Cheating at Triathlon
April 8, 2016 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Run. Bike. Cheat? (NYT) A story about Julie Miller, an age-group winner at 2015 Ironman Canada, who appears to have cheated her way to "victory." Here is the related thread at the Slowtwitch forums.
posted by OmieWise (74 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting! In other cheating news, blogger RunGiaRun got caught using another runner's qualifying time under her (illegally) shared 2015 Boston Marathon bib, and has been disqualified from the 2016 Boston Marathon she had planned to run. GOMI Summary.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:34 AM on April 8, 2016




Oh, lord, yeah, I've been following the Gia mess all week.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


"In a confrontation with McGonigal, the Ironman regional director, [Miller] argued that losing her chip had been an unfortunate accident that should not disqualify her from the race. He believed her, he said in an interview, because she seemed so sympathetic, and because parts of her story checked out."

Rules are rules -- sometimes!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Those perfidious Canadians.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


[she's from california]

edit: er, wait, she's from California but lives in Canada. Sorry. Carry on. Sorry.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:59 AM on April 8, 2016


Kip Litton, serial marathon cheat.

This could be a Gordon Korman novel.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Rules are rules -- sometimes!

Yeah. There's a reason for the "no timing chip=DQ" rule. It's because generally race officials have no other way to monitor the course when you're racing this far.

The correct answer was "Sorry, without a chip, we don't have an official time, without an official time, all we can do is mark you as DQ." If they wanted to be nice, since they did have a time for the end of the bike section, they could have marked her as DNF.
posted by eriko at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


The weirdest part about McGonigal's response, or how it played out, is that he basically ended up using times from past races at which she likely cheated to confirm her time in the 2015 Canada race. At the bottom of the article it says in passing that she lost her chip at one of those races too. Of course McGonigal didn't know any of that, but it's weird how it ends up as fraud all the way down.
posted by OmieWise at 7:22 AM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


There's a reason for the "no timing chip=DQ" rule.

I would be okay if you could produce both Garmin and photo evidence if something bizarrely happened to your chip. But no GPS, no photo and no chip? Sorry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wow, that Slowtwitch forum has a Metafilter level of thoughtful and conscientious moderation.
posted by Bistle at 7:24 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


For one thing, he said, volunteers at aid stations along the course confirmed Miller’s claim that she had mentioned the missing chip to them when she ran by.
And this was cited by the regional director in her favor. She somehow noticed that the chip was missing and was worried enough to mention it to the people at the aid stations, but didn't talk to a race official? Bullshit.
posted by Etrigan at 7:27 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I know it's likely because I am so far from being a competitive racer, but jeez. The whole point is doing it, finishing, and all the feels you get along the way ... or even not finishing, but making the effort.

I guess I'm lucky to be such a slug, and not have these temptations.
posted by allthinky at 7:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


I can't quite tell from the photos if the watch she's wearing is one with GPS - it looks a little small to be one, but it could be. I find it inconceivable that someone planning to compete in Kona doesn't have a GPS track of a major qualifying race. A sad story because clearly she's a competent triathlete without cheating.
posted by GuyZero at 7:37 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


A sad story because clearly she's a competent triathlete without cheating.

I think that's the clincher -- she's competent, just not great (as in can finish, but isn't a top-finisher).
posted by k5.user at 7:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Davis looked out for rivals, asking the age of every woman she passed or who passed her

the ultimate Don't-Give-A-Fuck move
posted by Greg Nog at 7:43 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why would you put your chip on the inside of your ankle? That alone seems really weird to me. People typically don't have a lot of clearance there. I don't trip myself but on long runs I will hit my opposing ankle on occasion once I am fatigued.

It would definitely be at risk while cycling.

Is this something I don't understand?
posted by srboisvert at 7:43 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why would you put your chip on the inside of your ankle?

I was wondering that myself, and my first thought was "She'll be able to claim the bike knocked it off."
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Why would you put your chip on the inside of your ankle?

My guess would be that the ankle puts it closer to the mats they use to record the info, maybe it minimizes error.
posted by Bistle at 7:48 AM on April 8, 2016


Angry that Miller’s win had denied another athlete a spot at the world championships in Kona, Harris was one of the athletes who contacted race officials and told them of her suspicions

Jeez, just reading this story stressed me out. I dont like anybody in this story, but that could be because I'm a dorito. I hope I never get so invested in something that I go Capt Ahab crazy about it when there's no money prize at the end of it. But maybe that's why I'm a dorito. I feel bad for thinking this is ridiculous, that people should just be polite and forget about it because only false titles are at stake. But the reality of it is that it means so much to them.

I'd like to read more about the emotional investment. That dentist who made up stuff and went that far sounds legit crazypants scary.
posted by discopolo at 8:01 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I used to run lots of ultras and trail races. It's far more common to get lost and add miles to the race than it is to cut the course, unless you intend to cut the course. That's all part of the fun, actually. Then all the YOLO types discovered ultras.

