If there is one thing that all runners can agree upon, it is that we must maintain integrity in the sport.
When you run a race, you have to follow all of the rules and that means running the entire race yourself by foot (unless the race is a multisport event or relay).
People who have been plugged into the sport of running for many years may recall the infamous story of Rosie Ruiz, the woman who was declared the winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon.
Rosie Ruiz was rightfully stripped of this title that she robbed from the other honest participants days after the event when it was proven that she was driven just a mile or so from the finish line and started running from there.
Imagine being the real winner who had run the entire 26.2 miles and outrun every other honest participant in the race only to have the glory of breaking the tape and being crowned the champion on site.
Even the other podium contenders would be affected by the emotional celebration and recognition attained on race day by finishing in the top three.
Although the rightful winners were later recognized, and given the appropriate prizes and medals, athletes who cheat take away an experience and glory the real winners earn that you can never get back.
Unfortunately, despite the advancements in electronic time chips, which makes it much more difficult to jump into a race that is already underway and not run the entire distance, there are still astonishing cases of runners who decide to cheat in running races.
One such case happened at the 2023 GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on April 7.
Here, Joasia Zakrzewski, one of the top Scottish ultramarathon runners, was said to finish in third place, but it appears she was driven in a car for approximately 2.5 miles of the race.
Zakrzewski is a 47-year-old GP from Dumfries, Scotland.
Dr. Zakrzewski not only won the Taipei Ultramarathon in Taiwan in February outright—beating all the women and men—but she also set a world record across 255 miles (411.5 km) in the 48-hour event.
Her running success has not only been as of late.
While representing Great Britain, Dr. Zakrzewski won individual silver in the 2011 IAU World 100km Championships and took bronze in 2014 and 2015.
She won a 24-hour event in Australia in 2020 at age 44, covering a distance of 236.561km.
Dr. Zakrzewski has also set a couple of records, including the Scottish 24-hour record, the Scottish 100 miles record, and the British 200k.
The primary thing that raised suspicions that Dr. Zakrzewski may have cheated in the 2023 GB Ultra race was the fact that her location was tracked on GPX mapping data and indicated that she covered a mile of the race in just one minute and 40 seconds.
This is not only significantly faster than the pace Dr. Zakrzewski had been averaging in the 50-mile race, but also physically impossible.
Reports indicate that the race director of the GB Ultras race, Wayne Drinkwater, received a tip-off after the race was over that a runner had gained an unfair, competitive advantage for part of the event.
According to the BBC, Drinkwater said, “The issue has been investigated and, having reviewed the data from our race tracking system, GPX data, statements provided from our event team, other competitors and from the participant herself, we can confirm that a runner has now been disqualified from the event having taken vehicle transport during part of the route.”
Drinkwater notes that a report surrounding the disqualification had been submitted to the Trail Running Association, which is an associate member of UK Athletics and the organization that provides the license for the GB Ultras.
UK Athletics is currently investigating the incident.
However, despite the fact that more investigation is seemingly taking place, Dr. Zakrzewski has already been stripped of the third-place results spot, and this designation has rightfully been awarded to Mel Sykes.
Although anytime that a runner acts dishonestly or outside of the utmost integrity while racing is extremely disappointing, fans and the running community at large are rather confused and shocked by seeing this type of unsportsmanlike conduct from Dr. Zakrzewski.
She has had such a successful career as an ultramarathon runner, and has been a real inspiration to many UK runners.
As such, her decision to commit the cardinal sin of running is certainly a head-scratcher and a big letdown.
At this time, there is still not a thorough explanation of why Dr. Zakrzewski decided to cheat in the race.
Reports note that a running friend of Dr. Zakrzewski, Adrian Stott, who was in contact with her before and during the race said that Dr. Zakrzewski had arrived the night before the event after traveling for 48 hours from Australia.
He is on record saying that her race did not unfold according to plan and as a result, she was feeling sick and tired and wanted to drop out.
Stott says Dr. Zakrzewski is sorry for any “upset” she caused.
With that said, this comment does not really provide insight into why she didn’t just drop out and take the DNF as soon as she got in the vehicle rather than get back in the race and then finish in third place as if nothing had happened.
Incidents like this one certainly call into question what motivates runners—especially high-profile ones—to make such decisions that are wholly in direct conflict with the purity of the sport.
We would like to think that every runner upholds the sanctity of the sport, but the reality is that there are disappointingly frequent cases of cheating.
Running is hard, and particularly with distance races like the marathon or an ultramarathon race, plenty can happen over the course of the event that may cause you to be unable to finish.
While no runner wants to see the dreaded DNF—did not finish—attached to their name on the results, a DNF beats cheating any day.
For more information about how to bounce back after a DNF, check out our guide here.