The big news in St. Louis recently was the woman who cheated in the 2015 Go! St. Louis Marathon. Kendall Schler, the third place winner from last year, crossed the finish line first after sneaking on to the course after the last check-point. While race officials caught the fraud before presenting her with the $1,500 winner’s check, further investigation shows that she had cheated in last year’s race as well. Some have speculated that she had inadvertently jumped in too early and intended to slide into another high place that would have received less attention than first place.
In the typical St. Louis fashion, the real winner, Andrea Karl, was invited to re-create the finish of the race in a ceremony at Busch Stadium before the Cardinals-Reds baseball game. St. Louis is undoubtedly a baseball town and this is pretty much the St. Louis equivalent of getting the key to the city. I’m sure that they gave her a case of Budweiser beer as well.
The idea of someone cheating in a sporting event should not be surprising. From the misrepresentation of the age of little leaguers to Italian dramatic falls in soccer to the NFL Patriot’s Spygate, to Lance Armstrong’s PEDs, sports are big business so there will be cheating.
For us runners, however, the incident is particularly disheartening. Ms. Karl ran a sub three hour race and bested the other female runners (and most of the men too!). Her time is the culmination of hundreds of hours of training. She is a doctoral student at Washington University so imagine the tremendous sacrifice of eating right and balancing work, training, and social life. Part of the thrill of running in a race is the knowledge that we have accomplished our goal. We registered and then had the discipline and drive to do the training and finish the race (most of the time). When one does not train very hard, there can be a clear sentiment of disappointment. For example, I first applied for the New York City Marathon lottery in 2006 but was denied entry for three years, receiving an automatic entry in the fourth year. In 2009, I contracted H1N1 and deferred my entry until the following year. By the time that 2010 rolled around, I was too busy with work and school to train and trudged to the finish line in 4 hours and 25 minutes. Despite the two million fans, the thrill of running through the five boroughs and over the Verrazano bridge with over 50,000 runners, I felt pretty empty and guilty at the expo and during the race. Why guilty? I had not done the proper training and while I finished, I felt cheap and fake.
The point of this reflection is that I love running because it is bigger than just finishing the race. That is the clear goal, but it is a test of my resolve, a barometer for how I am doing in life. I may be tempted to cheat, so to speak, by staying in bed or plopping on the couch rather than exercising, but in the end it will catch up with me. The thrill of when the gun goes off is just as great as crossing the line because I know that I worked hard just to get there. Just like in life, the cheats, hacks, and short-cuts often do not pay off in the long run. We are not just to finish the race but to run the race and train well.