I was once accused of cutting the course on a 50K and to this day I don't know what happened. The race director got a long, detailed email after the race with my number and description and describing how I'd gone off and cut the course when I thought no one was watching. It made no sense. I was running with other people through the section they described - it simply could not have happened even by accident. I still don't understand it. (The race director thought it was BS, although he forwarded it to me to agonize over. I got the impression he got lots of similar messages from the same person.)
posted by lagomorphius at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I understand the temptation to DNF an endurance race, but not the temptation to cut a course.
posted by mattamatic at 8:21 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I still don't understand it. (The race director thought it was BS, although he forwarded it to me to agonize over. I got the impression he got lots of similar messages from the same person.)

To give you an idea of the mindset. There are a bunch of people who watch golf tournaments and call the clubhouse if they think that a golfer hasn't followed the rules.

The big deal on this is if you haven't, but you then take the correct penalty, you're fine -- but if you sign and turn in the scorecard and then this comes out? Then you're disqualified.

This almost happened to Tiger Woods once (and he did, in fact, break the rules) but he wasn't disqualified because he asked a course official for guidance and the course official said he was OK. So he argued that he'd already discussed the issue with the officials and they said he was fine. Woods did agree to take the penalty, but a number of people -- probably the same people calling the golf courses -- were pissed that they didn't DQ him.
posted by eriko at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a great story! And nice to see an Internet pitchfork mob actually be respectful and accomplish something useful for once. Like Bistle said, SlowTwitch seems to be an uncommonly civil place on the Internet.

I cannot fathom how a race coordinator would approve the time without the timing chip. OK maybe if she finished #197 in her category, who's to care? But the winner in her age bracket? Just happened to lose the one bit of technology whose sole purpose is to establish whether the time is accurate? Seems crazy-bad judgement to me.
posted by Nelson at 8:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I cannot imagine being on the podium and then discovering that the person one step ahead of me cheated... you work your ass off to even be there, and your moment is stolen by someone who does it for... what exactly? Not money, not personal goal, this is someone who is hungry for adulation I think. Just wants to be in the spotlight.

The argument that she was "framed" doesn't jive. She either has the WORST luck in the world with timing chips and race bibs, or she's a cheating cheater who deserves the scorn she is receiving from the athletes she "beat" by cheating.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


mandolin conspiracy: "This could be a Gordon Korman novel."

Or a Harvey Korman movie!
posted by boo_radley at 8:43 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Man, people maintaining innocence in the face of incriminating evidence throws me off. I know the evidence says that she's lying, but her earnest claims get me at gut feeling level and wash away the doubt for a time. Like, she must have processed the evidence too and if she maintains innocence, she must know something I don't know. Never mind that she failed to provide this additional evidence to race officials or the media. It's a hard feeling to shake.

Given how much lying takes place in this world, I wish I was better at spotting lies when I hear them.
posted by mantecol at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nelson: SlowTwitch seems to be an uncommonly civil place on the Internet.

WRT their mods:
to answer the person who asked what was wrong with the thread that is now gone from view, i don't find any of this fun. others do, but i don't. i place myself in the position of various parties and i don't see the entertainment value. i don't blame those who do see it, but i don't. we're all going to be in a different place in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. kids will grow up. we will grow old. i prefer to keep to the facts, which i think will help everybody involved more easily move to whatever the next place is in their lives.
Cortex, remember that guy the next time you need to hire a new mod -- he sounds like a perfect fit here!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:53 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Why would you put your chip on the inside of your ankle?

My guess would be that the ankle puts it closer to the mats they use to record the info, maybe it minimizes error.


Yeah, the chip is supposed to worn on the ankle (or tied to your shoe in single sport events) but every instruction I ever got was to adjust the strap so the chip is on the outside of the ankle.

I've had chips malfunction and been added to race results by sending in my GPS track. I've also (years ago) been part of a group that reported a serial marathon cheater (bogus BQ). Results are online and for most of these types of races the participants take pride in being ethical. They don't like being played. Cheating to win takes a whole other level of weirdness.

I haven't visited Slowtwitch in forever. Is the Denizens of the pool thread still going?
posted by TORunner at 8:54 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I find stories like this fascinating, the whole pathological liar concept. The way this woman keeps maintaining her innocence in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Has ready-made excuses as to why she can't provide her own evidence that would exonerate her (all of which paint her as the victim against evil antagonists). I always wonder, is she just sticking to the story knowing that it's bullshit, or at some point does someone like this get caught up in her own lies and start to think she's telling the truth and everyone else is wrong?
posted by The Gooch at 8:58 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


...someone who does it for... what exactly?

And how does she expect to be able to continue cheating? Losing number plates, losing chips -- there's only so many times that can happen, particularly with increased scrutiny.

