Cheating at runDisney Racesby Lani Teshima, staff writer
As we head into Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, people are abuzz with excitement. Months of training and hard work are going to pay off for tens of thousands of participants who will rightfully earn their medals in 5K, 10K, and half-marathon races throughout the weekend, to hang with pride around their necks.
...except, there are a few people who, for various reasons, choose to cheat at the races.
Unfortunately, even on the happiest races on earth, there is still a dark side. Although most participants would never dream to cheat, there are those who do. Some people cut the course short, some people sell their bibs to others, and some even find a way to run a race with a fake (or stolen) bib.
Running with a bib that is not your own
In Krystina Whitten's case, she experienced a double-whammy during the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend this past January. She had registered for the Rebel Challenge and had completed Saturday's 6.2-mile 10K race, and was planning on racing in the next day's 13.1-mile half-marathon. She had the misfortune to lose her original race bib with her participant number after Saturday's race, then experienced the shock of her life when she discovered that, rather than turn it into lost and found, a woman had taken the lost bib and run the half-marathon with it.
"On Saturday I ran the 10K and was so absolutely overjoyed that I'd gotten a picture with Boba Fett during the race so I was elated by the time I finished. I picked up my bag and waited for my friends at a lightpost we had chosen before the race. By the time we were leaving, the last runner was about to cross the finish line. We stopped to watch and cheer her on, then went on our way back to the hotel shuttle. While waiting for the bus, one of my roommates reached over to pick something off of my skirt. Sure enough, it was one of my bib magnets, and I noticed at that moment that my bib was no longer attached to me.
A screenshot of this MarathonFoto.com image shows Krystina Whitten as she raises her hands during the Disneyland Star Wars 10K. Whitten, who had registered for the Rebel Challenge, is still wearing her original race bib during the 10K race.
"I posted in my group to ask that anyone contact me if they saw (my race bib). Someone posted he saw one attached to the fence near the finish line. I realized that the magnet must have attached to the fencing when we stopped to cheer the last runner on. I went back but couldn't find the bib, and no one at the (race) expo or Disneyland Hotel had received one for the lost and found. I went to Runner Relations who gave me a replacement, but it moved me from corral D to E [meaning Krystina would start further back in the pack]. I did receive a wristband so I could still get my Rebel Challenge medal.
"Honestly, at this point I was an absolute mess. I was already very stressed out from a few issues regarding my Star Wars group and initially losing the bib, and then being placed in the last corral was the cherry on top. This meant I wouldn't be running with my friends anymore so I'd be alone, and even though I shouldn't have been, it worried me because my buffer was gone. I had a full-blown panic attack and cried for about an hour—it was so embarrassing but I was just so overwhelmed.
"The next morning, the day of the half-marathon, I spoke to someone at the information booth and after a little bit of cajoling, I did get a sticker to move back up to the correct corral. Since all of my other issues had been handled at this point, my mood had been greatly improved and I was ready for a great run. I was still a little disappointed about the bib (because I worried it would make my rebel challenge photos harder to package, and because I scrapbook my bibs and mine was no longer the one with my name and correct number). However, the run itself was absolutely wonderful.
A screenshot of the MarathonFoto.com image gallery for Krystina Whitten running in her replaced bib (rather than her original bib, which she lost) for the Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon shows Whitten dressed in a Darth Vader race costume.
"The next night, I was looking up my MarathonFoto pictures. The way it was set up, I could see two results with my name for the Rebel Challenge. I clicked on the link to see my 10K photos with my correct bib. MarathonFoto has a tab on the top of the page for Rebel Challenge participants to see the other race, so I clicked on the half-marathon tab. I was very surprised to see several photos appear. There were photos of a woman I didn't know posing with characters, posing with some friends and a guy after the race with a medal on, and randomly throughout the course. Sure enough, she was wearing my bib.
A screenshot of the MarathonFoto.com image gallery for Krystina Whitten for the Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon shows an entirely different person in the photos. Whitten, who had signed up for the Rebel Challenge, had lost her bib after the 10K, and ran with a replacement bib with a different number. The person in this image gallery ran the half-marathon as a race bandit, wearing a bib that did not belong to her, and proceeded to pose for several official race photos.
"I posted a comment in my group that said "So... I found my bib! Too bad I'm not the one wearing it." From there, my very passionate friends and fellow runners did some investigating and found the woman's name, Twitter handle, and employer. They tweeted her and (in some cases) her employer to let her know she'd been caught. One member of the group works near runDisney and made sure the information made it to them. Eventually the discussion in my group got a little heated so I had to delete it.
