Running culture is a definite rare breed all its own. Runners can find races almost every weekend on the calendar – in fact, my sister and brother-in-law are running a half marathon at Disney World this weekend.
Jane Seo, a 24-year old fitness writer based in New York City, has written articles like as “How I Learned to Love Running, One Race at a Time” and “Four Reasons Why I Keep Running Obstacle Races, One After Another” at the Huffington Post. She finished in second at last weekend’s Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon with an impressive time of an hour and 21 minutes, just over 15 minutes shy of the world women’s record.
But as people started to take a closer look at Seo’s time, her impressive feat began to unravel. Official race timer Josh Stern noted that Seo ran faster near the end of the race than she did at first, which is highly unusual. Stern mentioned the anomaly to race director Matt Lorraine, who dismissed Stern’s concerns.
And then Ohio-based blogger Derek Murphy entered the picture.
Murphy, a former distance runner himself, has dedicated his time away from work trying to bust cheating road warriors by using the 21st century’s best tools: data collected in our interconnected world. He posts his findings to his blog, Marathon Investigation, which he maintains from his home in Ohio.
Murphy tells the story of his sleuthing at his blog. He notes that Seo input her results on Strava, an app where runners and cyclists post times, manually rather than letting a tracker monitor her times. That’s where he began to doubt Seo’s story.
She had this labeled as a run, and the total time *almost* matches her original time for the 1/2 marathon. The cadence data is more consistent with what you would expect on a bike ride, not a run. Also, through the Flyby screen, I was able to confirm that she actually covered this course in the afternoon – long after the race was complete.
There’s more: Murphy noticed that Seo wore a Garmin fitness tracker in the race photos, so he purchased the high resolution versions and zoomed in on the face of the tracker – only to discover that the distance she covered was only 11.65 miles, nearly a mile and a half short of a half-marathon.
Seo was busted. As Murphy writes:
She had the opportunity to come clean after crossing the finish line. Instead, she doubled down with the deceit. She approached race officials and other runners defending her time. They did not approach her. She proactively went to them. She did attend the awards ceremony to collect her 2nd place award.
Once the jig was up, race officials disqualified Seo, and she posted on Instagram (later deleted):
I made a HORRIBLE choice at the Ft. Lauderdale Half Marathon on Sunday, Feb. 20. I wasn’t feeling well so I CUT THE COURSE and headed to the finish line. I got swept away in the moment and pretended I ran the entire course, when in fact I CHEATED and should have DISQUALIFIED myself.
The running team Seo ran with has also disqualified her, and she appears to have deleted her social media accounts. So the lesson here is pretty clear: in our internet age, even an intrepid cheater will eventually be called out.