There's something fundamentally irrational about all this.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


My favorite part of race weekends is joining the finish line and giving an extra push to those who are racing against their best selves - there are no trophies to win, no accolades to accumulate, and the people who keep battling against their own limits are the true champions of races. The more sports get "professional", the less we focus on this, but it is incredible to watch someone see their best self come out after putting in the work. I get smiley just thinking about that.

It helps me when watching competitions to remember that "losers" often have their own goals and successes. Like, my kid competed at the state gymnastics championship last week. There were kids on his team who didn't medal, but they got a personal best on one event or another. Or they hit a skill they'd been struggling with. Or the team as a whole put up its highest-ever combined score on an event. I love to see these things happen.

I had a friend who started doing triathlons a few years ago, and for awhile her goals were things like, not to walk at all during the running portion.

I struggle to understand the cheater mindset. I like getting positive attention for my accomplishments, but I think I like the accomplishments better than the attention. But cheating of this kind is so common, as is lying about past accomplishments: what college a person attended, or their military service, or how much money they used to make. It's both fascinating and sad, because there are a lot of people like you, scrittore, who are ready to celebrate their real accomplishments even if they're not winning the race.
posted by not that girl at 9:07 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


“We can’t prove what happened on the course in Ironman Canada in 2015, or what her intent was,” the regional director for Ironman, Keats McGonigal.

Can I just say that Keats McGonigal is a really great name?
posted by not that girl at 9:10 AM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


I find stories like this fascinating, the whole pathological liar concept.

I end up thinking most about the people in the liar's life. What does her husband think of all this? Was he in on it? If not, did he suspect, and if so, when?

We had a guy who worked at my office under a forged professional license. We eventually found him out and he resigned (which was the best option for us). He stayed in touch with a few people, and maintains his innocence still, and I think people thought maybe he was in the right, until the licensing board for his discipline sent out a big notice all over the city with his picture calling him a "X-imposter." It's been years, but I still wonder if his husband knew he was misrepresenting himself that way.
posted by OmieWise at 9:12 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man, people maintaining innocence in the face of incriminating evidence throws me off.

Gaslighting. Works doubly well when the perpetrator believes their own story because they have suppressed any faculty for self-criticism. You can never rationally convince a committed gaslighter to recant, that they were wrong. All they'll do is escalate. You can reveal their lies to the people around them, hopefully limiting the damage they do.

See also: the Trump candidacy. Who won the 40–44 women's triathalon is not such a big deal. The presidency of the United States, well, gaslighting is very effective if the only resistance it meets is hamstrung by politesse.
posted by Nelson at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I still don't understand it. (The race director thought it was BS, although he forwarded it to me to agonize over. I got the impression he got lots of similar messages from the same person.)

To give you an idea of the mindset. There are a bunch of people who watch golf tournaments and call the clubhouse if they think that a golfer hasn't followed the rules.

The big deal on this is if you haven't, but you then take the correct penalty, you're fine -- but if you sign and turn in the scorecard and then this comes out? Then you're disqualified.

This almost happened to Tiger Woods once (and he did, in fact, break the rules) but he wasn't disqualified because he asked a course official for guidance and the course official said he was OK. So he argued that he'd already discussed the issue with the officials and they said he was fine. Woods did agree to take the penalty, but a number of people -- probably the same people calling the golf courses -- were pissed that they didn't DQ him.


Just to add a little info. The race director didn't tell me he thought it was BS until I replied. And my reply was basically, I didn't think this happened, but I couldn't prove it, so if he wanted to DQ me that was fine.

I've seen other runners cheat at races, sometimes blatantly, but I've never reported them. I don't get it. The stakes aren't even low at these races - they're usually nonexistent. The only thing I can figure is there's some kind of culture these people want to belong to, but they don't want to actually do the work.

And people cheat in the weirdest ways. There was the runner who was well-known for finishing the race, getting his finishing medal, and then trying walk off with as many more as he could grab on the sly.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:22 AM on April 8, 2016


I struggle to understand the cheater mindset.
My 6-year old cheats a lot whenever we play or race, and I let him win because winning's important to him and his self-esteem, and he hasn't learned to find satisfaction in the joy of competing in itself or appreciate other types of results that are equally noteworthy.

And that's fine for now. He's 6. But the hope is that he'll mature out of his present behaviour as the majority of people do, and it will also be my job to gently nudge him in that direction.

I wonder if these serial cheaters - whether it be here or in other aspects in life - never mature in this aspect of their personality. They truly can't find the joy in the journey. Only the end. And the criteria for "the end" is so strict and so unyielding, they become prisoners of themselves.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I struggle to understand the cheater mindset. I like getting positive attention for my accomplishments, but I think I like the accomplishments better than the attention. But cheating of this kind is so common, as is lying about past accomplishments: what college a person attended, or their military service, or how much money they used to make. It's both fascinating and sad, because there are a lot of people like you, scrittore, who are ready to celebrate their real accomplishments even if they're not winning the race.

