Congratulations! If you run then you are a winner in my book! Until you cheat, and then you slowly chip away at my belief that those who run are more likely to be people who possess greater integrity.
Cheaters never win, and (real) winners never cheat. It might be my naivete, my slowly-crippled faith in the goodness of people, that keeps me surprised every time I learn of a scandal rocking my sport: running. It’s always been my opinion that those who dedicate themselves to endurance sports are made of tougher stuff. In my mind, that toughness comes from an inner spirit born out of hardships and suffering, which lends itself to honesty, discipline, hard work, and an understanding of the true meaning of life.
It makes sense, true runners do it for the love of running. There’s either no or very little money or fame involved in long distance running. The reward is the satisfaction that comes from setting and achieving personal goals. The feeling of fatigue at the end of a long run is the coveted prize. Pushing yourself beyond your limits and reaching new heights is the ultimate accomplishment.
My idols are the best and the most humble in the field: Meb Keflezighi, Deena Kastor, Bill Rodgers, Scott Jurek, Steve Prefontaine. They are all humble and hard working individuals. I don’t know them personally, but a person’s reputation says a lot about them and theirs could not be better. It is because of individuals like them, and books such as The Perfect Mile, that I believe runners are exemplars of character. John Landy, Roger Bannister, and Wes Santee didn’t race to break the 4 min. mile barrier because of the fame, they did it because they each wanted to give their own personal best. Anyone who’s seen The Spirit of the Marathon knows that runners run because it makes them better people.
Scott Jurek is known for finishing 100 mile races and then sitting by the finish line to cheer all the other participants on. Steve Prefontaine has famously been quoted as saying, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” When I fell and busted my knee during a 50k trail run a few years ago, runners around me were quick to offer ibuprofen and a couple walked with me to the nearest aid station a couple of miles away. (I returned the favor and gave them my complimentary finisher’s 750mL craft beer when they later drove me to get stitches after the finish!)
Runners are a different breed. We run long distances for no other reason than the satisfaction that it brings us. But for some reason, we still can’t shake the cheaters out of a sport that takes character. Recently, Rita Jeptoo (arguably the fastest woman on the planet as of late) who won the most recent Boston and Chicago marathons was caught doping. A blood test from September tested positive, and it’s been revealed that she has been using EPO since 2011 😦 I was shocked. Using EPO in endurance sports isn’t uncommon, but from a Kenyan athlete? I know this might be a huge stereotype, but I had believed that athletes from that country were of a different caliber. They grew up facing hardship and I believed that was what motivated them to put in the hard work. I never would have guessed they would succumb to cheating. But I am being harsh. I know this, I can’t imagine the struggles they face in Kenya…and faced with a potential pay day of several tens of thousands of dollars from winning major races…I also cannot rule out the cultural barrier. I don’t know yet if Rita fully understood that she was using an banned substance to artificially assist her training. But if she did understand, and she still chose to cheat, shame on her. That is my position. Lance Armstrong was the last athlete I tried to defend, and I can’t believe how that ended up.
Last Saturday at the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon the winning woman, Tabatha Hamilton supposedly ran the second half of the marathon in 55 minutes, which is three minutes faster than the world record for the half marathon. The first half took Tabatha 2 hours. Her last marathons, one run in over four hours in 2009 and one in over six hours last year, definitely don’t provide evidence for Tabatha’s case!
Why? Why cheat as a recreational runner? I know from experience that even if you win a marathon, unless it’s a major one, very few people outside of the running world care. I won the Portland Marathon, there was no money involved and I still had to go to school the next day. There was no fanfare, I just did my best and knowing that I gave 100% was what made me happy.