One was a serial bib forger.
Another was a blogger who posted a photo of her running watch, which showed she cut the course of a half marathon, then rode the racecourse again on her bike to recreate the right GPS track.
Yet another was a young woman who somehow placed second in the women's 70-74 age category in the New York City Marathon.
Then there was the tour company that allegedly worked with the director of a French marathon to get runners qualifying times for the Boston Marathon.
All of these schemers have at least one thing in common — a 48-year-old financial analyst from Ohio, using an algorithm and an army of tipsters, nailed them for their dishonest racing deeds.
"It really was a curiosity," said Derek Murphy, who started the website Marathon Investigation in 2015. He was inspired by the articles and forums at LetsRun.com, whose users sleuthed out whether a Philadelphia radio personality, Mike Rossi, cheated in the 2014 Lehigh Valley Marathon to qualify for a Boston Marathon.
"That was dragging out for weeks, then months, about this one guy," he said, "and I wondered if he was the only cheater."
Turns out he wasn't.
The Boston Marathon on Monday is the 39th anniversary of one of the most brazen attempts at marathon cheating — Rosie Ruiz's notorious sprint from the crowd to the finish line to grab first place, until it was taken away from her days later. Ruiz was barely sweating at the finish and not very fit, both of which were tipoffs that something was amiss.
The cheaters Murphy nabs are more creative. He started out looking for people who cheat to qualify for Boston because, he said, "it was a way to make the task more manageable," noting that he had to look only at the relatively small percentage of runners with Boston Marathon qualifier times.
Unlike other marathons, Boston requires nearly all runners to meet a certain standard for their age group to gain entry. The race has become so popular that a qualifying time no longer guarantees admittance, so Boston has adopted a policy of admitting fastest in each age group first, then descending from there. That makes cheating for a Boston entry especially egregious, Murphy said, because "when someone cheats to get into Boston, they are keeping out a deserving runner".
Murphy is not worried about losing his own spot to cheaters. When he started his investigations, he called himself a "hobby jogger" who had run one marathon — the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2009, which he completed in 6 hours, 3 minutes, 5 seconds.
Married with two children, Murphy asks for donations through the site, and is also paid a consulting fee to verify the results of the California International Marathon, though he also has his day job as a financial analyst.
Sometimes his hunt for the evildoers of marathoning begins with a tip, but he often begins by transferring results from a race website into a spreadsheet. The results can identify runners who showed significant changes in pace, or missed splits, meaning that they may have missed spots on the course where a microchip in their bib signals to a sensor that they are progressing.
Either could signal that they skipped a part of the race. Then he tries to find secondary evidence.
For that, he turns to photos taken by the race, which he can usually search for using a runner's bib number. He looks for runners who dropped out of a race but got a result because the microchip on their bib triggered as it crossed the finish line.
Murphy also hunts down runners' social media accounts, including the running network Strava, and searches for any writing they've done to see if they admitted to an offence or other clues that hint at wrongdoing. That was the case with Ashley Rollins, a coach and writer who posted on her website that she used an unregistered pacer in the 2018 California International Marathon, leading to her disqualification. She declined to comment for this article. Murphy will also reach out to the suspected cheaters to see if they have an explanation, which sometimes prompts an admission and apology — and in that case he won't write about them.
When Murphy does write about someone on his page, he wRead More – Source