The miserable world of mules and bandits

It seems that when training for a marathon, in addition to navigating the running community’s over-enthusiasm for a) running; and b) acronyms; one must also sacrifice every aspect of time previously regarded to as ‘free’. 

Take the weekend, for example. 

Long held sacrosanct in my world, where free time involved a sofa, copious amounts of food, same amounts of wine, newspapers littering coffee tables and tying children to video games. Maybe throw in a 4 hour bath if I’m feeling it.

Alas, no more. It becomes apparent all too quickly that the weekends are all about the Long Slow Run. 

The LSR, as they call it (probably in an attempt to shave a few nano-seconds off a pronunciation PB) is the foundation from which all good long distance runners are built. 

So here was my ambition for this weekend. A long, slow run.  Hopefully followed by previous stipulated free time exploits.

I got the long right. And it was definitely slow. God, it went on for absolute ever. Interminable. 

Long STUPID run. 

During this hour and a half of my life I will never get back, as I trudged around my new discoveries of North London, my mind bled to various fantasies in order to keep me moving. 

Not those fantasies. 

More the cheating variety, thanks to an article I read analysing long-distance running cheats. (For a friend, obvs). 

As Mark Wilding explained in The Guardian there is an underworld of marathon cheaters, and those who marshal them. 

This too is where we get more brilliant runner’s vocab. Mark tells us about Bib Mules (runners who steal another runner’s race number, apparently in the hope of recording a qualifying time for another race); Bib Bandits (runners who make up bib numbers in order to get in to another race). And as he points out, let’s not forget the classics – those who sneak corners, jump barriers or simply do not do the whole course, just to get a finishers’ medal, or a podium place.  

I can understand why someone might want to cheat, if they’re forced to do something they really don’t want to be doing.

 I remember watching a bunch of boys cut about 800m off a three kilometre school run we were forced to do at Raureka Primary. These lads decided instead of looping back around the school grounds like the rest of us muppets, they would cut down the back of the bike sheds, sneak past the swimming pool and edge in to the final stretch as if no one had seen them. 

I saw them.

I fumed. Infuriated they might get away with it, but not willing to be the snitch, I just glared daggers at their not-sweaty-enough backs as we stomped on. Then I remembered what lay ahead. The joys of the sexist double standards in 1980s New Zealand meant the boys were sectioned off to do another kilometre, while the girls were shepherded through a shorter, more direct course.  The nine year old feminist in me was more than happy to shut her trap, for once.

Back to our adult cheaters. Where’s the motivation? Why bother? Nine year olds would rather pick their eyeballs out than do something they don’t want to do. But our adult cheaters have willingly signed up to run.

And our adults put considerable effort in to this cheating game. There are some outstanding examples. Take the Mexico City marathon, where runners have been known to take the metro for a portion of the race. A race in which 5,000 of the 28,000 starters were disqualified in 2018 for suspected cheating. 

Imagine it. 

“What you up to this weekend?”

“Doing the marathon!”

“Awesome. Me too.”

“Cool. Which platform?”.

And in case anyone is thinking about it – just don’t. This chap will be all over you like a bad runner’s rash. He’s made a livelihood out of investigating marathon cheats. And if being investigated, then publicly shamed isn’t enough to make you run every mile, then bear in mind what happened to Stanislaw Skupian. The homeless 38 year old was jailed for 13 weeks after he found the lost bib of a runner and used it to cross the line and collect a medal at the 2018 London Marathon. 

JAILED! I can’t help but see his story as nothing but sad.  

Then there’s the horrific story of a 70 year old who reportedly took his own life once his years of marathon cheating were alleged. And the American woman who has effectively lost her job, her livelihood and her considerable public profile because of her marathon cheating. Don’t forget the near genius of the South African brothers who almost nailed it by swapping clothes in the toilets during their switch over, effectively running as one person.

What started as an entertaining look at the lengths people go to avoid the lengths they should go to, ended in a glimpse into the miserable state of the human need to be seen.  To be valued.  To be acknowledged. 

I ran 14 km today. Did I mention that?

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