"Personally, I felt betrayed. It hurts that another runner would willingly run under a name other than his or her own. It really hurt knowing that while I was trying to manage an anxiety attack over this, she was choosing to keep my bib. It hurt that she knowingly took resources (course support, water, road space, character time, photos, a medal...) away from runners who paid for the experience. I've had some people say she could have purchased it from someone else who found and sold it, and that's possible. But to purchase (or find and keep) a Rebel Challenge bib after half of the challenge is over suggests pretty strongly that she knew what she was doing. Besides that, running under another name is against runDisney policy whether it was purchased or not, so I still feel she had poor judgement regardless of how she came to posses the bib."
Fortunately for Krystina, runDisney was able to provide her with a new race bib so that she could successfully complete her Rebel Challenge.
When you wear someone else's bib... and you win the race (oops)
Back on May 23, runDisney race emcee Rudy Novotny posted the following on his Facebook page:
"A big Congratulations going out to Edith Martinez who now takes her rightful spot on the podium as the Masters Division Champion of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon! Due to a case of selling/giving a bib to another runner the "54 year old" that came in just ahead of Edith was found to be closer to 24! Edith has been a consistent performer and member of the Southern California running community for many years. I will take the liberty to say that Edith joins me in thanking runDisney and race director Mike Bone for a very quick review of the situation and Edith's being recognized as first master across the finish line!! Hope that your running and racing weekend is going great!"
runDisney has a strict policy that prohibits the transfer of a race bib to another person. In the case of Edith, she was initially robbed of her win because a 54-year-old woman decided to transfer her bib to a 24-year-old. Fortunately for Edith, the issue was resolved within a couple of weeks.
Could this just be a rare occurrence? Maybe, but it also happened during the Star Wars 10K race, to this writer, and my situation was almost identical.
I also ran the Star Wars Rebel Challenge over the weekend. Conditions were perfect on Saturday morning for the 10K, and I set a personal record. My husband texted to tell me that, according to the live results, it looked like I came in third in my age group and was holding my position. I'd been working so hard at improving my time, but third was the highest I'd ever gotten in a runDisney race. It also meant a possible age group award—I could hardly contain my excitement.
That excitement lasted only about 15 minutes, though, when he followed up to tell me that someone who started in one of the farthest-back corrals had overtaken all three of the fastest finishers in my age group to place first according to chip time.
Disappointed, I looked at the first-place finisher's information, only to discover that "Y.H.," a 53-year-old, lived in a nearby town. I was involved in the local running community; why had I never heard of this lightning-quick woman before?
However later that afternoon, I received yet another text: The official race photos were getting posted online, and that "first place finisher" in my women's age group was... a man.
A screenshot of this MarathonFoto.com image shows a male race bandit wearing a clearly visible bib that belongs to a female registrant. This race bandit wore an authentic race bib with its timing chip attached, causing his finish time to register in the official timing system. This bandit was so fast that he started all the way back in corral E and still came in first in that woman's age group.
In order to curb the rate of illegal bib transfers, runDisney required everyone to show their proof of identification when they picked up their bibs. Did that mean that this young man was the son of the 53-year-old woman? Had she simply handed it off to her son because she hadn't trained enough? We found some other race results under Y.H.'s name, and discovered that she was a walker, not a runner. Was she hoping to have her son boost her finish time so that she could qualify to queue in the earlier corrals?
We'll never know the why. And fortunately for me, after many emails, runDisney did finally correct the issue. When you go to look at the results for the race, "Y.H." is no longer listed as the winner of my age group.
What kinds of cheating happen?
Cheating happens in many ways, and unfortunately, it happens more often with the larger, popular, socially friendly races like those organized by runDisney.
People cheating on the course itself
Some runDisney courses include out-and-back portions on the same street, and these are places where cheating has been spotted. For example with the Star Wars Half Marathon, there is a one-mile stretch on Harbor Boulevard. The corner of Harbor and Chapman Avenue had a nearby aid station, which apparently made it possible for some participants, who had only gone 5.5 miles into the race, to turn around and head back from the mile 11 marker (removing over five miles from their course).
People wearing fake copies of bibs taken from Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook
These people cheat everybody, including the race organization, because they don't even pay for the race but take up race resources just like a paid participant. In this day of social media, be careful to conceal part of your bib when posting pre-race photos.