Maybe not in races, but have you never elided details of your past, when telling stories about yourself, to make things funnier or less embarrassing? Or like the classic fishing joke, exaggerated the size of the one that got away? It's a common human tendency. We want to be the heroes of our own stories. And also we are bad at remembering details, even when we want to do so. It's not hard to get from there to someone who habitually exaggerates/cheats/lies about what they've accomplished while also fuzzing up and forgetting as much of the truth as possible in their own minds.

No one else can prove what you actually know/remember, so hiding behind fuzzy memory is the easiest kind of dodge. It only catches up with you when people just stop trusting you at all, or in this case, when you are exposed in a public and recorded way that will follow you.
posted by emjaybee at 9:26 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Shout out to all the weekend (or weekday) warriors of MeFi who put up honest times in races no matter how they stack up against the competition.

Seconded. It's so great when someone accomplishes something that they worked for, no matter what it is. I run Ragnar Relays and I'm terrible but I'm on great, supportive teams and every time out I feel a little better and run a little faster. The feeling I get from completing a leg and beating myself is just amazing, even though bunches of people pass me along the way - though nearly every one of them has kind things to say as they do.

If I cheated in any way I would feel terrible inside and the congrats and cheers of my teammates, other runners, and spectators would sting. What I wonder about this is do these cheaters actually have positive feelings when they get their medals, cheers, articles written about them, etc.? I can't imagine it causing anything but more anxiety each time.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 9:31 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe not in races, but have you never elided details of your past, when telling stories about yourself, to make things funnier or less embarrassing? Or like the classic fishing joke, exaggerated the size of the one that got away? It's a common human tendency.

When I was young. But not for a long time now. I have been surprised when I've learned that people assume I do—I am a storyteller both informally and (formerly) on stage. I've had more than one person visit me at home and then tell me later that they'd always assumed I was making up or exaggerating the stuff I posted on Facebook about my youngest kid, until they met him and saw for themselves. But that was me making a decision about being an honest person, because I experienced the urge to make a story "better" very strongly when I was a kid and into young adulthood, and it made me feel like a dishonest person.

Of course, even in a true story, you might leave out details because they're irrelevant, and this might shape the story. For instance, if people ask me in passing where I went to college, I'll say the University of Michigan, and I know they will assume that I spent four years there. But, while I graduated from Michigan, I went to two other schools before transferring there as a junior. In a lot of contexts, it's time-consuming and irrelevant to go into those details. And that's very different from saying, "I went to the University of Chicago," or claiming a degree I don't have.

Sometimes when I'm at the gym during my son's gymnastics practices, I can watch a big class of girls running laps. The coach tells them to make their laps count, and to avoid cutting a corner, they are supposed to touch a certain pole as they turn. About half of them scrupulously touch the pole, and about half cut the corner if the coach isn't looking. I always wonder if you can predict which girls will make it onto the competitive team based on this behavior. The ones who cut the corner remind me of kids in gym class who don't want to be there (like me!), not wanting to do what's asked of them, trying to get away with something. I never liked running; I'd have cut every possible corner if I could. Or hidden under the bleachers and re-joined the class on the last lap of the track, if I could have gotten away with it.

I forget where I was going with this. Maybe thinking about behaviors most people outgrow, or just thinking about what it is people get from participating in an amateur sport.

Maybe it has something to do with identity, and anxiety over it. I am thinking about when I was young, when being smart really mattered to me, especially being known to be smart. And not just smart, but the smartest. Nearly all of the positive adult regard I got as a kid came from being smart and doing well in school, and through elementary school, I really was the smartest, or at least was treated by my teachers as if I was. It got harder in middle school, and I developed a whole bunch of dysfunctional reactions to this anxiety, to avoid testing whether I was the smartest or not. For instance, I rarely studied. If you don't study but then you get an A on the test, that just proves how smart you are. And if you don't get an A on the test, it doesn't mean anything—because you didn't study for it. You didn't try for the A. I never cheated in school, but I suppose that could have been another way of managing my anxiety, rather than dropping back and becoming an underachiever. Getting the best grades whether I earned them or not.

Maybe it's like that for some of these athletes. They want to be the best, be known as the best, but to actually try to be the best is very risky, because of course, you might not be. But being treated like you are, given the medal, helps hold off the anxiety.

