Those Cheatin' Hearts: Why do they do it?
Thursday, May 1 was a big day for John and Suzanne Murphy from Cypress, California. They were front page news in the Boston Globe, and a lead item on the local sportscast on the evening news. Not bad for a pair of little known marathoners. We should say alleged marathoners, since there is no proof either ever went the full 26.2 mile distance.
Posted Thursday, 1 May, 1997
y 1 was a big day for John and Suzanne Murphy from Cypress, California. They were front page news in the Boston Globe, and a lead item on the local sportscast on the evening news. Not bad for a pair of little known marathoners. We should say alleged marathoners, since there is no proof either ever went the full 26.2 mile distance.
The Murphys caused a stir by crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon in astounding age-group times. Murphy, 61, reached Copley Square in 2:43:09. Suzanne, 59, arrived in 3:12:18. Terrific. The only problem is that neither of these folks ran the full marathon course. At least that is the contention of the B.A.A., who puts on the race. Thus, the Murphy's times have been stricken from the records of the race.
This scenario occurs on a regular basis, every few years or so. There is a pattern to it. Here's how it unfolds: The B.A.A. reviews the results and sees and unusually fast age-group time, run by someone unknown in the running community. With cause for suspicion, the B.A.A. goes back to the tapes. At the finish line, they see the runners coming down Boylston Street, normally with awkward running form, conspicuously far less fit than the others finishing at the same time. The B.A.A. goes to backup tapes along the course, and surprise! The runner is missing at one or more of these checkpoints.
They then call the alleged athlete, asking for an explanation as to why they were missing at the checkpoint. The indignant athlete claims they ran the entire route, and how could they be accused of cheating? The B.A.A. asks if they have run any other marathons, half marathons, or 10 km races. No, they say, Boston is the only marathon they run. They don't "do" shorter races. The B.A.A. then asks them to come in and have a look at the tapes, so they can point themselves out. This is usually where the charade comes to an end. They impostor declines, then is never heard from again.
I understand the process, but what I do not understand is why? Why cheat in a marathon? The mere thought is preposterous. There was a woman a few years ago who cheated in prize money situations. As despicable as this is, it is at least understandable. Although there have to be easier ways to make a few bucks than to go to the trouble of cheating in a marathon. After all, you have to go to a big city race, dress up in running gear, then plan a method of cutting the course, finishing unobtrusively.
This is where many of the impostors slip up. They finish way ahead of what is within reason. Murphy, a big guy with a waddling stride, arrived at the finish line in Boston in what would have been the second fastest time ever run by a man 60 and over. I took one look at this guy running (on the news of course) and said no way he ran 6:15 pace for 26.2 miles. If he had finished in 3:03 instead of 2:43, he might have gotten away with it. Of course the most famous of all slip-ups occurred in the 1980 Boston Marathon, when the Rosie Ruiz, she of the pasty thighs, popped up at 2:33, the first female to finish. Too bad she did not start. This was the first famous episode of cheating in a marathon. That, combined with the fact that Ruiz was a pathological liar, made it a cause celebre. Rosie played it out for all it was worth.
In the end, maybe this is the answer. To start this article, I referred to the attention that was showered upon the Murphys. Maybe somewhere down deep, these folks are seeking attention of any sort. If they gain the falsely earned recognition of winning their age group, then fine. If they gain national attention for having cheated, well at least it's attention. That is a far better alternative than going through the marathon unrecognized at all. I mean what good is it to have trained hard, then gone out and given an honest effort over the 26.2 miles, and being satisfied with that? Not when the cameras and newspapers are waiting.