You can run, but can’t hide from Derek Murphy, the man behind MarathonInvestigation.com.
For the past six years, Murphy has been catching marathon cheats in the form of bib stealers, bib mules, bib buyers, and course cutters in races around the world, starting with the Boston Marathon and stretching to far-flung places such as the Barkley Marathons in rural Tennessee.
His website resembles the mug shots you may see at the gas station.
Evidentiary race photos supporting his cases are plastered on the screen with a detailed report on how the runners cheated, how they were caught, and, often, their responses when apprehended.
The lengths of which some of these runners will go to not go the distance know no bounds.
Murphy started his investigations with the 2015 Boston Marathon, the pinnacle marathon in which these cheats take away the hard-earned spots of those who qualified.
In this article, we go behind the computer screen to find out . . .
- Who Derek Murphy is,
- how he catches the race cheaters,
- why he spends his free time chasing cheats, and more.
Who is Derek Murphy?
Derek Murphy is the creator of the Marathon Investigation website. He is a business analyst in a suburb outside Cincinnati by day, a husband, a dad of two, a runner, and a catcher of race cheats by night.
After his kids and wife go to sleep, he sits in his armchair and combs over race data, Strava posts, runners’ race history, and race photos to uncover race cheats.
“It’s kind of related: doing spreadsheets, looking at numbers. It’s kind of the way I generally attack the marathon investigation stuff,” he told Runner’s World.
Is Derek Murphy a runner?
Derek Murphy is a runner. He told ESPN he has run 10 marathons but was never very fast, meaning he has never qualified for the Boston Marathon.
But he loves the event very much and wants to protect it by exposing the cheats that steal qualified runners’ spots (and honor).
Murphy now runs ultramarathons, including 24-hour races.
How did the website Marathon Investigation start?
According to the LA Magazine, in 2015 Derek Murphy caught wind of a Philadelphia disc jockey who was caught faking his qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.
Murphy started to wonder how many other people cheated to get into Boston.
So, he did what comes second nature to the business analyst, he created an excel spreadsheet of marathon data and pinpointed the runners who had discrepancies in their qualifying times and their Boston marathon finishes.
He then launched his website, posting his cases and calling out cheats.
How does Derek Murphy know where to look for cheats?
Murphy is now well-known in the running community, so he gets tips of marathon cheats that he then follows.
He also follows running news and pays attention to races.
Why does Derek Murphy look for marathon cheats?
Derek Murphy told Runner’s World his marathon investigations started as a hobby since he loves the analytical challenge.
And, it also was a way to do good—expose the cheats and maybe prevent more in the future—especially with high stakes races like the Boston Marathon where cheats steal deserving runners’ spots.
Now it has turned into an obligation.
“People are emailing me like, Hey can you look at this? My friend was cheated out of a second-place [finish] because of this, or just missed Boston. People were reporting to me, and I feel the obligation to follow through when I get those kind of messages,” he told RW.
How do runners cheat in a marathon?
Cheating in the marathon has been around for more than a century.
The apparent winner of the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis rode a car to mile 19 to then finish on foot, after collapsing from exhaustion.
In 1980 Rosie Ruiz famously jumped into the Boston Marathon near the finish line and claimed victory.
Now technology is more advanced, so marathon cheats keep pace with more advanced tactics. Some race cheat tactics include bib buying, course cutting, and bib mules.
A bib mule is when someone wears your bib and runs a fast time for you.
“It’s like letting someone take the law school exam for you, then using that score to go to Harvard,” Les Smith, a lawyer and event director for the Portland Marathon, told RW about bib mules. He believes the BAA would likely win a civil case if the organization ever chose to act.
Why do people cheat in the marathon?
The reasons why people become marathon cheats vary, according to Murphy’s investigations.
They may be injured and can’t run, or they can’t get into the Boston Marathon but want the pride of being able to run, or it’s strictly for their ego or image.
How does Derek Murphy catch marathon cheats?
Murphy analyzes split times, race photos, Strava data including heart rate and cadence, and previous race results to catch race cheats.
For the 2015 Boston Marathon, for example, Murphy developed an algorithm to pinpoint finishers who ran 20 minutes slower than their qualifying time.
That number was about 2,500 runners. Then, he and his three-person team scour previous race results and marathon photos, ultimately finding 47 questionable qualifiers.
Those include 29 people who received bibs from someone else, 10 who cut courses, four who falsified their race results, and four who hired bib “mules” to run for them, reports Boston.com.
What race data does Murphy look at?
When Murphy looks at split times, he looks for variances in their running pace —sometimes finding runners who would have had to run 3-minute miles to ultimately achieve their finishing time—indicating an obvious course cutting.
Some cheats like Jane Seo, a lifestyle blogger, go so far as to doctor Strava data to provide evidence to support their race time finishes, including biking a course after a marathon.
Upon reviewing some of the half-marathon race photos snapped after the race, Murphy noticed that the watch Seo was wearing read 11.65 miles, not 13.1, reports Deadspin. This exposed evidence for Seo’s course cutting.
How long does it take for Derek Murphy to catch a marathon cheat?
Murphy says some cases take just a few hours where some could take weeks.
Does Murphy investigate other distances than the marathon?
Yes, Murphy will investigate other distances—shorter or longer than 26.2 miles.
Does Derek Murphy confront the cheats?
Yes, Derek Murphy confronts marathon cheats by calling them out.
“If I am writing about someone, I always reach out to give them a chance to come clean or have an answer,” Murphy told the New York Post.
Sometimes the cheats are apologetic, in other cases, marathon cheats can be defensive, even combative.
Murphy tells The Ringer: “If somebody responds to me, generally at that point they’re admitting it. One case [was] Marlon Bascombe. I initially confronted…he said he’d talked to his lawyer, and he was going to sue me if I posted it (his case)…I get those threats.”
Another cheat posted Murphy’s home address online publicly.
Does Derek Murphy report cheats to race officials?
Yes, Murphy reports race cheats to race officials, often leading to their disqualification.
Did one of the marathon cheats commit suicide?
Yes, Frank Meza, a 70-year-old retired physician, committed suicide after being found as a marathon cheat.
Meza’s 2019 Los Angeles Marathon result was voided after Murphy’s marathon investigation found that he cut the course.
Meza committed suicide days later by jumping off a bridge.
Meza had previously denied multiple accusations of cheating in marathons.
His record-setting time of 2:53 in LA, the fastest ever for a man his age, caught the eye of Murphy who used race photos to determine he cut the course.
Following Meza’s suicide, Murphy told the New York Post, he’d do it again.
“It was such an egregious case, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have reported on it,” Derek Murphy told The Post. “But I always exercise caution. I look for true intent.”
Does Murphy ever vindicate suspected cheaters?
Yes, in at least one case, Derek Murphy vindicated an 18-year-old Ryan Lee for the 2016 London Marathon.
The young runner’s results look suspicious, yet an online campaign was launched to prove his innocence.
Murphy examined chip times and race photos and determined Lee did not cut the course, vindicating him.
“Once I realized the starting time posted on the London Marathon’s results was wrong, I started fighting for this kid,” Murphy said.
What Murphy hopes to accomplish?
More than anything, Murphy hopes his work will act as a deterrent to future race cheats.
Murphy says he wants people to know that a “math geek in the Ohio suburbs has the time and patience to comb thousands of race results to root out suspected cheats.”
Ahead of this year’s Boston Marathon, he is ready.
To support Murphy’s marathon investigations, make a contribution.
If you’re interested in trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or better your marathon time, check out our marathon training resources.