If I'd never learned to value myself for other things than being smart, or if I'd never figured out that I am smart whether I can prove it with grades and test results, or if I'd never figured out that doing my best work is intrinsically satisfying and not just a means to earn a grade or award, who knows what dysfunctional behaviors I'd have carried into adult life with me? I'd never cheat at triathlons, but maybe I'd be...cheating at Mensa brain teasers? Or lying about my GRE scores? Or maybe I'd be filling out the New York Times crossword puzzle flawlessly, in ink, but only after the solution was posted, but there'd be all these inked-in old NYT crossword puzzles in the magazine rack in my bathroom or whatever, and if people commented on them, I'd say, "Oh, give me that, I don't know why I don't recycle those as soon as I'm done with them!" as if it was no big deal. Or maybe I'd be lying about all the bingos I'd gotten in Scrabble over the years but somehow never having time to play...or I'd get caught secretly hoarding tiles in my sleeve.

OK, yeah, I can kind of see it. I have no idea why these particular people actually cheat, but I can see my own path to being a cheater, so that helps.
posted by not that girl at 9:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [15 favorites]




Narcissists don't outgrow this behavior typically due to childhood trauma. Like borderline personality disorder, narcissism to its extreme looks a lot like PTSD. Not going to armchair diagnose but whenever you're truly perplexed about someone's pathological lying and gas lighting, ask yourself "is this person behaving in a narcissistic way" and search your soul for some empathy because they are likely riddled with insecurity and anxiety.
posted by aydeejones at 10:30 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Another trait of narcissists is that they love praise and recognition no matter how fake and unearned it is. At least, the strongest ones can simultaneously be proud of a false achievement taking in lots of "supply" from adulation even as they loathe themselves for cheating and add that trauma ("had to cheat to be loved") to their list of things to be assy-guilty about, which always manifests outwardly, never their fault, but if they admit fault it turns into a huge pity party. It's basically like arrested development. Sucks, I think narcissism is super common at a baseline level but some families take it to the extreme, especially high achieving impatient parents who had less achieving but still narcissistic parents to beat them down and be "shown" their inferiority by their more successful young. Sheesh
posted by aydeejones at 10:35 AM on April 8, 2016


I'd never cheat on something like this for all the usual reasons (moral, ethical, etc.). But it's easy for me to understand the mindset. Winning is fun. Accomplishing finishing a triathlon (unthinkable to me) is also fun, but it's not as fun as winning one, especially if you have finished many of them already.

Maybe I'm just maladjusted, but IMHO the reason most people don't cheat is because they know it's wrong, and they have an adult level of self control to not do things that they know are wrong even if they are pleasurable. That's part of outgrowing childhood -- "bad" things don't necessarily stop being fun, but you know better than to do them.
posted by primethyme at 10:46 AM on April 8, 2016


But it's easy for me to understand the mindset.

Yeah, I dunno. I can't think of anything worse, to be honest. Winning, yes, love it. Trying something hard, definitely. But I'm trying to imagine cheating and actually getting away with it... standing on the podium while the "second" place finisher looks at me in disbelief. Like, omg, it would be a nightmare you can't wake up from. It would destroy me. I can't understand the mindset at all.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Man, people maintaining innocence in the face of incriminating evidence throws me off.

She's all-in on this deceit. Fessing up wouldn't get her unblacklisted, would stir up a bunch more bad publicity, and would invite a bunch of difficult questions that she may prefer not to think about. And for what benefit?
posted by aubilenon at 11:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Once you've come in dead last in a half-marathon but you threw-up and almost quit at the halfway mark but decided you were going to force yourself to finish anyways, any finish seems like a victory.

I admire the hell out of people who run faster than me (i.e. everyone) and especially the people who I see returning toward the finish line (during out and back races) when I've barely left the starting line. They train their asses off to get that good. Most of the top runners I've met don't talk about wins but talk about personal bests or interesting things that happened to them during races or how they just made it to the port-o-potie at the end of the race. The general attitude among all of the folks I know who race seems to be (as one runner expressed in the article) "if you cheat, you're only cheating yourself."

I run because I love the camaraderie of race day and the support of the crowd and because it lets me develop a more personal relationship with my city. I guess some people run to win and some people just want to win without necessarily doing the running part. It makes no sense to me though. I suppose the point, sort of, is that it makes no sense.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:00 PM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


But it's easy for me to understand the mindset. Winning is fun.

There’s some fundamental differences in people about this. Competition is not in my genes. Winning is fun for me. Mildly. But mostly I’m in competition with myself (and the competition is not that tough, honestly). If I beat you in a race it just means I’m faster than you. So what? If I keep improving my time that means something to me.

These people aren’t about winning, they’re about being seen as winners, they didn’t win and they know it. That’s what’s odd to me. It’s just bizarre that you’d want people to think you’re one of the best when you’re not.

But the thing that is the most crazy about this is that her business is all based around her personality. She’s not an accountant. This can only really hurt her business and she had to know that and did it anyway. Being known as someone who participates in these events and is competent would serve her business just fine, yet she chose to throw that all away for false praise. Weird.
posted by bongo_x at 12:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Being known as someone who participates in these events and is competent would serve her business just fine, yet she chose to throw that all away for false praise. Weird.

