Derek Murphy is the man behind the marathoninvestigation.com site and his stories are often shared in our forum. After the recent feature about Anita Carcone and her apparent wild reactions to all doubters, I had a chat with him about that story, plus cheaters in marathons and triathlons.
Slowtwitch: Derek, thank you so much for your time.
Derek Murphy: Thank You.
ST: You run the marathoninvestigation.com site, but that is not your main gig from what I understand.
Derek: That’s correct, I am currently consulting full time - working as a Financial Analyst.
ST: When did you start the site and what was the motivation?
Derek: I started the site over 3 years ago. It was initially intended to be a sort of clearinghouse and a central place for people to report suspected cheaters and to gather and have people report data. I never thought it would ever be anything that got attention outside of the most hardcore runners.
ST: What was first story that really grabbed interest?
Derek: I wrote about Gia Alvarez. She was a popular running blogger and I didn’t realize how popular she was at the time. I had received a tip that she cheated to qualify for The Boston Marathon. What happened was she became pregnant and gave her bib to a friend to run in Boston the prior year. She used her friend’s time to enter Boston the next year.
ST: But she had qualified for Boston the year prior?
Derek: Yes, she qualified legitimately to run the 2015 Boston Marathon but was unable due to her pregnancy. She gave her bib to a friend, against race rules, who herself ran a qualifying time in the 2015 race. Gia submitted her friend’s time from 2015 as her own to enter the 2016 Marathon.
The reason I wrote the article was that she claimed she received a lifetime ban simply for giving her bib away. In reality she received the ban for representing her friend’s time as her own.
ST: Is the cheating spread out evenly among major races, or is more of it related to Boston?
Derek: I think it is fairly spread out. Some races are easier to cheat at than others. The general focus on Boston is a matter of scope and time management. People that cheat to gain entry for Boston take spots away for those that deserve it…but there is cheating among slower runners as well and at nearly all races.
ST: There also some triathlon investigations and not just about the run segment. When did that begin?
Derek: I received information on a story that I felt I couldn’t turn away from. It was the ‘Wish Runner’ story. This guy was going to attempt to break the record for the most 70.3s in a year. He obviously cheated in the very first one. But, what grabbed me was his fundraising. Practically all the money he was raising went to pay his expenses. His site made it seem that people were supporting charities, but 80% or more of what he took in covered his travel, etc. I wanted people to be aware.
ST: In terms of feedback is there much difference what you notice when it is a running feature versus a triathlon one?
Derek: I think the feedback has been very similar. With the initial articles, there was a lot of ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ type feedback. But as the site has become more popular and people in the different sports are aware of it, the support has far outweighed the criticism.
ST: Does the criticism bother you?
Derek: It used to. But after about 2-1/2 years of being public about the site I’ve learned to not take it personally. I started it anonymously—attached my name to it leading up to a Runner’s World profile. I appreciate legitimate criticism and will engage and debate people that are sincere. I no longer get upset by the trolls.
ST: Do you have a favorite investigation one, or one that has surprised you the most?
Derek: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. But the ones that are most satisfying are the ones where I uncovered the ‘smoking gun’. There is a travel agency in France that has faked results of clients to get them Boston entries. Finding video of the travel agency owner carrying 3 bibs was satisfying. Those runners were banned from Boston about a week before the race. The most satisfying case was when I provided evidence to have a runner reinstated by London Marathon.
ST: Do the accused athletes sometimes reach out to you and tell their story?
Derek: If I write about someone specifically, I try to reach out to them first. It is extremely rare that they admit to cheating. I have had people write me after the fact, usually they deny it.
ST: Have you felt bad about anyone?
Derek: I felt bad for Jane Seo. She was the one that was caught partially through the photo I bought showing her watch face – proving she cut the course. She also tried to replicate GPS by biking the course afterwards. The story got picked up by nearly every national publication and got sensationalized. They focused on her job at Huffington post and that she graduated from Harvard. While she made some very bad decisions, other athletes get away with worse offenses by not getting the coverage Jane did. I finally decided it was enough and canceled a planned Inside Edition appearance.
ST: And did you ever have to retract a story or admit an error?
Derek: I have not. I never incorrectly called someone a cheat. I have written articles without calling out the runner specifically when there were timing issues, and the incorrect time was not the runner’s fault. I now know what to look for in regards to timing issues and faulty mats. If I call someone out specifically, I make sure I know their intent. I don’t want to call someone out that quit mid race, took a bus to the finish line and accidently tripped the finish mat.
ST: The most recent story you did about Anita Carcone is quite amazing. Not so much for what she did, but how she responded.
Derek: That is correct. I would not have written the article if it was not for her response on social media. She blasted the race, the race director, the person that reported her, and anyone else that disagreed with her. She said that she understands mass shootings and her inappropriate racist comments. I told her I was writing an article and offered her a chance to explain, admit, or whatever. A few days later, someone wrote a blog post about her, and she was defiant. I asked her one last time if she biked the full course, after she seemingly admitted she may not have, and she again denied it.
ST: And that story seems to have been widely shared on Facebook and also was and still is a popular discussion point in our forum.
Derek: Yes it really did strike a nerve. On one hand, I expected people would share my opinions and would be somewhat appalled by her actions. On the other hand, I am much more passionate about other stories that don’t have the kind of hook that Anita’s did. You never quite know which stories will go viral and which will go largely unnoticed. Although, at this point everything I write gets more attention than I ever anticipated - for good or bad.
ST: Because of social media we hear in general more about bad athlete conduct these days. Do you think people always cheated like this and we just did not know? Or is it increasing?
Derek: That is a tough one to know for sure. I think it’s a little bit of both. Before the internet, you could just lie and say you ran a marathon or were a triathlete, and who could question you? With social media, it’s harder to just lie, you have to go further to try to fabricate a legitimate result. People are obsessed with the attention. Social media feeds into that.
ST: What is next for you?
Derek: I am always looking for ways to leverage the site to make a bigger impact. I have considered making a push to run the website full time. But, that would mean that I’d need to partner directly with many more races. I’ve enjoyed working with a small handful of races that have reached out to me and wouldn’t want to lose my freedom/independence. So, short answer is that as far as the website goes, I plan to continue along the same path.
ST: Thanks again.
Derek: Thank You!
The site is marathoninvestigation.com