In September 2023, Tigst Assefa of Ethiopia broke the women’s marathon world record with an amazing time of two hours, 11 minutes and 53 seconds. The dedication and tenacity it takes to run a marathon at any pace is enormous, but to break the world record by more than two minutes is astounding.
Assefa has invested years of training into achieving her goal and countless miles of running. Even so, many questioned her use of super-hi-tech £400 single-use Addidas shoes. Modern running trainers improve efficiency and return energy to the runner, with some claiming they make a mockery of the sport and are almost akin to cheating.
However, there is no serious suggestion that Assefa cheated and she is unquestionably an incredible athlete who committed so much to her run. But not everyone wants to put in quite so much effort when it comes to the longest races in athletics. As we will reveal, there have been a surprising number of competitors who have decided to skew the odds of success in their favour, to put it mildly. To be more accurate about things, they have cheated.
Of course, cheating is nothing new in athletics (or indeed in sport in general), and here we feature some of those runners who cheated – and got caught – when competing in marathons or other long-distance races (rather than shorter events on the track).
Joasia Zakrzewski – Car Cheat, GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-Mile Race, April 2023
The prospect of running for 50 miles is too much for most people to even consider. But for ultramarathon runner, Joasia Zakrzewski, it was (almost) a walk in the park. Dr Zakrzewski (she’s a medical doctor when not pounding the roads), was fresh (well, quite fresh) from setting a world record for the longest distance run in a 48-hour period: an astounding 255.7 miles!
You’d have thought a mere 50 miles wouldn’t have caused her too much bother. It certainly seemed that way when GPX mapping data clocked her covering one mile of the course in a time of just one minute and 40 seconds (Roger Bannister, eat your heart out!). Of course, it’s not possible for a human to move that quickly, at least not on foot. As it happened, for whatever reason, she didn’t quite fancy sticking to running and Dr Zakrzewski decided to jump in a car to complete a section of the course (approximately 2.5 miles, according to BBC reports). After a brief investigation, Dr Zakrzewski was duly disqualified from the event. Afterwards, Dr Zakrzewski called herself an “idiot” for cheating. Well, you don’t have to be a medical doctor to reach that conclusion!
In her defence, she did at least admit what had happened and cooperate with the investigation of the organisers. A friend said she had arrived from Australia the night before the race and it had not gone to plan on the day. Feeling sick and exhausted during the run, she wanted to quit and instead made a silly decision. Though she clearly cheated, we would not put her on the same naughty step as the rest of the runners in this article.
Rob Sloan – Bus Cheat, Kielder Marathon, October 2011
When Rob Sloan competed in the picturesque Kielder Marathon in 2011, he finished in a creditable third place much to the surprise of fourth-place finisher, Steve Cairns, who had seen Sloan at the start, but didn’t recall ever having been passed by him during the race. When Cairns asked Sloan about when he’d overtaken him, Sloan replied (rather vaguely), “Out on the course.” Cairns, and others, could smell a rat.
It wasn’t long before witnesses came forward to say they had seen Sloan towards the end of the course. The problem was, he had not been running… he’d been seen on a bus! Sloan, perhaps feeling a little sheepish, decided not to stick around for the medal ceremony, but the race director (who happened to be none other than former world champion and Olympic 1500m silver medallist, Steve Cram) called Sloan to find out what had happened.
According to the Jarrow Arrow (or Crammy, if you prefer), “He absolutely denied it initially. Then he eventually owned up to it.” Sloan was thus disqualified and banned from any of Cram’s races. Later Sloan would retract his admission of guilt and even went on the BBC’s Inside Out North East & Cumbria programme to profess his innocence. On the programme, he said he “did not cheat at any given point and I most certainly did not get on a bus. I think it’s more a case of mistaken identity.”
The problem is, not many people believed him, not least Kate Smith who was on the bus at the time and said, “The bus stopped and he got off and again we joked he’s going to join back in now not thinking he would. When we saw the guy who finished third we said that’s the guy who’s just been on the bus with us.” So, while the jury is out, we don’t think they’ll need too long to complete their deliberations.
Rosie Ruiz – Course-Cutting Cheat, Boston Marathon, April 1980
We’re heading back a few years for one of the most high-profile instances of marathon cheating in the history of the sport. When Cuban-American runner, Rosie Ruiz, won the 1980 Boston Marathon in a time of 2:31:56, it raised a few eyebrows. Not only was it the fastest time run by a female in the history of the Boston Marathon, but it was almost four minutes quicker than the previous year’s winner, Joan Benoit (who would go on to win the first women’s marathon gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984).
Given that no one in the distance-runner world had heard anything significant about Ruiz, there was plenty of head-scratching going on. Also confusing was how fresh-faced Ruiz looked after having apparently run more than 26 miles in such a fast time. Things started to make more sense when witness reports suggested Ruiz hadn’t run the whole race… in fact, she had only run the last half mile or so!
According to witnesses, Ruiz positioned herself in the crowd and jumped out when she thought the time was right. According to a friend of hers, Steve Marek, Ruiz might have misjudged things a little. He said, “She jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet. Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first.” She was disqualified and Canada’s Jacqueline Gareau was upgraded to become the official winner with a new Boston Marathon record time of 2:34:28.
Matt Choi – Wrong Bid Cheat, Houston Marathon, January 2023
Why would someone compete in an official marathon wearing the vest (i.e. the registered number) of another runner? Well, if you believe Instagram influencer, Matt Choi, it was because he forgot to register for the event and so he gained a transfer of the entry from another competitor.
Some other people might pay faster runners to run in their vest so they can claim the time as their own (especially to boost their false image on social media). In contrast, others might attempt to sell their entry to others for particularly oversubscribed races. But another explanation could be that it is a case of Choi having run as a “Bib Mule”.
As outlined on the marathoninvestigation.com site operated by Derek Murphy, a bib mule can be used to help a runner gain access to a prestigious marathon for which they might not otherwise have qualified. In the case of the Houston Marathon, a fast finish would gain the athlete in question a place in the Boston Marathon, which is massively oversubscribed. And, that is what is alleged with Matt Choi, whose time of 2:59:35 was just within the 3:00:00 qualifying time for men (aged 18-34).
Given that the terms and conditions of the Houston Marathon did not allow runners to transfer their entry to someone else, the person who had paid for the bid and entry, Eric Lee, was disqualified. As was Matt Choi, and both were banned from running in the Houston Marathon for two years.
Jason Scotland-Williams – Barrier-Jumping Cheat, London Marathon, April 2014
Fans of distance running, and most other people in the UK, will have heard of Mo Farah. But how about the man that “ran” the second half of the 2014 London Marathon faster than four-time Olympic gold medallist, Sir Mo? Well, that’s exactly what Jason Scotland-Williams managed to do… at least if his split times are to be believed. Unfortunately for Jason, people didn’t believe his times and he was instead accused of jumping over the barrier and thus cutting the course by around nine miles!
An article in the Sun newspaper at the time alleged that Scotland-Williams jumped the barrier at the 13-mile marker where the marathon course doubles back and then continued running from a position that was 22 miles into the course. With just a few miles left before the finish line, it’s no wonder his time for the second half of the race was not far off a world record!
Despite the allegations, Scotland-Williams long refuted the claims that he had cheated, and given we weren’t there and there is no video evidence, who are we to suggest otherwise? He did half admit he might have, just possibly, maybe done something a little dodgy though. When talking to The Guardian, he is quoted as saying, “Was a decision made which probably proved to be a bad one? Do I regret said decision? To a degree.” We’ll leave you to come to your own conclusions. But ours are possibly made clear by is inclusion in this article about marathon cheats!