But being known as someone who participates in these events and is among the very best would serve her business even better, right? Doesn't seem weird at all to me.
posted by Etrigan at 12:31 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's not terribly hard to forge a Garmin GPS track, by the way. Better part of an afternoon with some mapping software that can output a track log (eg; for planning a car route); a little bit of python/perl scripting to finagle the GPX (it's just XML data, guys!) into something that looks like it came off the watch with bogus pace/HR data, and you're good to go.

Only a little bit harder to shove that file back onto the watch, if they require pulling it from there directly. I know I can blast waypoint data into my ancient Garmin 305; but I'm not so sure about the newer one. Still, I wouldn't expect any security around this.

I find it absurd that McGonigal would have accepted her explanation with the presentation of a track log. Frankly, if she'd bothered to fab up a track log, she probably would have had a better chance of not getting caught because she'd have to hit occasional waypoints at the right times. (Though, I expect with a little planning ahead, you could do your regular cheating plan, hit your waypoints when you hit them, and then have your cheat-tool interpolate properly so you hit those points at the right times in your bogus tracklog.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 1:00 PM on April 8, 2016


It helps me when watching competitions to remember that "losers" often have their own goals and successes.

Out on a training run I have no clue who is what age. Who has what medical issue. Who is rehabbing after knee surgery. Who has been training hard. Who has been running for 10 years versus 10 days. I also don't how far you have run or how far you plan to run. I can't tell who is going for an easy run and who is giving it everything they have got.

During a race I can't tell what corral people started in. I don't know if people are actually faster than me or just started ahead of me. I can pass people who still outrun me. People can pass me and I can still outrun them. Until the race is over and I see my rankings I have no clue about my relative performance or other peoples relative performance.

I have zero insight into peoples actual state.

It's a great lesson for life.
posted by srboisvert at 1:06 PM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


These people aren’t about winning, they’re about being seen as winners, they didn’t win and they know it. That’s what’s odd to me. It’s just bizarre that you’d want people to think you’re one of the best when you’re not.

What percentage of American homes are under water again? How much debt are people carrying? Pretending to be a winner when you are not is probably most normal thing in the world to do.
posted by srboisvert at 1:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think that's a bit of a flawed analogy there. People straining to bite off more than they can chew is not the same as misrepresenting themselves and constructing intricate fabrications to best others in a staged competition. If anything, your analogy suggests people might try to, like, run too fast in a race and not pace themselves well. I would agree with that!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2016


bongo_x: "There’s some fundamental differences in people about this. Competition is not in my genes. Winning is fun for me. Mildly. "

My father and I used to have this discussion all the time. He couldn't understand how I could play D&D, nominally a game, for hours on a Saturday afternoon and not have it result in a winner. A cooperative "win" wasn't something he could relate to.

Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick: "It's not terribly hard to forge a Garmin GPS track"

This would be a big mistake on her part because coupled with the extensive photo log of the event they have a good chance of actually proving that the track was fabricated when a photo shows her at a point that doesn't agree with the track or vice versa. This would move her disqualification justification from strongly suspect to 100% certainty.
posted by Mitheral at 3:02 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


“My readers think that doping is reprehensible, but that cutting the course is worse, almost incomprehensible,...At least if you dope, you’re still trying to win the race by actually completing it.”

Wow. She actually managed to make doping look good by comparison. That's quite an acheivment.
posted by telstar at 3:19 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Though, I expect with a little planning ahead, you could do your regular cheating plan, hit your waypoints when you hit them, and then have your cheat-tool interpolate properly so you hit those points at the right times in your bogus tracklog.)

Doesn't that end up being more work than just running the stupid race?
posted by jeather at 3:37 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I always had the same question when faced with scientists who fabricate data, jeather: isn't it easier just to do the work in the first place? So one day I posed this question to someone who is not as moral or honest as I would like, and he replied: "Oh, but it's much more clever this way." It's not about not doing the hard work; it's about being smarter (for some value of intelligence, anyway) than the people who did do it.
posted by sockermom at 4:28 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


jeather: "Doesn't that end up being more work than just running the stupid race?"

She wasn't cheating to complete; she was cheating to "win".
posted by Mitheral at 5:03 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The most damning evidence against Miller is simply that her chip malfunctioned or was lost on so many different occasions. I suppose she got away with it once-- maybe the first time truly by accident?-- and then found so much of her identity predicated around winning that she counted on being able to get away with it forever. (After many races, I only had problems with my chip once, and that was my own fault-- I had positioned it wrongly so some of the times didn't record. The odds of it happening so often to her, and particularly in races where she PRd, seem very very small.)

I've got a friend on Facebook who constantly lies about how much she's training. She's on the same spectrum as this woman, although I tend not to care since her lies only impact herself. I wonder how far gone you need to be to go from posturing to cheating during a race, and how close those things really are to each other. Food for thought.
posted by frumiousb at 6:41 PM on April 8, 2016


But being known as someone who participates in these events and is among the very best would serve her business even better, right? Doesn't seem weird at all to me.

