Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Is it Cheating? 9 Things Runners Do that Might Be Sketchy

We live in a time of unprecedented cheating--in school, in life, and in sports. Everyone wants to get ahead at any cost. With regards to running, it's become so out of control that there's a website devoted to runners who cheat in road races.

In the running world, cheaters are more the exception than the rule. Most of us aren't in this sport to win. We run for the love of the sport. We run for fitness. We run for the bling. But there are things that most of us are doing that could be considered cheating. For us recreational runners, what's the concern? It's not as if we're going to win the race, right? Are we really hurting anyone besides ourselves?

What do you think?



Is it cheating if you: 

Pause Your Garmin?
During training runs, many runners, including myself, pause their watch for a potty stop, for water, for a stoplight, to tie a shoe, and for other reasons. Is pausing your Garmin during a training run really cheating? Isn't the point of training to improve our running skills and work on weaknesses? What if I post my results on a social media site such as Strava? Other people can see those results and might think that I'm faster than I really am.

Bottom line: if I'm cheating anyone by pausing my Garmin, it's myself. I can live with that.

Round Down Your Finish Times?
We all know that runner who rounds down his PR or finish time. Rounding down the seconds is one thing. But rounding down the minutes? As in running a half in 2:xx and saying you finished in 2 hours. I know people who do this. Especially when it comes to sharing a PR. Heck, I was so embarrassed by my first marathon that I did it with my finish time. I finished in 5:27:56, but I told everyone that I finished in 5:25, which to me is still awful. Did I hurt anyone by doing this? No, but it's really not being truthful. It's so easy to look up people's results, so why bother?

Bottom line: lying about finish times and PRs, even if it's "only" shaving off minutes or seconds, is cheating.

Wear Headphones 
It's hard to believe that this would ever be considered cheating, but purists think so. Elite runners can't wear headphones in a race, so why should we mere mortals be allowed to wear headphones? Some races ban headphones, but I've run in some of those races while wearing headphones and no one even looked at me twice. The theory behind this rule is that runners wearing headphones can be distracted by their music and not paying attention to what's happening on the road. If the race has a no-headphones rule, then runners should abide by it.

Bottom line: wearing headphones might be breaking the rules but it isn't cheating.

Cut corners on the course 
There's running the tangents and then there's running up onto the sidewalk to round the corner, especially in a crowded road race. I've seen it happen more and more. When races are measured, the course is measured in the shortest distance possible that a runner can cover it. Most of the races I've run, I've run further than the race distance. If you've come up short on your Garmin, think about it. Was the course measured short? Or did you cut the tangents a little too close?

Bottom line: cutting the race course short is cheating.

Wear someone else's bib
At this year's Rock'N'Roll Chicago half marathon, a friend of mine had to DNS. She offered her bib to me to give to someone but we couldn't figure out how to get the bib from the expo without my friend actually picking it up herself. There are a few reasons why you shouldn't run using another runner's bib unless the race has a big swapping policy. Safety is a big concern. What if you get hurt on the course while running on someone else's bib? Running on another person's bib messes up age group results. What if you run on another person's bib and you place in the age group? Especially if there is a big age gap between you and the bib owner? AWKWARD.

Bottom line: wearing another person's race bib is cheating.

Walk during the race
Before I started doing run/walk intervals, I frowned upon people who walked in a race. Actually, I still do when they start in one of the front corrals to get a head start on the race. Annoying? Yes. I always make sure I'm off to the side when I walk.

Bottom line: annoying not cheating. Dean Karnazes said it best: "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but never give up." 

Drink coffee (or any other caffeinated) before you run or race
I don't hit the road--or leave the house, for that matter--without my morning cup of coffee. Caffeine has positive effects on performance and for many of us, gives us that extra boost. Since caffeine is not a banned substance, I say drink up!

Bottom line: not cheating.

Train on a treadmill
Many of us die-hard outdoors runners love to hate on the treadmill and only resort to it in desperate times. Others love running on their treadmills and swear by it. Although treadmill running can be mentally taxing, it's actually easier on the body. There's also the thought that since the treadmill dictates the pace, it forces the body to move at a certain speed. In a way, too much treadmill running could cheat the runner out of learning to deal with uneven terrain, changing weather conditions, and managing pacing.

Bottom line: the only person you might be cheating is yourself.

