USATF Road Running Technical Council
Road Race and Finish Line Management

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Cheating in road races is more common than most people realize. The more attractive the awards or the greater the attention winners receive, the more incentives there are for cheating. Cheating is easier to get away with in a large race vs. a small race where everyone knows everyone else.

Types of Cheating

Cheaters can be highly original and may show considerable imagination. The dumb cheaters are easily caught; the 2:16 marathon by a 60 year old for example. The smart cheaters can be hard to catch. We can only look at a few of the more common types of cheating.

Course Cutting

Course cutting may simply involve the runner ducking down a side street to join the race and "saving" some distance. Out-and- back courses have serious problems in this regard. It is very easy for the out-going runner to join the returning stream of runners.

Course cutting may involve a runner "dropping" out of the race at perhaps 25 km, only to "rejoin" the race at 35 km. The intervening distance is often covered by automobile but runners have been known to use city buses and subways.

It is often rather difficult to distinguish between runners who have taken a legitimate toilet stop from those who are cheating. You may wish to assign monitors to locations on the course where you have porta-johns. The cheater may enter via your porta-john, entering the race as he/she leaves the porta-john, just like any real runner.

One imaginative course cutter was accompanied by his friend riding a bicycle. Every five miles or so, they would trade places AND shirts. He managed to "improve" his time sufficiently to qualify for Boston. Note that he was "checked" thru each checking station along the way! Video-tape could have caught this cheater if the time were taken to check the video-tape that carefully. This was only found out much later when the "story" was related by a runner who observed one of the switches.

Failure to Start at the Start

The easiest way to cut the course is simply skip the first part of the race. How many marathoners just run the last few miles of the race? You've seen them, the ones that aren't sweaty, bouncing along coming into the finish as though they're out for a stroll.

The dumb cheater doesn't know when to "enter" the race. This gives you the 2:16 marathon by the 60 year old. The smart cheater figures he/she can run 7 minutes per mile for a couple miles. The runners finishing just under three hours are usually doing 7's forthe last couple miles. They measure back from the finish, two miles. They wait for 2:45 on their watch and jump in when the time is right. They run their two miles in 14 minutes, finishing in 2:59. They don't stand out since they are running the same pace as the other f inishers. The dumb cheaters are getting passed by runners doing 5:30's while they are doing 8's.

Wave starts are highly conducive to cheating and need to be monitored VERY closely. Otherwise, the runner can "improve" by starting with an earlier group. Color-coded and number blocked bib-numbers PLUS lots of monitors help here.


Impersonation may be one person running for another or simply a person misrepresenting his/her age to take advantage of weaker age group competition.

Inadvertent number switching, e.g., husband and wife, occurs quite frequently. When handing out two or more race packets to the same individual, use magic markers to clearly mark the envelopes e.g., "HIS" and "HERS." Different colored bib-numbers for men and women AND separate finish lines help reduce this problem.

Pre-registered runners may choose, for whatever reason, not to run the race. The temptation is there for a second runner to compete WITHOUT paying an entry fee by "borrowing" the registered runner's bib-number. The impersonator may simply show up and pick up the bib-number for the runner who is registered and run with that bib- number. You may wish to request identification or signatures from runners as they pick up their registration packets to reduce this problem.

You also may wish to permit reassignment of a bib-number for a minimal fee. In this way, you can preserve the integrity of your coding system for the awards search and the integrity of your race results by correctly identifying the runners.

Course Monitoring

The first step is to identify potential problem areas on your course. If you run the same loop three or more times, you will need to record times for each runner for each loop. If you have an out-and-back course, you will need to record turn-around times for all the runners. If your course has inter-connecting or nearly connecting loops, points of intersection between different streams of runners present intractable problems. Intersecting streams of runners should be AVOIDED. Change your course.

Points where you have spotted potential problems should be monitored. At least one monitor should be assigned simply to record bib-numbers for any runners observed leaving the course in the vicinity. If you record the bib-number and the time the runner was observed leaving the course, knowing the location allows you to check against their finish time (if they finished) to see if they "speeded up" unduly.

The best way to monitor a course is by video-taping at certain check points along the course. Choose a section where the runners are making a right angle turn. As runners make such a turn, they will tend to "line up" so each can run a shorter path around the corner. Station the video-camera outside the corner and film as the runners round the corner, in effect presenting their bib-number to you.

The 1984 San Francisco Marathon video-taped their turn-around point at 30 km. The first 100 finishers were checked. Ten were disqualified for not passing through the check station.

Another way of checking is to use a standard voice tape recorder and read bib-numbers as the runners pass by. If another worker is reading times every 5 or 10 seconds AND the split is a standard distance, e.g., half way in a marathon, you will have split times recorded for many of your runners. This is a nice addition to your race results, plus a good method for verifying performances.

A method you might consider for large race where prize money is awarded to masters runners is to create a "prize money" classification. You might charge a dollar extra to be in this "special" group but allow anyone to enter who wishes. Give this group bib- numbers of a distinctive color that may be easily spotted and distinguished from the normal bib-number. Have a number of teams along the course to spot and record these "special" numbers as they pass by. This will give you a much smaller list when you verify award winning performances.

Start Check-In Procedures

One way to prevent your runners from starting your marathon at the 40 km mark is to have a start check-in and controlled holding area until the starting gun. The Honolulu Marathon checks runners off on master lists as being present at the start. Bar-code scanning as runners enter the starting area is another method used by the New York City Marathon.

The Tucson Marathon has used a dual pull-tag system, one pull- tag is collected when the runners enter the starting area; the other is collected at the finish. One year, eight of 500 "finishers" failed to check in at the start and were disqualified.

Bay-to-Breakers also has a cordoned off starting area that seeded runners may enter but may not leave until the starting gun goes off. As runners enter, a worker with a special color water-proof marker makes a colored check or X' on the runner's bib- number to indicate that they were are the start.

Video-Tape the Finish

Video-taping the finish not only provides answers to who- finished-in-what-order questions but also serves to identify runners visually as they finish. Many errors result when runners use another runner's bib- number. The video-tape usually can tell you if a man ran with a woman's number or a 25 year old ran with a 60 year old's number.

Awards and Disqualifications

If you give awards that have commercial value or are cash awards, you should ANNOUNCE the award at the ceremony but MAIL the award after you have had a day or two to check to determine if the performance is valid. One marathon disqualified three award winners. unfortunately, the trophies had already been given out.

If you disqualify a runner, you may expect problems. Some are honest enough to admit they cheated (although dishonest enough in the first place to cheat) and return trophies, etc. Roughly 10% of the cheaters will try to out-bluff you. Even in the face of documented evidence that they cheated, they will still maintain their innocence and will threaten to sue you.

The methods you use to substantiate cheating need to be pretty solid. If you have teams recording bib-numbers, the runner may claim his/her number was covered at the time or the recorders simply missed it because he/she was running in a pack. The same is true for voice tape recording.

Even video-taping can be questioned. If you do not have a built-in record of the time on the video-tape, the runner could argue that the recorder was not operating when he/she passed and therefore you missed him/her. With a time record, you can document the videotape record and, if need be, use it in a court of law.

If you disqualify a runner, BE SURE he/she cheated. If you KNOW the runner cheated, be sure you DISQUALIFY that runner. If no action is taken against cheating, your awards will go to the cheaters and the sport suffers. Remember that the cheater is cheating someone else of something that is rightfully theirs. There is no such things as a "recreational" cheater or "cheat-for-fun" because cheating demeans the entire sport and everyone is the worse for it.

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