Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Cheat?

I'm just wondering what goes through the mind of someone who crosses the finish line at the Ironman when they know they did this at the first swim buoy (photo from here) or this out on the bike course (photo from this blog):

Why train for months or years for an Ironman, only to not go out and do an Ironman? Are people so wrapped up in the time flashing over their heads in their finisher photo that they've lost sight of what it really means to be an Ironman? How could you look yourself in the mirror wearing your finisher's shirt if you knew you'd cut time off of your swim or bike by cheating? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that they make me mad for the sport that I have loved for over two decades.

Frankly, I was really really surprised to see the blatant cheating going on in IMFL. Maybe I haven't done enough big races lately. The half-IMs that I have done have not been official Ironman courses, so they don't attract as many people hoping to gain that coveted notch on their belt. I think I could've happily gone on not knowing that this kind of thing was happening. The races I've done lately, people will snap at each other for not falling back quickly enough, and the race officials come by slowly on the motorcycles and estimate bike lengths, so it's better to be safe than sorry and stay far enough away.

Sometimes it's hard. Yeah, it can be really hard. Sometimes following the rules can mean losing time, even when you know you're doing the right thing. As a faster woman cyclist, I'm all too familiar with The Passing Game that some guys will play. That's the one where you come up on a male cyclist, gaining on him over the course of time, but when you pull up beside him while passing, he pours on the heat and you have to drop back. As soon as you're behind him, he slows down again. You try again, same thing happens. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. I've had it take four or five tries to get past a guy who is determined that the ladies are not going to get past him, and yeah, that's frustrating. But it's also playing by the rules in an individual sport.

I recently got an opportunity in email to give feedback to Ironman Florida about the race. I minced no words about the blatant drafting going on out on the bike course, and the lack of officials doing anything about it (despite lip service at the pre-race banquet). I hadn't even seen the swim photos at that point (though I wish I had!) I urge anyone who is concerned about this sport to do the same for any race that doesn't put a priority on enforcing the rules. There's a great article here about this issue, on Michael McCormack's site, and the author gives several suggestions for changing this aspect of our sport:

• make staging a clean race a priority
• supply sufficient number of officials to cover the course
• ensure that officials are more than window-dressing and will actually enforce the rules

I have heard excuses such as "it's impossible for the officials to cover the whole course" or "there's too many cyclists", but I think that's BS. It would only take them cracking down on a few to make the rest of them break apart in fear of being caught. Just seeing 5 or 6 cyclists sitting in the penalty tent would probably put the fear of God into people. And those kayaks out there near the swimmers cutting the buoy - they could get in people's way, turn them around. I've seen it happen in other races, when people tried to shorten the swim course. That won't happen though until we, the athletes, speak up and make it a priority.

So take the time to let race organizers and officials know that you want a clean race. And then put on your finisher's shirt, look in the mirror, and be proud of everything you've accomplished, on your own.


Sheila said...

I encourage you and others to volunteer to be a draft marshall at an Ironman, like I did last year (and will probably do again this year). As far as I know, the race crew will accept as many folks as sign up for these duties. You don't have to be a USAT-certified draft marshall to work an IM race.

Whenever someone says they didn't see any draft marshalls, well, maybe there weren't enough, or maybe you weren't riding at a speed where you would see them. They ARE there, and the number that sign up to volunteer determines how they are spaced about the course.

Flat courses with huge straightaways are difficult to police (like IMFL). Hilly courses just don't have as much problems with drafting because, well, the hills weed weaker riders out.

Courses with lots of loops are very easy to police--like IM Brazil. The IMWI course is pretty easy to police, too, because of the double loop.

Keep in mind that most IM races tell the marshalls not to call drafting for maybe 5 miles into the bike course because it's impossible to separate folks when they are all coming out of the swim rapidly.

As far as why a person would knowingly cheat--can't answer that one.

Flatman said...

Great post.

Robin said...

That's a great suggestion Sheila, and I didn't know they used volunteers as marshalls. I would love to do that someday.

OTOH, I watched marshalls ride by huge groups of drafters at IMFL and not stop a single one. And this was 40+ miles into the race. I did not see *one* person ever sitting in a penalty tent. Not one. I saw draft marshalls repeatedly on the course and did not once see them pull anyone over, even when blatant drafting was occuring right in front of my eyes. I have no idea why this is so. I can't imagine why they didn't just start tagging riders. I've seen them do it in plenty of other races, just not this one. I've had friends get tagged for just being a few inches too close, and this was literally pelotons of people, 40 miles into the bike course. I came out of the water in the first 100 or so and there was no drafting early on that I could see, everyone was being very professional. This was all later as the masses of age groupers started clumping up.

xt4 said...

Amen! Or take this idiot. I don't get it either, it's a total mystery to me. I'm not even capable of stopping 100m short on my 5 milers with a clean conscience. Who are these people?

Robin said...

Wow, that's pretty bad. I can't imagine running unless I qualified myself, can't even *picture* that.

But I'm the same way conscience-wise. I'll be eeking out that last 100 yards in the pool, just completely flogged and barely moving, but I'm going to make it dammit or drown trying.

triathlonmom said...

Wow, Great Post! I'm so glad I've found your blog. What you said is too true. I never thought I'd yell at someone to get off my ass in a race...but after 5 minutes of drafting, I turned around and told her...."Quit Drafting!" She mumbled back some excuse...

Cindy Jo said...

I just discovered your blog and thanks! This just drives me nuts! Why would anyone do this?! It is so frustrating and frankly, embarrasing for our sport. HOW can you feel satisfied in your accomplishments if you cheated to get there?! That is bad tri-karma and I hope the cheaters get what they deserve.

Oh, and the men who can't let a woman pass them -- that really makes them look pathetic (and it is always obvious that they're doing it!).