The most infamous accused cheater in Boston Marathon history is Rosie Ruiz. She allegedly jumped on the MBTA to cut her time, but amateur sleuths say there are hundreds who cheat their way into the Boston Marathon every year.
Runners have to wear a tracking chip throughout the Marathon and hit many timing mats along the route. Their picture is snapped at the finish line, but more and more it is cheaters’ social media posts that bring them down.
Amanda Nurse's Boston Marathon bibs are badges of honor. They are her sweat stained mementos of 26.2 miles and the grit it took the Brookline woman to get there. “To get up when it’s pitch black outside and freezing cold and snowing, that’s really hard work. You’ve earned it when you do the Boston Marathon,” Nurse said.
Derek Murphy is a marathon investigator. He is an amateur detective who sniffs out cheats in races all over the world. From his living room, the retired Marathoner and Ohio businessman pores over qualifying times, course photos, and timing mat data. He uses his own algorithm and flags anything odd. “They may have run seven minute miles, eight minute miles, nine minute miles and then go down to a five minute mile,” he said.
Cheaters fall into a few different categories. Course cutters, so-called bandits who jump into the race unregistered, and bib mules. Bib mules are people who will run in place of an officially entered runner. Bib mules give the registered runner either a qualifying time to get into the Marathon in the first place or a faster time at the Marathon itself. The registered runner gets to brag on social media without ever breaking a sweat.
Murphy said when someone is cheating or cutting the course and they are a qualifier to enter Boston that leaves someone out who deserves to run. Murphy estimates about 400 people cheat to get into Boston. He says he’s caught about 30 so far this year.
Murphy received an anonymous tip about a couple who was caught cheating. They both ran the Philadelphia Marathon and qualified for Boston, but they switched the chips in their bibs. The husband ran as the wife and she got his faster time. We agreed not to identify the now disqualified and humiliated pair. “It made her happy. I was a little nervous about doing it,” said the husband. The wife said, “I blame myself. We weren’t setting out to hurt anyone.
Murphy busted a woman who admitted she cut the course after he zoomed in on her mile tracking watch in her finish line photo. There are brazen cheaters on Craig's List. One ad said, “I’ll run Boston for you. $600.” A European travel agency even sold trips to Boston with guaranteed entry into the Marathon.
Tom Grilk of the Boston Athletic Association insisted cheaters are a tiny minority among thirty-thousand legitimate runners. He said the BAA has removed almost twenty people this year. The BAA stressed every qualifying time that is submitted is verified and any time information that comes to their attention is investigated.
Amanda Nurse has little pity for cheaters who could have scored a bib by running for charity. She said, “Earn it in some way and if you can’t get in on your own, then raise money for a great cause.”
The punishment for cheating ranges from being disqualified for a year to being banned for life. Last year nearly five-thousand legitimate runners were turned away, because there just simply isn't enough room.