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The entire history of athletics – and the marathon is no exception – is peppered by stories of people who have decided that they are going to use nefarious and dishonest means to try to steal the glory that other earn through hard work and determination – we generally call them cheats.

At the moment we are suffering ‘the Marion Jones show’ which involves her telling anyone stupid, or bored, enough to listen, that she didn’t deserve a prison term for lying and cheating her way to Olympic gold medals. At the same time World steeplechase champion Marta Dominguez has been suspended from her position as vice president of the Spanish Athletics Federation after being implicated in a doping investigation. And these are only the most recent tip of the iceberg.

In the marathon the picture is no more rosy. In the first modern Olympic marathon, held in Greece in 1896, a local – Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from village of Marusi – finished first, but there is extensive evidence to suggest that he hitched a ride for a significant part of the course from the mounted soldier who rode beside him. Since that day there have been many, many examples of people who feel that it is somehow acceptable to run (often significantly) less than the allotted 26.2 miles.

Perhaps one of the most famous of these is Rosie Ruiz who appeared to win the 1980 Boston Marathon in an incredible 2:31:56. Incredible because she was unknown before the race, in no way resembled a top-flight marathon runner with thighs which were much flabbier than would be expected for a world-class runner and she finished the race neither panting nor coated in sweat. She later released stress-test results showing her resting heart rate was 76. Even the men’s winner Bill Rodgers, who had just won his third straight Boston Marathon, was suspicious, commenting that Ruiz couldn’t seem to recall many things that most runners know by heart, such as intervals and splits when he spoke to her after the race.

Rosa Ruiz and Bill Rogers after the Boston marathon, 1980. Notice Ruiz's t-shirt that she supposedly ran in!

In more recent races there have been high profile examples. In 2007 Roberto Madrazo was running the Berlin marathon a year after he failed in his attempt to win the Mexican presidency. As it turns out, his victory in the Over-55 category in the 2007 Berlin Marathon was another failure on his part.
Madrazo finished in 2:41:12 which was an amazing improvement on his result from the San Diego marathon just 3 months earlier which he finished in 3:44:06. Again suspicions were raised when Madrazo jogged across the finish line wearing a full tracksuit and a baseball cap, seemingly unaffected by his world record breaking efforts.

Supposedly the winner of the 55-59 age group in 2:41:12 crossing the finish line!

And cheating is more widespread than we care to imagine. In 2007 seventy-one runners in the New York City Marathon were disqualified, at least 46 of them for taking a short cut. Early in 2010 almost a third of the runners who finished in the top 100 of a marathon in the southern port city of Xiamen were disqualified for cheating in the race – many of them for carrying the timing chips of much less able runners looking to clock a good time.

So why bother cheating? Well, it seems to me that we now live in a society where fame (and often the associated fortune) is the end goal of many people, not the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing you have excelled in whatever it is you have decided to do. In marathon running that can be the ability to claim to friends, family or work colleagues that you did something that you didn’t or, as was the case in the Chinese race, the opportunity to gain financial benefit by being given a sporting bursary to attend university. The reality is that the people who cheat simply don’t want to put in the work, do the best they can and accept the result come what may.

For me, my achievements in running are the thing I am most proud of in my life so far. For most of my formative years and young adulthood I was terribly lazy, unwilling to put myself through inconvenience or discomfort for a goal that lay sometime in the future. I wanted immediate results with as little effort as possible. However through running I have discovered some  wonderful truths; that you get out what you put in; that the journey is a massive part of the enjoyment, not just the end result; and that honesty and integrity mean everything. It doesn’t matter to me whether people know or care about what time I managed to run or what position I came. I know that I have put in the effort to achieve my goals and I am proud of myself for that.

And in the end I think that is all that is important – knowing that you have done something you never thought possible, that you have done your best and given your all. That you are the best human being you can be. That is why I feel so sorry for the liars and the cheats – they just don’t get it. They delude themselves and accept a medal and a finishers t-shirt, or worse stand on the podium, of a race that you didn’t run, because they think that they will feel good about that. But ultimately the cheat knows they haven’t excelled, or done their best, or experienced the journey. If they get caught, then – like Rosa Ruiz – they will be exposed and ridiculed. And even if they don’t get caught, there must always be a nagging feeling that they cheated themselves and will never really know what they would have been capable of. I think that is the greatest sadness of all this for me.

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