Hire a coach
I had to include this. So many of us have worked with coaches to help us meet our running goals. Is training with a coach considered cheating? Training with a coach gives a runner an objective opportunity to improve their performance. There are many different ways to work with a running coach and the most economical one is using an online coach. A great coach will work with the runner to individualize their training plan. I worked with a coach for my last 3 marathons and it was the best money I ever spent. I loved having someone in charge of my training. All I had to do was put in the work.

Bottom line: you can take a horse to water but you can't make them drink. You have to do the work. Not cheating.

What do you think? Cheating or not cheating? Anything I missed?

I'm linking up with Marcia, Erika, and Patti for Tuesdays on the Run and Rachel, Debbie, Marc, and Lora for Running Coaches' Corner.


65 comments :

  1. So much of cheating is in the eye of the beholder. Seems like there are some who can rationalize anything. I have to say at Gasparilla earlier this year there were lots of walkers. What was most interesting about that was they all used proper etiquette, pulling over to the right and raising their right arm before they stopped. It was refreshingly wonderful.

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    1. Oh how nice is that! It seems like every big city race I run, there's THAT walker who started in the A corral, walking down the middle of the street, that everyone has to weave around. Sigh.

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  2. I don't think pausing your Garmin on a training run is cheating, but I'm not sure how I feel about deducting any stops from a race finish time ....

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    1. Do people do that? At least the timing chips keep them honest!

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  3. I can see your post is going to trigger a lot of discussion, and I agree with Teamarcia, it is in the eye of the beholder...
    I sometimes pause my garmin, sometimes not; I struggle to remember finish times, so probably round them up; I only ever wear headphones on the treadmill (very occasionally); they are very strict on them here in South Africa and they do disqualify athletes who run with them in races; I drink tons of caffeine; have never swopped a bib; do walk in races (veering off to the side) and I have a coach. If I run a race and I measure short/over, I reckon it's par for the course. I'm never going to win anything anyway, so its only me that ends up getting short changed.

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    1. I agree--these are all gray areas and really, who cares but us?

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  4. Believe it or not, I (slowly) ran that entire first marathon, but have run/walked every one since. I agree with you on those walkers who feel they can take a leisurely stroll down the middle of the course. I stay to the right the entire time, then raise my right arm for several seconds before I pull to the side and slow to a walk (I swear, most people don't even know what I'm doing).

    I thought you were going to say running with headphones might be considered cheating because the music might make the person run faster!

    I see lots of people cutting those corners. I just don't get any of it.

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    1. I guess running with music could give a person a boost, but so could people cheering along the race course, right?

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  5. It's funny when I first started running I use to think I was cheating if you walked during a race - I was "supposed to" run the whole thing right? Fast forward to now and I'm grateful for run/walk intervals.

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  6. Ok, I must say I take umbrage about walking being cheating. :) Not only does it work for me, help prevent fatigue, help prevent injury (doesn't make you bulletproof of course), it's allowed me to go longer & faster.

    Is it annoying? I'm sure it is. So are the packs running 5 across (just look at team RWB -- not the only time they were spread out like that!). I'm very conscientious about trying to be on the side and being aware of the people behind me.

    Pausing my Garmin? I do it sometimes and it's only cheating myself so I don't care. I don't drink coffee, only green tea, but I do take a caffeine supplement for races & I find it helps. It's a legal supplement so I don't think that's cheating either.


    Rounding your time? Never occurred to me & never even occurred to me that people do it!

    Elites have coaches. Of course not only am I never going to win a race, I'll probably never win my AG even. But like you, I enjoy not thinking (too much) about my runs. I definitely enjoy working with Rachel & it's been super helpful even though we've never met in person.

    I am not a treadmill hater. I am also not a treadmill lover, other than the fact that I love it's an option for me in my own home in bad weather. Which there is plenty of up here. And I do think it gives my body a break, too. Sometimes it's just faster when I'm time crunched.

    I will say that if you're training for a race, treadmill running ought to be kept to a minimum. Because if you're going to run a road race, run on roads. A trail race, run on trails.

    Great post Wendy!

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    1. IMHO, since walking slows you down, I don't see how it could be considered cheating. But you never know..

