7News Investigates: Cheaters Stealing Coveted Boston Marathon Spots

The Boston Marathon is the run of a lifetime. But every year, a few cheat their way into the race.

It’s a legacy that dates back to Rosie Ruiz, who infamously cheated her way to a short-lived Boston Marathon victory 38 years ago – rogue runners, fraudulently crossing the finish line.

Derek Murphy sees it as his duty to expose them.

“You just see how blatant some people were – and unapologetic,” Murphy said.

Murphy is a former runner and a business analyst who lives in Ohio. A few years ago, he started using his skill with numbers to try to root out anyone who may have cheated in major marathons. He said he quickly found dozens – and he says many of them stole coveted Boston Marathon spots from other runners.

“So as I saw how widespread it was, I got more passionate, because I knew it was keeping people out who deserved it,” Murphy said.

Murphy now runs a website called Marathon Investigation, where he calls out runners he claims have either taken a shortcut or had another runner qualify in their place.

His analysis starts with bib numbers – typically, the lower the number, the faster the time.

“So I just kind of predicted how fast each runner would be able to run Boston based on their bib numbers,” Murphy said.

Murphy then charts those bib numbers against a runner’s time. He also scours race photos, prior marathon results, and missed checkpoints.

He said about 50 runners have cheated in each Boston Marathon over the past three years. But he said now, his primary focus is on the marathons where runners can qualify for Boston. He wants to stop cheaters from even getting to the starting line in Hopkinton.

“I would like to see Boston – the BAA – be a little bit harder on races that don’t seem to take it seriously,” Murphy said.

The Boston Athletic Association issued the following statement to 7News:

“We rely on the race organizers and the increasingly sophisticated timing systems they employ to produce true and accurate results. We also rely on the honesty and integrity of the overwhelming majority of competitors who compete fairly and strive for their own personal records. If someone’s race result is deemed invalid by the organizers of the qualifying race, and they gained entry into Boston with that result, we remove them from the race.”

“It’s been our observation that the honesty rate among runners is extraordinarily high. We encounter a very small fraction of runners involved in these sorts of situations. Each year, we handle about a dozen instances where people have used inaccurate results to qualify for the Boston marathon and remove fewer than ten (often fewer than five) people from the official Boston Marathon results.”

The BAA added that it welcomes tips from the public – including people like Murphy.

Murphy said he’s finding fewer cheaters – a sign that his crackdown might be hitting its stride.

“I’m hoping that’s a result of the ones I kept out directly and ones who may have thought twice about trying,” Murphy said.

Murphy said sometimes, legitimate runners are actually helping the cheaters by posting pictures of their bibs online before the race. Those pictures can be used to make fake bibs.

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