Joasia Zakrzewski is a top ultramarathoner. For those not familiar with the sport, ultramarathoners run 50-miles in their races. In April 2023, during a 50-mile race from Manchester to Liverpool, Ms. Zakrzewski, picked up a ride from a friend for 2.5 miles of that race. She finished third in the race and accepted the trophy.
However, honesty being what it is these days, race officials conduct post-race audits looking for time anomalies. A post-race audit allows officials to check the times of the runners between checkpoints. The audit showed that Ms. Zakrzewski finished one mile of the race in 1 minute and 40 seconds. That’s a 100-second mile! Quit a clip! When confronted, Ms. Zakrzewski admitted to accepting the ride and apologized for her mistake in accepting the third-place trophy.
Actually, the apology should have been for going cruising with a friend during an ultramarathon. The Barometer would have tried to run a marathon had she known of the auto-buddy possibilities. Ms. Zakrzewski denied that she was trying to “cheat” or “conceal the fact that she had traveled in a car for part of the race.” One wonders how the friend happened to be toddling along marathoners that day.
The usual penalty for such a breach of the rules would be a two-year suspension from the sport. However, Ms. Zakrzewski offered jet lag as a mitigating factor. The officials of U.K. Athletics bought that defense hook, line, and sinker and gave her a one-year suspension.
The Barometer envisions criminal minds all over the world standing before judges with the jet-lag defense. “Your honor, I took the red-eye from Paris to New York and the next thing I knew I was robbing a bank.”
Do these runners not know history? Rosie Ruiz took the subway and won the Boston Marathon, temporarily, in 1980. In the chutzpah department, Fred Lorz (and race auditors should focus on runners with “Z’s” in their last names– somewhat of a pattern here) hitched an auto ride for 11 miles of his marathon in St. Louis in 1904. Of course, 1904 autos were not much faster than runners so it took awhile for his mechanical assistance to emerge. He had a sort of Houston Astros attitude, “It really didn’t help that much.”
So, we are left with the ultimate question, “Then, why do it?” Establishing intent is actually quite easy.
The sport changes, the decades are different, but the cheating mind works the same. And the sanctions are always light, for whatever reason.
Victor Mather, “Unhappy Hitchhiker: A 100-Second Mile Leads to a British Ultramarathoner’s Ban,” New York Times, November 19, 2023, p. A33.