Running cheats

I ended last week’s post with a question to all you runners out there: have you ever cheated during a race?

Our society frowns on cheating while also encouraging it at the same time. Think I’m wrong? All you have to do is go to the grocery store check-out line to see that we have a warped relationship with cheating. Hollywood star cheats on starlet: details inside! Or how about this one: Cheat on your diet and still lose the weight!

Cheating is rampant in any number of areas in our lives: school, work, taxes, marriages, the world of academics, politics and sports.

Those of you who follow this blog know by now that I’m an avid track and field fan. I hate cheating in the sport, and most likely, if an athlete has been banned for a drug violation at some point in the past, I (and many others) will not readily forget. It’s hard to cheer for someone who cheated once upon a time, and it’s hard to cheer for those whose physique suggests there’s some illegal enhancing going on, even though they haven’t been caught … yet.

If you have to cheat to win, you don’t deserve to win. And not only that, you take away the glory from a clean athlete who finished behind you.

Clean athletes like Adam Nelson, for instance, who just recently received the gold medal for shot put from the 2004 Athens Olympics because the Ukrainian who originally bested him (in a tie-breaker) got busted for performance-enhancing drugs. It took until 2012 to catch the cheater and strip him of his medal. And it was sweet and bitter to watch Nelson at a recent meet where he was recognized as the gold-medal winner from nine years ago.

The structure of testing within elite track and field organizations exists to catch cheaters. But what about the regular folks out there running and racing? Who catches the cheaters among the rest of us?

Cutting the course
Last summer, The New Yorker published a fascinating story about a suspected cheater in the world of marathon running: a dentist from Michigan named Kip Litton. He’s suspected of cutting courses short (lots of them), thereby cutting his times, too. Why on earth would a dentist from Michigan feel the need to cheat in marathons? What drives a normal person to think this is okay?

Sometimes it’s easy to cut a course short by accident. There’s no marking or volunteer at a critical turn. You’re following the runners in front of you, trusting they know which way to go. A course turn is marked incorrectly. I’ve done it by accident before. I’ve also run a course long by accident for the same reason.

But to cut a course on purpose? And still cross the finish line pretending I had run the whole race? I can’t imagine feeling good about myself after that, and I can’t imagine the need to win being so much greater than the need to be honest that I’d cheat to get a better place. But I guess for some, a hollow victory is better than a clear conscience.

An honest mistake, or a true cheat
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of a small race I ran in recently. My husband ran the 10K race, while I ran the 5K. When he finished, he looked behind to see who was finishing after him, and he said, “Several of the guys in my race cut the course.” They did it accidentally, one of those combinations of a brand new race course and lack of volunteers to tell runners which way to turn. Fortunately, he and those who finished in front of him had run the full course. So he could feel good about his place in the results. (I’m sure he would have felt even better if he had won the race. Smiles.)

My 5K didn’t have any confusing intersections, and other than turning around too early, it would have been hard to cut the course. So that wasn’t the problem. But a man walked away with a trophy for the third place overall female finisher. He wasn’t just picking up the trophy for a wife or girlfriend or sister who couldn’t stay for the awards. He simply accepted a trophy that shouldn’t have been his.

If you’ve ever run a road race and stayed around long enough afterward for the awards, you know that the awards ceremonies afterward can border on chaotic. The folks in charge of timing and results scramble as fast as they can to sort out the finish order and the age group awards, and the race director hands out the awards as quickly as possible.

At any point in the process, human and computer error can insert themselves and indicate that the wrong person should get an award.

I don’t know where the mistake first happened in the race in question. Maybe a volunteer keyed in the gender from the man’s entry form wrong, or maybe he actually registered as a woman. But his accepting the trophy compounded the mistake and put a damper on an otherwise pleasant race.

The 24-year-old woman who should have won the trophy may not have even realized there was a mistake. The only reason I knew of the problem was because the 5K and 10K courses overlapped enough that my husband passed me headed in the opposite direction as I was running back toward the finish. He had counted the women ahead of me, and I kept track of how many women I passed after that and how many passed me. So I knew how many women should have been ahead of me in the results. But when the results were printed, there was an extra “woman” ahead of me. I paid extra attention during the awards.

I’d like to think the guy took the award not realizing it was for the third female finisher. He might not have been paying attention to the race director until he heard his name. But then, I’d like to think Olympic-level athletes wouldn’t resort to drugs to gain an unfair advantage, too.

To all the cheaters out there, I say “Shame on you.” For those tempted to cut a course and still claim an award, or those pretending to be the opposite gender or a different age to get an award more easily, and for those elite athletes facing the decision to take drugs or not, this Bible verse might be a good reminder not to: “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).

Here’s to obeying the truth and feeling good about your efforts, even if they don’t bring home any trophies.

9 thoughts on “Running cheats

  1. Today has been a busy day for uncovering cheaters in the ranks of the world’s elite sprinters. Sad, perplexing, disappointing: Tyson Gay (an American sprinter) and five Jamaican sprinters have tested positive for banned substances.

    If only athletes would run with their God-given abilities instead of feeling the need to supplement with drugs.

    Their family and friends will rally around them, as they should. But for track and field fans at large, it’s another blight that takes away from the joy of watching elite athletes compete for accolades and patriotic pride.

