Marathon runners are cheaters. Not all of them, or even most of them, mind you. But of all the major endurance sports—bicycling, running, swimming—the men and women hoofing it at the 26.2-mile distance are the ones most prone not just to doping and steroids and other chemical/mechanical shenanigans, but outright cheating.
The most famous case is Rosie Ruiz who, in 1980, won the Boston Marathon in the astonishing time of 2:31:56. People were suspicious about Miss Ruiz from the start, or rather the finish. She didn’t seem particularly tired when she crossed the line and her musculature was not—how to put this delicately—typical of the long-distance runner. Then there was the strange fact that none of the other runners remembered seeing her until the end of the race. And that she appeared in none of the thousands of photographs of runners taken during the event. It turned out that Ruiz didn’t just cheat in Boston (she hid in the crowd a half-mile from the finish and then jumped onto the course when no one was looking). She had cheated at the New York Marathon a few months earlier in order to qualify for Boston (she started the race, hopped off the course, took the subway to the finish, then feigned injury, then slipped out of the injury tent where volunteers cluelessly marked her as a finisher). And for good measure, a couple years later she was jailed for embezzlement.
Ruiz is just the most famous member of a long line of marathon cheats. At the first modern Olympic marathon event, the Greek runner Spyridon Belokas took the bronze medal—until it was discovered that he’d taken a carriage to cut out the middle section of the race. At the 1904 Olympics, American Frederick Lorz quietly withdrew at mile nine. And then drove to the end, slipped back onto the course, and finished a gaudy 16 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. And over the last few years a Michigan dentist named Kip Litton may have taken the marathon cheat further than anyone else by serially cheating his way through a series of marathons across the country, barely even pausing each time he was disqualified after his hoax was discovered by race officials. But the greatest marathon cheat in history occurred last week when the Wall Street Journal reported that the New York Road Runners’ club—the body which organizes the New York Marathon—has been handing out medals en masse from this year’s canceled event. Runners—or anyone else who wanted one of the medals usually reserved for finishers—simply began showing up at the club’s office, writing down their names, and walking away with the awards. They didn’t have to provide ID—or even proof that they had been registered for the race.
You’ve reached the reductio ad absurdum of marathon chicanery when you don’t even have to pretend to be a runner to cheat your way to a finisher’s medal. Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.