For his column this week, JP shares his thought on a Facebook post about an American blogger and runner who had recently received a lifetime ban from the Boston Athletic Association because of her attempt to register for the Boston marathon with someone else’s Boston qualifying time. Needless to say, the post generated an incredible amount of reader response both on his Facebook page and in email and he wanted to respond here.
Apparently, this young lady was unable to compete in the 2015 race, so she gave her race bib to a friend instead. I should add that the Boston Athletic Association does not sanction transferring of race bibs. But the story doesn’t end there… The following year, this young lady decided to submit her friend’s Boston qualifying time (run at the 2015 race with an illegal bib) for her 2016 race application. Needless to say, the Boston Athletic Association was not amused and issued a lifetime ban from all future BAA events. I most certainly had my own opinion about this story, but after posting it on Facebook, I was quite taken aback by the overwhelming, and at times quite visceral anger directed at someone who so flagrantly decided the rules didn’t apply to her.
I think we can all agree that when it comes to athletics, and running in particular, there is a sliding scale in terms of breaking the rules. At the extreme end, is the blood doping and taking of banned substances at the elite level, most typically justified as an athlete’s attempt to level the playing field because “everyone else is doing it.” Regardless of your opinion on this matter, I think it’s safe to say that based on the fallout of the Ben Johnson and Lance Armstrong scandals, the general public tends not to look kindly on these breaches of athletic ethics.
But what about the everyday runner who bends the rules? I know I’m guilty of blowing through red lights every day on my run, jumping fences to run trails marked “Closed”, and moving a corral or two ahead at some local races. When I saw the buzz my Facebook post was generating, I decided to ask a few race directors to chime in on the discussion with their feelings. And here’s what really blew my mind – Both Alan Brookes (of the Canada Running Series) and John Halvorsen (of the Ottawa Marathon Race Weekend) indicated that unofficial swapping of race bibs can not only create logistic nightmares but also be downright dangerous.
In the words of Alan Brookes: “Several years ago, we had a runner collapse and die at one of our races. As RD I had the task of calling the contact number on the back of the runner’s bib. The guy himself answered! Turned out he’d given his bib to a colleague in the office. Thus we had zero info on the runner who collapsed. At our CRS events, we allow online and at-the-Expo legitimate bib transfers, for reasons like this, as well as the accuracy of the results and integrity of the sport.” And John Halvorsen replied to Alan’s comments by mentioning that at the Ottawa race, “We also had a runner pass away at our event a few years ago who ran with a bib not registered in his name, and it became a real mess for the authorities. You can also imagine treating a runner in medical with the wrong data can be dangerous. Our registration system also permits transfer and we have built a bib market option to turn on as races sell out.”
I’m not sure where I’m going with all this other than to draw the conclusion that no matter how we might “sell it to ourselves” whenever we cheat or bend the rules, someone inevitably has to pay the price for our actions – be it the medical team responding to a collapsed runner, a race committee or charity missing out on much needed revenue because people have decided to bandit the course, or another runner who is denied the opportunity to race Boston because someone else has entered the race using an illegal qualifying time, or even each of us individually if we decide to cut a course short when there is no timing mat at the turnaround point. I think it’s always important to remind myself why I love running in the first place – because I know that at the end of each run, I will find a better version of myself waiting for me. And by cheating, I deny myself that opportunity.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org.