Cheating Tradition

April 25, 2008 at 4:39 pm Leave a comment

Another great article by the NYT’s Gina Kolata, this one about the proliferation of cheating — not while running the Boston Marathon a-la Rosie Ruiz, but simply to toe the starting line at Boston. Excerpts from “Cheating Starts Before the Race Does“:

The Boston Marathon requires athletes to have run a marathon in the past year with a time that is adjusted for age and gender. Most find the race’s strict standards all but impossible to meet. All this helps make the Boston Marathon unique and makes running it a dream for many athletes.

It also raises two questions: Why does the Boston Marathon make it so hard to enter? And how often do runners sneak in by trading or buying one another’s entries?

People try to cheat to get into the Boston Marathon every year, said Marc Chalufour, a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association, which sponsors the race. And this year’s race, which was run on Monday, was no exception. The B.A.A. finds cheaters by checking sites like eBay and Craigslist, and hopes that if it misses some, other runners will turn in any cheaters.

The reason for the qualifying times, Mr. Chalufour said, is the peculiar logistics of that race. The Boston Marathon is the only big-city marathon that starts on a narrow road in a small town, Hopkinton, Mass. There is just not room for a huge field.

Qualifying times emerged in the late 1970’s when the running boom was starting and the Boston Marathon became overwhelmed with applicants.

“The goal wasn’t to challenge runners,” Mr. Chalufour said. “That was a byproduct.”

But soon the byproduct became the goal. There are runners who have spent decades as marathoners trying in vain to qualify for the Boston Marathon. There are marathons that have become popular largely because of their flat or, in the case of Steamtown Marathon in northeastern Pennsylvania, largely downhill courses allow contestants to run fast times, increasing their chances of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

In order to deduce how many marathoners could have qualified in 2006 and 2007, Jim Fortner, 69, a runner from Pasadena, Md., analyzed published statistics on marathons in the United States ( He limited himself to certified marathon courses that enabled runners to qualify for Boston if they ran fast enough.

The analysis included more than 740,000 marathon times and included more than 90 percent of marathon finishers in those two years. Only about 10 percent of those runners had times that were good enough for Boston.

As I noted in my last post about my personal Boston Marathon experience this year, qualifying, for me, was the finish line; running Boston was my victory lap. Hearing of these desperate runners who enter the race illegally, I wonder if they are able to outrun their conscience.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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