It’s been circulating for two weeks now – names and bib numbers of runners (yes, plural, because they are more than one) and accounts of how they cheated during the recently concluded 1st Cebu Ultramarathon 50K.
At a recent all-athlete’s party I attended, the names of two prominent weekend warriors were mentioned and how they seemed like goners even as early as KM 19 then suddenly overtaking runners at KM 46 looking fresh as a daisy, when everyone else who had been consistently running way faster than them, were all laspag from climbing three huge hills and negotiating toe-crushing descents under an unforgiving sun.
Then there are stories of actual sightings of runners riding on motorcycles for hire, another runner riding inside an SUV, and another runner riding in an unmarked van. The cheaters probably thought that in the long and often deserted stretches of the Transcentral Highway no one would notice.
How wrong they were.
I never thought I would find reason to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson on crime and punishment in a sports column, but these disturbing revelations about brazen violations of the honor system at the 1st Cebu Ultramarathon 50K make the following immortal words apt.
“Commit a crime and the world is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. Wherever a man commits a crime, God finds a witness. Every secret crime has its reporter.”
The length and breadth of ultramarathons and the logistical challenges of staging an event that runs for 9 hours or more, force most if not all organizers to employ the honor system and rely on the runners’ integrity. When cheating happens, organizers are left with no choice but to rely on eyewitness accounts of those who actually saw cheating being committed.
But witnessing a crime is one thing, and taking action to make sure the real perpetrators don’t go unpunished is another. What good is a witness if he’s unwilling to come forward and stand by what he saw?
Not coming out means condoning cheating which the witness purportedly saw. By not coming out and stand for the truth, the witness then has allowed himself to become party to the crime. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke).
Let the complainants and witnesses come forward, and let the accused runner defend himself, before organizers can sanction and actually name names. That's how this should be handled. Otherwise, all runners, even the honest ones, can become vulnerable to false accusations and unfairly branded as cheaters.
Due process first before punishment.
Photo credit: Jonel Mendoza
But even if cheaters at the 1st Cebu Ultramarathon do get away with their hollow victory, it does not in any way diminish the efforts of others who ran and walked every inch of those 50++ kilometers. Neither does it diminish the success of the event, especially those who worked hard at bringing this ultramarathon experience to the Cebuano runners.
There is punishment for cheaters far more terrible than public exposure.
That is the punishment of bearing the shame albeit in private knowing that on one Saturday morning in November, in the hills of Transcentral Highway, when you thought no one was looking, you rode parts of a 50-kilometer race course just so you can be called a pseudo-ultramarathoner. That’s like cutting-off your own balls and feeding them to the dogs for a plate and a shirt that mean nothing because you and your conscience know you did not earn it. I wonder how you can look your son or daughter (if you have one) in the eye and not be ashamed of yourself.
For me that is enough comeuppance.