I’m not seeing how. The article says she's; "a mental health counselor specializing in body-image disorders...she also runs a company that helps new parents deal with babies’ sleep problems"

She promotes herself with an image; she participates in triathlons and like sports. That might make people interested in her at her job, but I don’t really see how "she came in first place" gets her more clients. It’s hard to imagine "I heard she’s a good counselor, but then I found out she didn’t finish first", or "She really helped with our baby, but we dropped her when we found out she didn’t win the triathlon".

But I can imagine lots of people making similar statements after finding out about the cheating.
posted by bongo_x at 1:36 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


bongo_x: "I don’t really see how "she came in first place" gets her more clients."

Small town advertising/brand awareness. She'll get a lot more local TV time and column inches being placing first in an event than coming in 37th. Squamish isn't the smallest town in BC but it's close. And it won't be just post race; I bet she got interviewed multiple times pre-races.
posted by Mitheral at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Super late to the race, but agreeing that a faked GPX would likely be more damning as it would need to match the time/positions where there was proof that she was via photos.

At the last 10k I ran, it's a small, mostly local one. Usualy 500-600 participants do the 10k, it was down to about 400 because of weather and construction re-routing the course. When I finished and saw the printouts, I was N'th place overall. I took a picture (N was less than 100, so this was my best by far position).

While I was getting my refreshments, I saw three people with laptops going through race photos and talking animatedly. I heard an "They definitely weren't there."

When the final race results came up, I found out that I was N-2th place. Not one, but two people had apparently cheated, and been disqualified by someone reporting something like "I wasn't passed by this person." without there being photos to give belief they ran the full course.

While the local promoter who does most of the runs in the area pretty much always just has the one timing mat, they more than make up for it in my mind by having 3-4 photographers who make sure to get everyone, and making all of the photos available for free oneline. Initially I just thought that was cool (well, depressing; my first 10k featured high-def pictures of me looking like I was about to fall down at all points), but after seeing how they used their ready source of images to check reported fraud, I couldn't see how all races wouldn't have this, and then make the data available for free.

That same group puts on a much smaller ~100 person multi day event, and again, they've just got the start/stop timer does grab split time for the events that involved laps. They mentioned a policy of respecting GPX data if there was a timing fault, and made comments that they'd ensure if matched the photos. You'd have to be pretty on-the-ball to recalibrate the time on a pre-plotted gpx to match your times while also cutting in and out of any courses.

Realistically I guess it wouldn't be too hard to design an app to accept a few manual time/gps points that you'd push a button to record and it will fill in the data inbetween; maybe even taking into account the height profile so it doesn't have you running stupidly 6:00 up hill and 6:00 down hill. But then it might be a bit more of a challenge; you'd have to arrive at the photo spots at appropriate times for the average pace while never making any unreasonable paces, all while not being noticed by people going at about the same pace. If you pass / are passed by the same person multiple times in a race that really sticks in your head. And as noted, it seems that most of the people expecting to pace are hyper aware of their (relative) positions.

I agree that I think most people would look more kindly on dopers than cutters.
posted by nobeagle at 11:21 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I agree that I think most people would look more kindly on dopers than cutters.

Oh, absolutely. Dopers are still doing the work. They're cheating, but they're still swimming 2.4 miles, bicycling 112 miles, and running a marathon (or whatever the particular competition is). Cutters, though... cutters are disregarding the entire point of the competition.
posted by Etrigan at 12:59 PM on April 11, 2016


How can you guarantee that photographers will catch every runner, though? I've been in races before and was bummed that the photographers didn't catch me at certain parts of the race, likely because they were swapping the battery, or a memory card, or were just chatting with someone during the moment I passed them.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:07 PM on April 11, 2016


How everyone gets captured? Well, part of it I guess would be dedication on the part of the photographers (E.G. spare camera ready to pick up if one has issues), combined with the larger part of this is that the faster people will be less grouped so it's easier to catch them. Combine that with a (current) lack of automated searching by number causing disqualification, but instead a trusted member of the community "flagging" that something hinky went on. So getting missed by a photog isn't the problem, so much as getting missed by the photog and already having an anomolous enough performance that someone's gone to the officials.

I guess for an event with 3-5 laps it will be less evident where the lead pack is and it could cause some "temporary" odd groupings. I'd suggest posting a video camera (heck, 2-5 fps would be fine for runners with their slower approach) at desired checkpoints to supplement any photos taken. Even if it's a big pack of bikes/runners one should at least be able to catch the faces if not the bib.

