El Paso Marathon Issues Permanent Bans after Bib Swapper Crosses Line in First Place

overhead shot of marathon

KTSM reported that” Joe Morales” won The El Paso Marathon on Sunday with a time of just over 3 hours.

 In the first marathon of his life, San Antonio native Joe Morales put in a show to win the 2020 Michelob Ultra El Paso Marathon on Sunday.

Normally an ultra-marathoner, Morales joined a friend in El Paso and surged past the rest of the field to a victory in three hours flat to win the 14th annual El Paso Marathon.

“I just wanted a sub-3 (hour time),” Morales said. “That’s it. Yesterday was my birthday, so I’m 32 years old and I thought I’d just go for it. It’s special to be over here and be a part of your community today.”

In the video posted by KTSM, the winner said that Saturday was his 32nd birthday. However, Morales was listed in the 40-44 year age group.

Not actually Joe Morales.

It turns out that “Joe” is actually Ken.

About one minute of research by KTSM would have revealed that when Ken gave the wrong first name (the registered runner was not “Joe”) and that the registered runner was not 32 years old.

Ken posted about his ‘victory’ on Facebook.

Ran my first marathon, and ended up getting 1st place the day after my 32nd birthday…..us the bib is in another name since I didn’t register. I may or may not get in trouble for this idk

“I May or May Not Get in Trouble”

Ken was not secretive about the bib swapping . However, he did not mention in the post race interview that he was not registered for the race. He did accept the first place plaque, Which he told me that he will “gladly give it over”.

I chatted with Ken on Tuesday evening. After his finish line interview, he was upfront about the incident. In Ken’s initial Facebook post, he posted about coming in first place, and admitted that he was not registered for the race. Shortly after he made that post he realized that his actions had consequences.

Ken says that the owner of the bib couldn’t run the race, and that he couldn’t pay for it, so the registrant just gave it to him.

I didn’t know how serious this would get…sorry if I made a mess of this.

Unintended Consequences

I don’t think that the bib swapping was malicious. If the intent was to earn “Joe” a Boston Qualifying time, I would not expect that Ken would have posted about this result on Facebook. He did not expect to win the race and have his face posted on local television.

This is just one of many incidents where bib swapping had unintended consequences. Usually this behavior affects age group awards (as it did this time), but this time it had a much bigger impact, as the now official winner lost out on the chance to break the tape.

I want to reiterate that I don’t classify Ken as a cheater. He ran the full race. He did break the rules, and was appropriately punished by the race. After realizing the repercussions, he shared this apology.

I just wanted to apologize to the community of El Paso and the running community and to the staff of EP Marathon having to put in the extra man hours to adjust the results.

If I need to pay for the registration, please let me know – at the end of the day, I’m just an average runner, that just so happened to have a better than average time. I got too excited on first place and didn’t use common sense to mention, “hey, btw I’m not this racer”.

I was wrong and this is definitely a learning experience for me.

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  1. Ooops, I guess he knows this is a big no-no in the running community now. As much as it is wrong to swap bibs I really don’t think most casual runners get it, even guys like this that are faster and presumably more heavily involved in the running scene. It seems to me like this is more of and educational issue in the running world than an individual problem with runners like this guy who seems pretty well intentioned.

  2. Ken won this race. This is essentially a clerical oversight. The race should look past the error, correct his name and age and list him as the winner. The results are probably in a spreadsheet, it would take 2 seconds to fix. This feels like races are run by government bureaucrats, not runners. (No criticism of the reporting, just criticizing the race)

    • I agree with the sentiment that Ken did win the race and he deserves recognition for the work he put in to win, but this isn’t a clerical oversight. The race officials make the rules, and if the rules say you either cannot transfer your bib to someone else or you have to go through a specific process to transfer your bib to someone else, then they have every right to disqualify someone who broke the rules. I think a lifetime ban in this case is pretty harsh, I’d rather see lifetime bans for people who act maliciously (course cutting, bib muling, etc.) but I understand why race officials don’t want people just passing their bibs on to other people if they decide not to run the race.

    • Disagree. The last thing we want to do is normalize this behavior. While I agree with Derek that the runner didn’t seem malicious and was up-front about it, what’s to stop others from maliciously using bib-mules to achieve BQ times and then, if/when caught, offers a “heartfelt” mea culpa and all is forgiven? Plus rewriting the results to reward the mule (instead of banning both)? Nah bro.

      • Agree. Not malicious (presumably) but there are penalties. He is DQ’d. That’s it. He can go on with his life now. He seems to be accepting the penalties why cant you? What is wrong with you all not understanding the basic concepts of running road races: you follow ALL the rules — before and during — and if you play you pay. 99% of runners follow simple rules and are never DQ’d. Sick and tired of the “exception” crowd that is all over the place. Nonsense…!

