On Marathon Monday in April, 2015, Mike Rossi took his family, including his two young children who missed a couple of days of school for the occasion, to Boston to witness his triumph in running the Boston Marathon. As you probably know, qualifying to run the Boston Marathon isn’t easy for most runners. Many runners train for years with multiple attempts to whittle down their time, before finally, if ever, earning a coveted BQ. But during the previous fall, Rossi ran the race of his life at the 2014 Via Marathon, achieving an over 30-minute PR of 3:11:54 to finally nab his BQ.
You probably also know what happened next. The administration of Rossi’s children’s school sent Rossi a letter characterizing his children’s absences as unexcused, and that’s when Rossi’s 15 minutes of fame began ticking. He responded to this letter on Facebook, excoriating the school administration for not appreciating the educational value of visiting Boston, particularly to witness one’s parent participate in the Boston Marathon.
It’s easy to see why people were put off by Rossi’s response, which was a bit extreme in its grandstanding, self-satisfaction. One of those unimpressed people was a poster on the Letsrun.com World Famous Message Boards who called himself gatorade&vodka. He started a thread questioning the legitimacy of Rossi’s Boston qualifier. Dozens of fellow message board participants, including one with the handle “Doubler,” had a fairly easy time casting doubt on Rossi’s Boston qualifying performance, citing Rossi’s failure to appear in mid-race photos coupled with the implausibility of his 3:11 finishing time relative to his prior performances.
If you’re not familiar with the Letsrun.com message boards, they’re notorious for their anonymous posters who chat about everything from training tips to who’s the hottest female Olympic runner. LetsRun is a site mostly dedicated to performance and elite running. Less accomplished runners are often referred to as “hobby joggers,” a term that often includes people who are obsessed with qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which to many on LetsRun is not a particularly impressive feat.
While most of the posters on the LetsRun Mike Rossi thread, including one of the brothers who founded LetsRun, Robert Johnson, or Rojo as he’s called on the site, found thrill simply in the Schadenfreude of humiliating “narcissist” Mike Rossi, others wanted to keep the thrill of the hunt alive. One such LetsRun poster was Doubler, who, as the Rossi fervor waned, found another potential BQ cheater named Mary*.
Mary: The hunt continues
Doubler searched through recent marathon results for other potential cheaters. That’s when he noticed Mary, a participant in the 2015 A1A Marathon. Mary’s result at A1A, 3:38, qualified her for Boston. Doubler chose her to scrutinize because she missed timing certain mats that recorded runners as they passed mid-race checkpoints, and some of her mile split times seemed off. Specifically, Mary ran the first 10k (6.2 miles) of the marathon at over 10:00 pace and the last 10k at over 11:00 pace. Based on her finish time, this meant that she ran the middle 13.8 miles at a blistering sub-6:00 pace and also, coincidentally, missed several timing mats in the process.
Doubler, confident he had stumbled on another target even more certainly a cheater than Rossi, proceeded to post a thread about Mary on LetsRun. Together, the amateur sleuths found photographs from the race and social media posts about her triumph, including a Facebook post of Mary holding her medal with the caption, “26.2 in 3 hours and 45 mins.” Doubler and company were confident they had another smug BQ cheater and they were going to serve justice on her — just like they had on Rossi.
But then came the dissent. Some posters on the LetsRun thread started questioning the value of poring over race results in order to hunt down and humiliate individual runners, calling the process “unfair.” The message board moderators deleted the thread about Mary. Doubler was none too pleased: “If you are against cheaters, and OK with outing some–you should be OK with outing all,” he posted on May 15th, 2015.
Frustrated by his lack of control over the publication of his investigations on LetsRun, Doubler began thinking of other means of continuing on with the crusade, posting later in the day on May 15th that he was thinking of starting a blog for this specific purpose.
Glad to hear that [the RDs] are looking into [allegations that Mary cheated] seriously.
I may start a blog, at first. Unless someone else wants to run with it.
We could use reddit..but I pretty much despise reddit.
I can get a very basic blog up within the next couple days and will look into getting a full blown site up in the near future.
a blog would serve the purpose pretty well..at least we’ll be able to have users comment without worrying about legitimate stuff getting pulled down.
Twenty-one minutes after making his proposal, Doubler shared the url of his new blog: marathoncheats.blogspot.com. There he posted his mission:
He started with a post about Mary, but soon branched out into identifying other runners he thought had cut the course or cheated in some way, even runners who did not BQ. He did not give up his quest against Mary. Two months later, in July 2015, Mary herself commented on Doubler’s blog, identifying herself as a recovering alcoholic with epilepsy, short-term memory issues, and dementia.
Mary stated that she had suffered a seizure during the A1A race and when she recovered from it, had no idea where she was. Someone ran past her wearing a race number so she followed him. Mary had no idea, she posted, that she’d run a Boston qualifying time: “I run to save my life,” she posted in a comment on the blog.
Doubler was magnanimous, suggesting that Mary contact the marathon organizers and have herself disqualified. All he cared about, he said, was that the results were correct. He made Mary an offer: “If you do self-disqualify, I will just let this rest – I won’t write a follow up.” Mary posted several blog comments stating that she was attempting to contact the timing company to have her result removed and reiterated that she had not meant to cheat or to qualify for Boston. She was running for other reasons: her health and sobriety.
Ultimately, Doubler, like the LetsRun moderators, deleted his post about Mary, but by searching for her name I easily found references to her as a cheater. A few months ago, I talked to Mary about her experience. She related what happened to her that day and explained that running helped her find strength while coping with severe epilepsy, alcoholism, and dementia. While she admits she didn’t run the full marathon distance at the 2015 A1A Marathon, she had to prove to herself she could run 26.2 miles and eventually she did.
All along, Doubler maintained the support of many of the posters on LetsRun, but the critics dogged him. Besides Doubler’s treatment of Mary, some naysayers took aim at the name of the blog: Marathon Cheats. By posting the names of suspected cheaters and discussing the evidence surrounding each case, by calling the blog “Marathon Cheats,” wasn’t that presuming each post subject’s guilt? Others attacked him for not posting on his blog with his real name. After all, Doubler was outing “cheaters” by name even before it was one hundred percent certain that they had cheated, so why was he hiding under a pseudonym?
Within a few months, taking some of the criticism to heart, Doubler’s Marathon Cheats site was changed to Marathon Investigation, authored by Derek Murphy.
What’s your initial reaction to Mary’s story?