There could be technical difficulties with a camera too, but the problem occurs with a pairing of flagged performance and lack of capture. Perhaps it's just because I'm not really close to the top, but I imagine (more to the point, I'd like to imagine) that accusing someone of cutting the course isn't that common.
posted by nobeagle at 2:00 PM on April 11, 2016


nobeagle>

Video checkpoints seems so obvious is there a reason they don’t do that? It’s not like it’s difficult or expensive these days.
posted by bongo_x at 3:03 PM on April 11, 2016


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "How can you guarantee that photographers will catch every runner, though?"

A well designed trap where runners are forced/encouraged to single file could easily grab everyone automatically with an automatic trap. dSLR Trap triggers are available in kit form for ~$150.

Or just mount trail cameras along the course. Decent ones start at less than $200.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2016


Yes, sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. My point was how could you use photographs in a race where you *hadn't* set up automatic capture to determine who had and had not finished the race.

I agree with your solutions, of course.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:28 AM on April 12, 2016


bongo_x : it could just be that there's not currently a lot of need for it combined with cameras doing well enough. But as currently running is still seeing an increasing numbers of participants, something like this might be needed. Certainly for any of the events with purses bigger than $1k they could use a few.

Initially, I was wondering how someone would cut in/out of a group of runners while reliably not being noticed. Then I remembered our weakness: porta potties. Jump out of line at a porta a pottie, and take off one's bib (or have a shirt under your current shirt, and change the order. When you come out, you'll look like a volunteer who used a porta pottie. Then one goes out, makes their cut, and then uses a porta pottie much further up the route, to make the switch again. Granted for something like a 10 km there's likely to be few stops, but certainly starting at the half marathon distance there's a number of options.
posted by nobeagle at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2016


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: " My point was how could you use photographs in a race where you *hadn't* set up automatic capture to determine who had and had not finished the race.
"

Event photographs will be tagged on social media and include the time. Someone familiar with the course will be able to identify the location those photos were taken in at least some cases if only because they'll have been taken around watering points or cross overs.

Take for example the articles featured race. I've marked up part of the map. If my wife had been running that course I'd have initially set up at X0 to take pictures; driven to X1; walked across to X2 and then moved up to X3 as she went around the course. Even if I only took pictures of her there would have been others in the background. At X3 they would have been going both directions. It's likely I would have been taking pictures as well of people she knows or just the runners going by to confirm framing and exposure or just because. I'd probably upload a dozen or so but would have hundreds of exposures available if organizers were to contact me. And the pictures would be time calibrated to the course because of the start/finish pictures.

There will be dozens of spectators doing the same thing to a greater or lesser degree.

It's easy to add the racer numbers, locations and times to a GIS and get a feel for who was where. Someone who skipped running part of the course is going to be suspiciously ghostly in the data. And any points you do have for a suspicious runner can point to unrealistic paces between points.

This sounds like what pretty much happened to lead to the disqualification.
posted by Mitheral at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was the runner who was well-known for finishing the race, getting his finishing medal, and then trying walk off with as many more as he could grab on the sly.

OMG so: I competed in a triathlon this weekend. Olympic distance (i.e., much much shorter than the Ironman), but still a tough course. I'm a Clydesdale, which in triathlon-world is a special category for guys who weigh more than 220 lbs./100 kg; it's a sport that heavily (ha!) favors the lightweight. The thing is, unlike age-group categories, you have to specifically opt in.

So I finish the race, and I feel pretty good, and I go over to the results tent and I see I'm the first Clyde to finish! I feel great. But it's raining, and the awards ceremony is very abbreviated - the race director pretty much just hands me my award (a little Lucite thing) without any to-do since I'm in the last category to be announced and everyone else is already scurrying away to take shelter.

...and then I get home, and I look up the full results. Reader, I was the only one in my category. I could have walked the whole way and still "earned" that little trophy. Made me want to give the damn thing back.
posted by psoas at 3:14 PM on April 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


Oh hell no. You keep that. I proudly have a framed certificate in my office for a 2nd place finish in a 5k... that was cut short by about 1/4 mile due to road issues, and I could maybe have finished first but my Garmin flaked out at the start so I paused to wait until it reset, then pushed myself too hard to get back in front of the pack (which was small, because it was a small race!) and then I slowed down near the end, because I started too fast, so a woman passed me right before the finish and got first place.

The certificate says "2nd over the finish line" but technically I was 3rd, because I was pushing my son in a jogging stroller, so he went over the line before me.

It was the shortest 5k ever, and smallest race I ever attended, but I finished 2nd and will hang on to that forever because I am usually a 9 min mile runner (when in PEAK condition) and am almost never in the top 50% of finishers for my gender and age category. Doesn't matter. I once got 2nd place. Legitimately.

Your Lucite Clydesdale trophy is yours to cherish.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:56 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


And now the NYTimes has found video evidence showing that Miller cut the course by running the loop only once.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:45 AM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


The NYTimes article raises the question why the race directors didn't check that footage before determining the winner and/or determining to later disqualify her.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:27 AM on April 27, 2016


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