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  7. I'm quite law-abiding when it comes to anything I do... BUT I was once very frustrated by the course being so much longer than it was supposed to be (11km instead of 10km) that I stopped my watch when I got to 10km and counted that has my 10km time (in my own records). Of course the official time was completely different. But it never really sat right as it was kind of cheating myself. But I felt cheated by the course. (There I go trying to justify it! LOL) Shathiso @www.thegaboronerunner.com

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    1. Ha! I had that happen with a 10k once that ended up being like 7.5 miles...yes, I felt cheated too!

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  8. One thing not mentioned is the use of pacers. I guess it would be a similar concept to the treadmill, in that the runner is sort of relying on something other than just themselves to stay in motion (ideally at a desired pace). Technically, they are not doing anything illegal, but I'd have a tough time taking credit for PR if I didn't do all the work unassisted. High standards LOL

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    1. I considered adding pacers to this list but there are pace groups and would any of us argue that running with a pace group is cheating?

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  9. I don’t see pausing my watch in training as cheating because I only pause for reasons that are non-issues in race like refilling water (aid stations on race day!) and crossing lights/busy intersections (closed roads on race day and I’m def not going to risk my life for the sake of not pausing!)

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    1. I pause my watch all the time--but that's just me!

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  10. I get really cross about the headphone thing because I know how important it is - I've both been marshalling at events and trying to get people to hear me for their own safety and been in a race screaming at oblivious folk that the motorbikes and all the half-marathon runners were going to run into them if they didn't get out of the way, but they couldn't hear me ... argh! Great post, anyway!

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    1. I have the "bone conducting" headphones so hopefully I'd hear you over my music!

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    2. Oh that's fine, those are actually allowed in all races by England Athletics. Plus I'm sure you behave yourself impeccably while racing anyway!

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  11. Cutting corners on a course is no good but training on the treadmill . . . sometimes a necessary evil. I don't run with music although I totally get why some people love to.

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    1. I think we all have to resort to the mill on occasion...

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  12. I pause my watch at one intersection on our Saturday runs because it irks me to lose nearly two minutes waiting for the signal to change, LOL.

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    1. I always pause my watch at the intersections! If we were in a race, the intersection would be blocked for us, right?

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  13. For me it depends on the goal. Is a runner simply giving away their bib because they're legit injured, or are they giving it intentionally to a bib mule to get a BQ? Most runners aren't trying to get a leg up if we're pausing our Garmins or listening to music. I paused my Garmin at a potty stop in May because the lines weren't moving fast, and I wanted to know my actual running time.

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    1. I agree with you on the bib issue--it's not cheating if you're just running the race but it is a safety issue.

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  14. I never see pausing my watch as cheating. I always say that I'm only in a battle with myself when it comes to times and paces, lol

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  15. Drinking coffee is defknjitrly not cheating. I have been in races where they say not to wear headphones but like you no one has ever told me to take them out. I do pause my Garmin at red lights though.

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    1. I don't think drinking coffee is cheating either! I call it my pre-workout.

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  16. I almost always pause my Garmin if I stop on training runs. My thinking is that I want to know my actual training time. I have to be careful during a race because hitting that button becomes a habit and I don't want to do it if I'm racing.

    I do tend to round my race times, but only because I really can't remember the seconds. Even my marathon PR I round to 3:16 (I think it's 3:16:24). The only one I don't round is a half marathon I ran about 5 years ago. I was trying to break 2:00 and I ran 2:00:10 and that 10 seconds still bothers me! I wouldn't take minutes off though.

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    1. Oh, that over 2 hour thing would bug me too! But I wouldn't round down either. Maybe I'd say that I finished "a Little over" 2 hours.

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    2. Yeah, even my blog post about it was titled Mission Accomplished (almost).

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  17. I think if people cheat they are only cheating themselves... I stop my Watch on training runs while waiting for the light so I can cross the street. I have used a coach. Ran on treadmills. Taken advil to keep pain away. I think things are really only cheating when you are competing to win.... and in that case, I think people should follow the rules.

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    1. You nailed it. Like I said, you're only hurting yourself in most of these things.

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  18. Hmmm.... good things to think about. When I talk about my race times, I often drop the seconds, because I usually don't remember them. The exception to that is my 5k PR. It was 23:01. Ugh! One second!!! I also walk during almost every race I have ever run. I did the walk/run method for the Flying Pig Marathon and qualified for Boston. I don't consider that cheating. I have a friend who unintentionally cut a marathon course and got a BQ. I do consider that cheating. She ran Boston, but took another person's place who could have run.