People buying bibs from officially registered participants
When runDisney opens race registration nine months in advance, it's very hard to know what might happen come race day. Since runDisney offers neither legal transfers or race insurance (many races offer both), if you can't run for any reason, you're pretty stuck. runDisney does offer medical deferments (so they hold a spot for you for the following year's race), but not transfers to other people.
People racing on behalf of a slower person
Whether it's to qualify for a faster corral in a future runDisney race, or to qualify for the Boston Marathon, stories have circulated about registrants having a subsitute runner finish the race in a much faster time.
Whatever the reason, the standard rule if you're going to cheat, is don't get caught. In the case of the woman who stole Krystina's bib, do not pose for photos with Disney characters or with friends in any official race photos. And in the case of the 24-year-old woman who cheated Edith Martinez of her Masters victory, or the young man who cheated me out of a third-place age group victory, never finish first.
A person may cheat for many reasons. They may have a sense of entitlement, that they paid so much money already (between event registration, hotel stay, airfare, and so on) and many of those are nonrefundable. So perhaps they cheat just to get "what they paid for," not realizing that what they're paying for is the experience, not a shiny piece of unearned metal at the end. Or is it? There are people who don't train adequately and who know they will get swept. runDisney, as well as a number of other races (including the Rock 'n' Roll series) offer medals to those who get swept. Whether that's right or not (and perhaps worth its own discussion), it means a participant need not cheat in order to get a medal.
Some people choose to simply not pay, and make a fake bib to run in. This has happened in the Boston Marathon, as well as other races. Maybe they couldn't register in time before an event sold out, or they didn't want to pay the steep price of registration.
When you have 20,000 people in a race, you're bound to get a small percentage of people who don't care, who don't have a conscience, and who aren't embarrassed that what they're doing is dishonorable.
How do you deal with cheating?
You could choose to do nothing, with the assumption that this happens anyway. Alternatively, you could report them. This is particularly true if the cheater is so far ahead of the pack that they actually wind up placing in their age group, since cheating at the competitive and/or elite levels is considered a serious offense. Jot down their bib number, as well as whatever you can remember, such as time you saw the cheating happen, location, and details. For example if you see one person pass a hidden spare bib to another person, see if you can find both their bib numbers. If nothing else, take a photo of them with your camera or smartphone.
You can reduce the chances of your own bib being used by bandits, by not posting a full image of your bib before the race. Partially cover the bib to conceal the number (use a sock!).
If you're ever the victim of a cheat, you should contact the race organizers immediately. This is to prevent you from being prohibited from future races for having transferred your bib to another runner. A lot of people post about cheating incidents (with photos for proof) to social media. While I do not advocate making threats or contacting employers, I think it's fair, once a cheat is correctly identified, to let race organizers know. Such people should be banned from future races.
You could also shame them publically. That's what Krystina's friends did. Because her bib bandit posed for photos after the finish line with friends, they were able to track those in the photos down. With some detective work, they identified the woman, got her Facebook address and Twitter handle. They even went so far as to publically shame the bandit with some tweets.
Is there anything race organizers can do about cheaters?
The Disney races have timing mats at key locations (5M, 10M, half, 20M). One thing they can do is make sure they use additional "honesty strips" at the end of an out-and-back location (such as ESPN) or after a location that's easily cheatable.
runDisney could start offering legal transfers and liberal deferments of registrations. Many races do this, but it adds more work to the staff. However, if runDisney were to charge transfer and deferment fees, this is an opportunity to cover administrative costs for this work. Transfer fees could be adjusted to the race, so maybe it only costs $20 to transfer a 5K bib, but $100 to transfer a multi-event challenge. Deferments would be even more lucrative. runDisney could charge a fee (such as $50) to defer a spot until the next race, but still require you to pay the registration cost of that race.
Finally, runDisney could offer insurance for registrants. This is an issue MousePlanet staff member Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix has long requested, since the insurance is offered through Active.com (the company that handles race registration), and does not cost Disney any money.
If you choose to cheat a race, the only person you are cheating is yourself. If you get caught, you risk not only being banned from future races, but you also risk being outed on social media. If you think cheating is OK because you just want to look good to your friends, then the last thing you want should be a public shaming. Once you're caught cheating, you will become known as "the cheater" and it's not a label you want for yourself.
My advice? Don't cheat. Just don't.