Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 15 May 2005 08:22:21 -0400

Chips and Cheats


(rerun from May 1998 RC)

Sad news reached me recently that an old running mate, Peter Mattei, had died in his 70s. I hadn't seen him in too long, and his passing reminded me of the longest race we ran together.

This was a road 100-mile on a lap course. One leg of it was out and back along either side of a divided street.

As we ran that skinny leg, I said to Peter, "Think how easy it would be to cross the street early and save a quarter-mile per lap. It's dark, no one is checking us at the turnaround. Who would know?"

I was joking but he took responded seriously: "I would know, and I couldn't live with myself knowing that I'd only run 97 miles or whatever."

That's how most of us would feel. But the sport has a few deviants without consciences.

An unrepentant course-cutter surfaced again at the Los Angeles Marathon. Richard Roodberg claimed to have won the age 70-74 title in 3:10 -- nearly an hour ahead of the real winner in that group.

This is the same Roodberg who'd been disqualified from the 1990 Boston and L.A. races. The Los Angeles Times has run no fewer than eight stories about his shenanigans.

The basic rule of racing is that you run -- or run-walk if that's what it takes -- every step of the way. Anyone who does less and still claims to have "finished" shames us all.

A lesser but still fundamental rule of racing is that you properly enter the event. Anyone who doesn't but still insists on running interferes with the paying customers.

Non-entrants who sneak into races without registering are known as "turkeys" or "bandits." These cute names trivialize the infraction.

The party-crashers defend themselves by saying, "It's a public roadway and I have a perfect right to be here." This is like insisting it's okay to drive on that same road without a license, paying no heed to speed limits or stop signs.

In fact, the bandits steal the drinks and assistance provided along the course. Worse, they cross the finish line and mess up the scoring of legitimate runners.

Banditry is an annoyance -- at most a misdemeanor. Course-cutting is a major crime against the self-policing honesty of the sport.

The cheats tried to steal prizes that belonged to someone else. In some cases these have been cash awards, in which case the thief deserved to be arrested (though none has been yet).

These thieves defend themselves by saying, "I was there all the time, and the officials missed me." Favorite excuses for missing surveillance checkpoints: jacket covered the number... took off the shirt with the number... hidden in a crowd.

Fortunately technology now can cancel these excuses and clean up the sport. The ChampionChip, developed to improve the scoring of races, has an unexpected side-benefit.

Runners who don't step on all the computer-linked carpets expose themselves as cheats. At one Boston Marathon alone, more than 60 were caught that way.

The Chip also reduces the damage done by bandits. They still steal drinks and cheers along the course, but no longer scramble the paying runners' results. No entry fee, no Chip, no time or place.

Chip technology ignores the bandits. It exposes the cheats to well-earned ridicule.


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