just use an observer and shut everyone down with evidence! Of course, he can’t do that.
I know some people just want a simple solution of running with an observer to prove he’s a cheat. However the solution doesn’t specifically address Frank’s past “official” times. Frank will probably never run a time or equivalent in the ballpark of his 2:53. So therefore the “simple solution” isn’t a real remedy. There’s already clear evidence of Frank Meza habitually cheating. If he wishes to run with an observer to verify his future times – it’s relevant for those FUTURE TIMES. There is definitive video/photographic evidence and plenty of DATA POINTS that demonstrate Frank violated race rules and those past times should be stricken from the record. LAM, LBM, Santa Clarita Marathon should all do the right thing and follow CIM’s direction by disqualifying Frank according to their own race rules. That’s the best approach.
Completely agree that his past results are not credible given the odd splits and the photos/videos of him stopped along the course. So yeah, a totally legit future race would only validate that race.
But I’ll donate my left nut to science right now if this clown could run a 10k at a 2:53 marathon pace anytime this year.
Amby is too nice and a tad naive.
This article is crap. The evidence is overwhelming. The best approach is to disqualify and ban for life.
I had the pleasure of meeting Amby last year and I’d say you’re half right.
In his own words he said he would ask LA for an observer runner the next time. I will guarantee he will NOT ASK or NOT RUN next year with all the scrutiny and attention. He will wait like a snake in the grass until all the attention is elsewhere and when he thinks no one is paying attention. I’m guessing he will retire after all this. And how does someone who has never run a marathon until age 60 and who never does speed work get faster at age 70. Hill work will build strength which will build speed but without speed work to improve your lactic threshold, especially at a senior age, you cannot get faster. His statements never argue that he has data to back up his record runs and he will never reveal anything to anyone because he knows he’s been caught and has no evidence to back his claims. This guy is a total fraud in regards to his record runs. If a doctor is unethical in his running resume do you think he’s been completely ethical as a doctor? I don’t want a guy like this to be my doctor, my running partner, or my friend. His clients should know what type a person they are trusting with their medical problems. They might think twice before making a appointment in the future. Prove what you can do Frank. Put up or shut up.
I hope Frank’s time are legit. Having a 4 hour plus marathon time now in my sixties, Frank has given me renewed enthusiasm that I can improve my marathon times by well over 30 minutes and finally get that elusive BQ when I am 70!!!
Unfortunately, it seems like renewed enthusiasm that Frank has given senior runners is the same type of renewed enthusiasm that Lance Armstrong gave to cancer patients: hope based on an elaborate fraud.
Doping during the tour aside, Lance’s rebound from cancer was nothing short of miraculous. There is no reason why anyone should not be inspired by that.
“I’m not a marathon investigator like Derek Murphy, who’s way better than _me_ at analyzing split times, photos, and videos. But I’m a longtime running journalist…” – Hard to take a longtime journalist seriously after they confuse “me” and “I” in their first sentence.
Journos have editors. Clearly this one was written on his own. He was a runner first, then a writer. But you be you Mr. Pedant. (I’m pedantic too, but pick my battles better).
Amby was only the editor-in-chief of a little known running magazine called “Runner’s World..” Also won the 1968 Boston Marathon. He might be considered somewhat of an expert.
Ahem, trained editor here, and I have to give this a pass. In casual American English, it is now accepted to treat “than” as a preposition and put the pronoun in the objective case (“me”). So much so that even the CMOS gives it the green light in informal contexts. Considering the generally casual vibe of this blog, “better than me” is OK to use.
Looking at he pictures Frank stands out, stands out as a runner that insist on low profile, non descriptive look,
his number is difficult or impossible to read his shirt has no signs, labels, markings, his face is hidden behind cap and often big dark glasses. Compared with other runners this is odd. Coincidence?
Not using strava, gps, watch, phone? Come on, do you know one runner that is serious about running and avoids timing himself/herself and tracking his pacing, running times and results?
Unless he runs with a pacer and confirms his results he should be suspended and his results invalidated.
My son is on the Loyola cross-country team so I have been to dozens of practices and races and I have gotten to know Frank Meza, or “Doc” as most of us call him as he is usually there for the Saturday morning runs and the Tue/Thu afternoon runs.
I plod along in the back, with a few of the other middle-aged parents, trying to hold an 8 minute pace. Doc is way up at the front running with the strong runners. One of the other parents called him a “jackrabbit” on the hills and I’ve seen it! He’s an amazing runner. He can no longer keep pace with the varsity runners when they go flat out (the varsity team will finish the 3 mile race distance in just under a 5 minute pace), however, Coach Meza is strong and smooth and so, while it’s an incredible feat, I don’t doubt that he could hold a 6:30ish pace for 26 miles.
Doc is a humble guy. He is eager to talk about the boys and their races but never one to toot his own horn. His response to this attack is characteristic of him — humble and never trying to cause offense. I once asked him his marathon PR and I think he said it was around 2:20 (I don’t recall the exact time but I was astounded at how fast it was). He told me that he has kept running hard and has slowed down less than his peers and now that he turned 70 years old, he’s one of the fastest for his age group.
Based on what I have seen him do at practices and what I know of him personally, I can’t imagine that he has cheated on this. He’s an incredibly gifted runner who works hard and cheating is not at all in character for him.
There’s an article about Meza in the LATimes. It is disappointing. Apparently the writer was more interested in doing a personal profile than in citing the multiple photo/video sequences being presented as evidence.
The LA Times article in fact mentions timing discrepancies, Meza “emerging” from the crowd to rejoin the race in a photo, video, etc. and so on. It’s an article about the runner and the allegations, not an investigation piece.
Please look into this same person ,Mr Meza , at the Santa Clarita marathon from November 2017. Questions were raised there regarding this person . We went to the table there at the finish line where one of the earlier finishers (1st or 2nd) was stating that mr Meza was not the true 3rd place.
GPS tracker would be a no brainer for all runners, IMO.
This would need some rules such as uploading the data within a very short time after the run while still at the event.
notice how the bib is placed on the side of his baggy shorts, high up along the waist band
that would make it very easy to conceal the bib by simply un-tucking and un-rolling baggy shirt right over it in a split second
do these races not have rules that all bibs should be in front on you and on your shirt so as to be in clear view proximate to your face at all times?
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