  2. I actually agree with much of your reply- however, it just doesn’t apply to Kip. You obviously don’t live in the community and haven’t known the Littons for over 20 years like a lot of us. He is very successful and is not in need of more money. In fact, as as family, they are very philanthropic. Both he and his wife are very humble. He rarely “relives his exploits” and usually doesn’t even talk about himself unless you pry it out of him. He steps away from any opportunity to be in the spotlight or be glorified. Although the NY story was entertaining, it was very easy for us here to realize it couldn’t possibly be true. In short order, many witnesses confirmed it. A few printed pages of scandalous accusations cleverly woven to appear real won’t change what we have seen and lived for 20-30 years.

  3. Just so you know, many months ago Kip’s family and other witnesses came forward and cleared him of any cheating. You might want to update your blog.

    • Wait. So, Mr. Franklin’s point is that despite an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence compiled by impartial parties, if some family and friends say that he didn’t cheat, then everything is okay?
      That is amusing.

      Of the New Yorker article, my favorite part was the marathon that Mr. Litton invented out of whole cloth: Making up the race and fictional participants is probably a lot easier than cutting a course, but it is also a lot more creative.

      • Much of the “evidence” was misleading and skewed to look damning. He did not invent a race- he did run it (verified by witnesses). Yes he had a friend add names to the list, but this is not cheating & regardless, he copped to doing just this in the article. There is much evidence that refutes this hoax, but the author strategically omitted it.

        • Others readers should check it out. I am sure that KL is already familiar with it.

          While the story has certainly captivated many people and incensed others, it seems to me to be evidence of a sad individual.

          And going back to the original post, my perspective is that in running, cheating usually occurs because of one of two major factors: money or some psychological need. While it is reprehensible, it is easy to understand the financial and fame motivations for elite athletes to cheat: there is prize money, sponsorships, maybe a worldwide stage that they expect to stand upon. (And going back to the 1970s and 80s, the East German systematic doping makes motivation even more murky — did Cierpinski steal the marathon golds in Montreal and Moscow because he wanted to or because he had to?)

          But, for most of us, what is at stake is no more that an age group trophy and a time that only other runners can really understand. So, to cut a course or lie about a time, really just seems sad to me. But, my perspective is certainly colored by the reasons that I run, which is the for the act itself and not the extrinsic rewards. Do I like to win? Sure! But, cutting a course short would first of all be cheating me – and if I did that, I would never be able to feel good about that race or about myself.

          Of course, over the years, I have met a few people who fudge their times when they are reliving their latest exploits. But, why bother running races if you aren’t going to try and finish the whole thing? Just perplexing…or sad.

        • Mr. Franklin — K. L. has admitted to cutting a course in a relay race (but only after questions arose), and he admitted to creating the race for a family vacation and then being the only runner to run in it. Allowing someone else to add names to the list casts doubts on a person’s integrity, regardless of whether he thought it wouldn’t hurt to make up fictitious names and home towns and ages and race comments.

          Again, I’m glad K.L. is a friend you trust, but if I were accused of cheating in this manner, I would be eager to prove my running ability by showing up to races, starting on time and running with others at my pace and making sure they knew I had run the whole course with them.

          Chris has captured the point of my post quite well: it is sad and perplexing why cheating happens in running. For elites, it can mean a big pay day and lucrative shoe contracts. For non-elites, not prize money so much as an ego boost. I simply don’t understand the make-up of a cheater. As The New Yorker article points out, cheaters miss out on: “the bonhomie and collective uplift of one of the world’s great athletic events, and the rewards that come to anyone who goes the full distance and crosses the finish line—never mind how long it takes.”

          Whether the cheater is an Olympic sprinter or an unimpressive runner, he or she takes away from the “collective uplift,” and it’s that taking away that I mourn and resent in equal measure.

    • It’s good when men (or women) at the center of controversy have loyal family and friends who believe in them and support them. The same is true in running as in all other areas of life. After seeing your comment, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if *all* of the numerous accounts about this particular runner were wrong?” But I checked Google with the search, “Kip Litton cleared of cheating,” and you know what I found? Nothing about him being cleared. I’ll believe it when I see updates in reliable sources such as Runner’s World or Running Times, The New Yorker or NPR (both of which have stories you can read from the link in Chris’ comment below). Until that happens, we will simply have to agree to disagree about the nature and meaning of “cheat” in this particular case.

      • The more you post the more you typify the misinformation that was spawned from one source & then repeatedly paraphrased. He did NOT admit to cutting the relay course- he unknowingly took a wrong turn and was not aware that it even happened until it was questioned. No one on earth would cut in front of the lead vehicle and expect to go unnoticed.

        Kip ran the most closely watched, heavily scrutinized and difficult to cheat marathon in the country (Boston) 8 times surrounded by thousands of other runners, with numerous photos & witnesses and was recorded at all 10 timing mats each time. He has also run over 200 other races of varying length over 10 years without ONE SINGLE person every claiming to have seen him cheat. He has inspired many with his weight loss and fitness goals. He has not missed out on any of the intangible benefits of competitive running.

        You are naive if you believe that you will find articles online proving that this alleged cheating is spurious. You can’t prove a negative. Mr. Singer refused to talk to the witnesses who would refute his cheating claims. He did, however, contact several hundred of Kip’s friends, runners, relatives and neighbors- not a single one offered anything negative to say about anyone in the Litton family, despite his pleas for dirt. What they did reveal to his deaf ears was that Kip is a good person, a well respected professional, a great family man, very caring and generous, and someone who has demonstrated impeccable integrity for over 30 years. If you took the time to dig deeper, you would also find these same qualities.

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