The expression “cheaters never win” doesn’t really make sense. Because, let’s be real, the world is unfair and sometimes they do win.
I got a dose of this reality this past weekend.
I was running a 5k and there was a girl who cut the racecourse, not once but twice. It was pretty blatant. She clearly knew what she was doing as she ran (waaaay) outside of the orange cones marking the route. The guy in front of her and the girl behind her were both inside them, and she saw both runners. However, in a poorly marshaled course, in a section with no spectators, the girl right behind her was the only person who knew what she did. The girl right behind her was me.
I wasn’t going to tell on her. Instead, I felt sorry for her. What did she hope to accomplish by turning in a time that wasn’t really a complete race? Why did she do it? And what gravity would her place and time hold if they weren’t actually legit? I wondered these things as I ran behind her. I knew her cheating would put me in sixth place, instead of fifth, and I was OK with that. I was on track to turn in a decent time, despite the nasty July heat. But, in some crazy twist of fate/universe-correcting-injustice, she made a slight wrong turn at the three-mile mark. I thought about yelling to her that she’d gone the wrong way, but she had headphones on, and I doubt she’d have heard me. A spectator grabbed her and turned her around about 100 meters off course. However, her mistake was big enough to let another woman and I pass her before she got back on track. When I crossed the line, the race official said I was the fifth woman overall and second in my age group. The woman who’d be kicking it in with me was sixth. We high fived each other, said thanks for the competition, and went to get water. We saw the runner who’d cheated cross the line a few seconds later and immediately storm over to the timers.
Fast-forward two long, hot, sunbaked hours of waiting later. (Yes, that’s how long it took them to tabulate results, and it gave me a new appreciation for races that are well run and organized.) During that time the runner who’d cut the course actually came up to me and asked my finishing time and place. I told her I wasn’t entirely sure since the official results weren’t out yet (a true statement). She said, “Oh, OK because I went the wrong way, and I was supposed to be in front of you.” I said nothing back. And she stood there next to me as the results were announced. I was called up as third in my age group and sixth overall. I was definitely a little confused about the discrepancy. But I didn’t want to go sort it out with the timers, nor did I wait to hear the rest of the results. Some of my family had run the race, and they’d been waiting around with me. I wasn’t going to keep them out in the hot sun any longer, so we left.
It wasn’t until the online results were posted that I found out what had happened…or at least I can venture a guess. The woman who’d gone off course not only managed to cut it without anyone noticing; she’d also somehow convinced the timers that she deserved a 15 second credit on her time. She was listed with a finishing time ahead of me — even though she’d be next to me at the start and finished behind me.
I was not OK with this.
I’ve run a lot of 5Ks since I first dipped my toes into the distance as a high school sophomore, and I’ve seen people cut racecourse before. I’ve never tattled on any them. Partly because my mom taught me that wasn’t nice and partly because I wanted to think it may have been unintentional.
Yet what this girl had done was purely intentional. She’d gone to officials and lobbied for a better time than she’d actually run. I’d heard that many runners experienced problems due to the poorly marshaled course and several were complaining. So I suspect the timers just gave into a lot of them – including the girl who’d cheated – in an effort to stop the fussing.
I sat there in front my computer blankly staring at the results, again wondering “why?”
Cheating – whether it’s cutting a course, doping, or anything else that’s considered foul play – makes no sense to me. I’m competitive, so I understand the desire to win. I get that sometimes that desire is so burning hot that it makes people do crazy, dangerous, stupid, out-of-their-freaking-noggin sorts of things. That it makes all forms of logic and reason fly right out the window. However, I’m never going to understand why people think cheating is a means to a legit win. It’s not. It diminishes the integrity of the runner and our sport. It takes away from those who work really hard, and pour a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into training and competing.
I love running, so I’m usually very protective of my sport and those who share my passion for it. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve said something to race officials. After all, it wasn’t just me who was impacted by her dishonesty. The girl who’d finished less than a second behind me and all those who finished after us were, too, even if they didn’t know it.
It’s too late for that now. So, instead, I’ll make this plea: Push your limits. Explore your boundaries. Run inspired. But please, please don’t cheat. Cheaters may sometimes “win,” but the sport always loses.