Cheating in the 2016 London Marathon

The London Marathon was brilliant viewing over the weekend. I was thrilled when Jemima Sungong picked herself up and went on to win. True grit and determination. As for Eliud Kipchoge, we started screaming him over the line, mind-blowing running.

Of course, the buzz is now all about the London Marathon cheats, with about 20 have allegedly been flagged up for investigation by the organisers. I’m not going to name the most prolific culprit – if you’re a runner, you’ll know who it is already. It’s not the first year it’s happened – there has even been a serial cheat in the past!

The question is though, why do it? The marathon is 26.2 miles. That’s a lot of running and I know only too well how at 18 miles, you sometimes start thinking “oh god, I can’t face another 8”. Or you get to halfway and you’re tired and know you have to do it all over again. But that’s part of the challenge of running a marathon. It’s easy to underestimate how tough it actually is, but at the same time, the ballot for the London Marathon is drawn several months in advance. That means if you were lucky enough to get a ballot place, you’ve got 6 months to get yourself up to the distance and race fit.

Charity places are also allocated a way in advance. So again, you’ve got plenty of time to get yourself in shape.

I know better than anyone that sometimes, things go wrong. Training doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, or you get injured. But that’s not a reason to cheat.

Twitter and Facebook have been awash with people talking about what happened. Of course, it’s easy to say “innocent until proven guilty” and it should really apply here. But how can you really believe timing splits like this?

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This runner ran a fairly steady pace up to 20k (12.4) miles, getting there in 2:17:30. According to the Runners World Race Time Predictor, this would give a finishing time in the region of 5:03:04. Not a bad effort. A time predictor calculator is not an exact science. Some runners will take it easy and then go harder. Others will slow down more than expected. However, the time just outside 5 hours seems realistic.

So where does the 3:44:20 come from? Whether or not this runner took it easy or not, it simply makes no sense that they would have the ability to run the next 22 kilometeres in 1:26:50. It makes even less sense when you see that the final 2 km took 38:53. That means that this runner somehow ran 20km in 47:57. That’s an average pace of 3:52 m/m. To put that into perspective, the 10 mile world record run by Haile Gebrselassie was completed in a time of 44:24. A pace of 4:26.

Is this marathon time legit? I think not. People have made the argument of chip failure, however it’s convenient that it also happened to the following runner in the same place, isn’t it?

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Now, if you glance at the time, you might think 4:49:09 is a solid effort. But then, take a look at the splits. 3:27:38 to get to 20k. That’s a predicted finish time of 7:37:40, a long way off the actual finishing time. So, if the splits here are to believed, this runner took 1:21:31 to run 22k. The final 2k were run in 27:24, which means that they ran 20k in 48:55, a pace of 3:56 m/m.

Suspicious, isn’t it?

A lot argy-bargy if you will.

This happens every year and the timing chips always “fail” at the same place. It’s sad and it makes a mockery of the marathon and the runners who give it everything to finish on the day.

If a runner has collected money for charity, I suppose I can see that they may feel under pressure on the day to complete it, even if they don’t think they can. Injuries happen, or sometimes for whatever reason, it just doesn’t feel right. You can make two calls. Carry on regardless and walk to the finish, or drop out. No one like receiving a DNF against their name, but it does happen. If you’ve hounded your friends and family for money, perhaps you feel you need to get to the end and maybe you make the decision to cheat. But is this essentially defrauding people? Why not be honest? Who’s ever going to sponsor you again?

But you’re cheating yourself. And conning your friends and family who gave to the cause. It might be hard, but hold up your head high and withdraw. People will understand and there is always another marathon.

If you’ve cheated for any other reason? Why? Bragging rights? Boston Qualifying Time? What’s the point?

Every year, thousands of runners slog their guts out through the streets of London. And whether they do it in 2.5 hours or 8, they do it honestly and don’t give up.

Thousands more don’t even get through the ballot.

Have you ever been tempted to cut off a chunk in a race?

3 thoughts on “Cheating in the 2016 London Marathon

  1. Nope. Absolutely no desire whatsoever to cut off a chunk of the race. What is the point?! I don’t understand anyone’s desire to cheat or what they even gain from doing so. Surely, logging a time they will then be unable to ever achieve is off-putting for future running. They’re only really cheating themselves.
    Problems do happen with chips. One of our club runners did not clock chip times on Sunday and last year one of our runners at Paris had a chip that never registered start or finish. There is a big difference between failing chip times and missing timing mat times at a very convenient place on the course where the route doubles back on itself though!
    I saw that London Marathon organisers are currently looking into about 20 suspicious chip times for runners although it will take a little while for them to investigate fully.

    1. It’s mad, isn’t it? I know chip failures can happen, but it’s oh-so-convenient that it always happens in the same place in these cases, isn’t it?

  2. Well, if you have watched the “Tattoo fixers” series on Channel 4, there was a guy that tattooed “it wasn’t me” on his belly to prove a point to his mates in some whatever situation. Following the same logic, if one lost a bet in August last year in Magaluf that he would run the marathon… without being a marathon runner… I guess that would be a case of being tempted to cheat. I think there are lots of bad people out there, so cheating will always happen. I tend to ignore these cases in general, but I’d be curious to find out their reasons behind cheating, maybe just to humour myself.

    I think that if the chip fails for a genuine person, there are lots of way to investigate and estimate the time, there must be some sort of good justice after all.

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