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    1. The way it is to get into Boston, if I was on the cusp, I'd be really upset knowing people cheated and took my place~ How did you feel about that?

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  19. I agree- i think when it comes to racing certain things can be considered cheating, but in training pretty much anything goes. Like you said, in most cases your only cheating yourself!

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    1. That's the thing--it doesn't hurt anyone else if it's only happening in training.

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  20. I think it is OK to do all of those items on the list during training. I mean, it is not like you're going to win anything anyway. But during a race? Well, some things I can let go (wearing headphones, drinking coffee, and walking) but definitely not cutting corners on the course.

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    1. In all my recent Chicago races, I've seen people hop up on the sidewalks to cut the corners on the tangents. Grrrrr

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  21. Totally agree with you on all of these. I used to not pause my Garmin and be super hard on myself about having to stop for any reason but now I'm a little more relaxed on long runs!

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    1. I do stop a lot more now on my training runs. I should really take it more seriously, I guess... :p

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  22. I have my garmin set to auto pause bc we often have to stop for cars at lights. I’m ok w that as I’m not setting any records over here. I do think think it’s bad etiquette and probably cheating to run a race on someone else’s bib.

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    1. My old Garmin was set to auto-pause but I haven't figured out to set this one...

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  23. I think it's all in the eye of the beholder too and what your goals are! I used to never stop my watch or walk... but times have changed! lol! Taking a bib is never a good idea though.

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    1. I am stopping my Garmin more and more these days...lol

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  24. I love this post! There are definitely sketchy things runners do, but at the end of the day, people have to ask themselves why they run, and are these behaviors helping them or hurting them?

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    1. I truly believe that if you are running to be competitive (even against yourself) then you need to train that way. If you're used to stopping, it might be hard mentally to push through those tough times during the race.

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  25. I pause my Garmin during training runs for things like crossing the street or having a mini pity party if I'm having a bad run. I always fess up to my coach, though. Lol! I never pause during racing because the official time doesn't stop so why should my watch?

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    1. I'm knowing the pity party quite well these days!

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  26. Interesting list! I pause my watch during runs (usually for crossing the street or refilling water), use walk intervals and headphones :) But I'm pretty much running for fun and to stay healthy anyway and these things all help make running sustainable and enjoyable for me.

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  27. I've wondered about pausing my Garmin while training and misleading people to think I am faster than I really am, but in the end it's for my own personal record. There will be no pausing the time clock on race day!
    As for cutting corners, I take the shortest route possible while staying on the road and I don't consider that cheating. I don't consider walking cheating either. If I can come in faster than someone else with walk breaks mixed in than even better.

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  28. I have raced a few marathons in headphones and felt a little on the fence about it! Especially since one was a small-ish race and I won it for the females - finish line picture posted in the local newspaper... with my headphones in still. Non-runners wouldn't care but I was thinking maybe some serious runners would have a problem with it! Thankfully it was a teeny tiny victory, so no one complained ;)

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    1. Hey, a win is a win! I always wear headphones, even at the Chicago Marathon when people told me it was wrong. I needed to shut out the noise and get in my head.

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  29. I never pause my Garmin simply because I've forgotten to resume way too many times! I do love my treadmill, especially in the winter, and coffee? A must have. ;) As for rounding down, yep, no matter much much those two seconds in my 04:30:02 marathon PR irk me, I would never round down. Great post!
    ~Laura

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    1. I like that you think that way. That's how I am. I'm not hurting anyone but myself, but it just feels wrong.

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  30. I'm such a detail oriented person that it would never dawn on me to post or tell someone my race time without stating the time down to the seconds. Anything less wouldn't be accurate in my book. LOL

    Also, I always, always, always stop my watch when I stop during a training run. Since it's not a race and my time is my time, I'm not hurting anyone.

    Fun and great post!

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  31. Missed this until someone linked it in a Runfessions post last week. Of course I'm still playing catchup and now don't remember who
    I have no issue pausing Garmin at a light - there shouldn't be any on race day. For the others I won't because I imagine I might have to deal with them during a race
    Walkers only make me crazy when they & selfie takers are right in the middle "lane". Be courteous, move over and signal while you're doing so

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