Through the last weeks/months, several stories about runners cheating to get into Boston have been reported. For people who are not runners, let me give you some background information. For many runners, running the Boston marathon is a dream, an achievement by itself. To get in, you have to qualify and run a marathon under a certain time according to your gender (male, female) and your age. If you do not qualify, you can still run the Boston marathon for a charity: in that case, you will have to raise money (about $5000). But if you do so, many will not consider yourself as a real Boston runner and I used to see that people that run for charity have less consideration. As running is getting more popular during the last years, more people want to get in and the qualification standards are now more challenging. For example, my qualifying time is around 3:05 while my fastest marathon is 3:31. Yes, I am clearly not fast and not a very good runner but it shows that it requires a real training and commitment to do it.
One way to get in without putting the efforts it to cheat about your finish time. Which is pretty easy: you can take a shortcut, drive to the finish line, give your bib to somebody else and ask to run for you: possibilities are almost endless. It seems also that there are no strict rule and regulation to control runners before (i.e. checking ID) and during the race (i.e. make sure they follow all the course). For sure, there are many ways to spot cheaters (check ID on race day, take pictures of or records runners over the course, put several timing mats at strategic spots) but many qualifying races do not use them, probably because they do not have the resources to do so.
Over the past few weeks, several stories have discussed the fact that runners cheat to qualify for Boston (see here, here or even here). While there is suddenly a growing interest for the cheaters, it seems that this is something in the air since a long time (as reported by this story) and people started cheating since a long time. When these stories hit the news and are published in social media, many of us start to comments the stories as a hyena rush on a dead animal. There is no room for discussion and trying to understand why people did this.
For sure, cheating is not ok: it impacts and hurts others (if you qualify for Boston by cheating, you might take a spot of somebody that is training hard since years) but also disrespect the sport itself. For that reason, cheating should be sanctioned (disqualification, banned from a race, etc.). This is not a question about it.
But let’s step back and try to understand the reason: why people are cheating? what are the motivation? do they really deserved to be blamed like this? Look at yourself: who never cheated or hurt somebody else? Everyone of us probably hurt or harmed somebody way more than somebody cheating for Boston (and if not, you might change your mind about what a Boston Qualification means). At any point of your life, there is a high probability that the idea of cheating crossed your mind. Who never think about trying to win a prize for free, do not pay something or get a better grade in class? Who never thought about taking a shortcut and get the benefits of something without having to work hard? Does that legitimate cheating? Definitively not. But can it help us to understand why people are doing it? Definitively. We are human and by nature, imperfect. We do stupid things that we will eventually regret. And this is also how we make progress and become better.
There is no need to insist on blaming or reporting people that cheated. It deserves the sport (we have probably better to talk about …) but also hurt somebody that already compromised himself (this person might do not feel good about it whatsoever). Other than focusing on such stories, why not focusing on inspirational stories and engaging more people to join? No need to blame: the running community will naturally remember that and will stop to trust them for a while. This will then be up to him to come back and learn his lessons. The harm he does to the community is small (e.g. qualifying for Boston) but the consequence for him are definitively bigger (loss of trust and integrity).
How to avoid such issues? Simply by adding more constraints. A Boston qualifier race would then require to have photographer on duty on the course for each runner (or just record the course at some strategic point), use several timing mat and accept only finishers that passed all mats, etc. This will then add more logistics, reduce the number of qualifying races and also increase the registration price. Not so sure such solutions would please everyone. This is then a trade-off: accepting that some people can take advantage of poor restrictions on qualifying races and keep the races cheap or adding more restriction and see the registration price goes up.
At the end does it really matter? We are not competitive, we are not getting money, we are not competing for the Olympics and running is (for most of us) not our job and something we enjoy. Going for a race, meeting our objectives is rewarding for ourselves: each of us has his own reason for running (either for losing weight, getting away from a stressful life or fighting an addiction). We like going outside of our comfort zone because it feels good, because we are not used to it and because we want it. But there is no benefit of cheating rather than deceiving ourselves: if you cheat intentionally (either by cutting through the race, getting any drugs, etc), your inner self knows you do not earn the associated reward, that all of this is fake and you do not deserve anything else than working harder and trying again. This is your business: if you can deal with it, and consider you still have a morale and your integrity is intact, good for you. But one day or another, reality will catch up.It will then be up to you to prove your performance or just to withdraw what you claimed. Real results and achievements comes with consistent hard work and efforts. Slow and steady.