    • Yes, what Ken did was against the rules and by rule they had to DQ him. But I think this is a case where a race shouldn’t have made it so difficult to enter late or transfer a bib. It’s not like this is NYC or Chicago where the demand outstrips the race’s limits and they have to set up strict registration requirements and cutoffs. While the El Paso Marathon has demand, I don’t think they face so much demand that they should have prevented a simple bib transfer or late registration. There’s little reason the El Paso Marathon couldn’t have allowed a runner like Ken to take a transferred bib.

  3. I understand that rules are rules, but intent and leniency have to be built in. Because humans are humans, and the way we treat people who make mistakes without bad intent is an important part of being a caring and understanding human being.

    Ken ran the race, not as Joe, just wearing Joe’s bib. Joe didn’t claim victory or ask for anything in return. Send Ken a bill for a bib transfer and extra administrative overhead to adjust things, remove the ban (especially for this one… I mean seriously?) and let him go to Boston.

    Also, not sure about this race, but I know there are plenty of races where I can’t transfer a bib. Things come up. Other people want to race. Charge me a fee, but let me transfer my bib easily.

    • I wish more races would allow late bib transfers like Mountains 2 Beach in Ventura. They charge a small fee so it’s a win for them and allows people who can’t run the race to sell or give away their bib. They also maintain a ‘waitlist’ after the race sells out. The race can then keep track of who is actually running under that bib number in case of emergency and/or for accurate age group, Boston Qualifying etc. Races can set their own rules but as the consumers we should request and reward those races that have fair policies when it comes to registration policies. 🙂

  4. How does just over 3 hours win a road marathon? That is such a slow winning time that I’m sure the guy had no idea he had a chance to actually win this race. I agree he needs to be removed from the results and give back the awards. He did the smart thing and completely admitted what he did. Now tomorrow, it will be forgotten versus the people that continue to lie about it till their grave.

    • Exactly what I was thinking. I’m sure he just wanted to have a run and honestly a 3 hour marathon in a city as big as El Paso wouldn’t be expected to even get an *age group* award, never mind an overall win. This is a guy who legit ran the fastest time despite not being legit registered, and had a big “oh crap” moment when he discovered he’d won. Personally I’d DQ him from the race but not exercise the discretion to recognize that this isn’t somebody who deserves a lifetime ban. And the guy in second place legit finished second so probably feels a bit torn about being the “winner”.

      • Whichever way you look at it, the second place finisher, and now-winner, got short changed. Unless you’re Kipchoge, there is someone faster out there. But on this day, someone followed the rules of the race and ran faster than anyone else who followed the rules. That’s a win, plain and simple, and you suggesting that he might or even should feel “torn” about this shows the the bib swap really made a mess.

  5. Strange country the US…. who cares?? Let the guy run a marathon. No, he is a Bib Swapper. Let’s investigate that. Just hilarious…

  6. Relatively minor infraction, handled swiftly and correctly. Appropriate response for the runner. Simple article. Good to go.

    Oh, but wait! Some people think he should just pay the race fee and get to keep the win? No freakin’ way. He didn’t follow the rules and should be DQ’d period. A temporary or permanent ban for him and the original runner should be considered, but I’d need more details in order to decide on that one.

    What it I simply bandited your race, did well, and then asked to pay the fee in order to allow my bandit result to be made official? Would that be okay? (No.)

    I agree races should have more lenient transfer policies/fees, but don’t sign up for a race if you don’t like the rules.

  7. If this guy is an experienced ultra racer, shouldn’t he have known that this isn’t allowed? Even so, it’s not hard to go to the timing/ registration coordinator before a race and say, can you change this bib to this name? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a situation where that is much of a problem at packet pickup or even before the race starts. The bib was already paid (for) so they don’t care who uses it. Even if they have a non-transfer clause, most races will change the data. They just don’t want 1,000 people trying to do it.

  8. Sometimes the blame for bib swapping falls on the shoulder of the race organizers. It’s happened to me. I’ve gotten hurt right before a marathon and I can’t run it. Races don’t give refunds or let you roll over the race fee to the following year. So you loose that money or have someone else run in your place. At bib pick up they should have a separate booth were people can transfer their bib to a different person. That way it’s on the up n up.

  9. A lot of people presumably haven’t organised a race, a race director of my acquaintaince telephoned the next of kin written on the back of the bib of a runner who collapsed in a race and had been rushed to hospital.
    The wife said “No, he’s cutting the lawn, I’ll get him now”, the intended runner admitted that he had given the bib away to another runner for whom he only had scant information.

  10. “…as the now official winner lost out on the chance to break the tape.”

    That person didn’t deserve to break the tape. They were beaten fair and square. I know runners love to get up in arms about bib swapping, but what happened here was not cheating.

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