In 1999, a friend in my high school youth group loaned me a CD with a striking title across the cover: The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. Recorded and released by Payable on Death (POD), a hard rock band based in San Diego, Southtown achieved remarkable success, driven in large part by the booming range of Sonny Sandoval, the group’s lead vocalist. A few days ago, I listened to “Lights Out” once more, track number two off the band’s sixth studio album, Testify (2006). Sandoval employs a recurring phrase in the song to highlight his ability to arrange words in a magnificent manner. “It’s lights out, game over. If you wanna you can check my stats.”
You can check my stats. As a musician, Sandoval’s stats are impressive. Nine studio albums. Sales exceeding ten million units. Three Grammy award nominations (thanks, Wikipedia). I, on the other hand, can claim no such musical accolades – but my running stats are respectable. Ten marathons and one ultramarathon. Numerous age group wins at various distances. Like Sandoval, you can check my stats thanks to the internets. They are available at Athlinks. And oddly enough, this ability to check stats has given rise to a fascinating website concerning running data.
Marathon Investigation, created by Derek Murphy, a business analyst from Ohio, exists to expose cheaters. “I think most people aren’t aware of how much cheating goes on in marathons,” Murphy told NBC News in a January article. Mr. Murphy’s efforts are primarily revealed at the iconic Boston Marathon. According to a Runner’s World article days before the start of the 2017 race, fifteen runners had been removed from the field, a direct result of Murphy’s due diligence. “There is sometimes no better method of race enforcement than from witness accounts and reporting of fellow participants who also believe in a clean sport,” Boston Athletic Association officials told Runner’s World.
What’s disarming about the information that Derek Murphy scrutinizes is that so much of it is public, freely available for the world to see. Think Facebook and Instagram posts and pictures; Marathon Foto and Marathon Guide; Strava, Twitter, Flash Frame, and the like. Murphy can check the stats to see if timing mats were missed or if someone other than a bib’s owner ran with his or her number. Why the risk then? Why do runners go to such lengths to attain a better time, win a race, or gain entry into Boston?
The Boston Marathon speaks for itself. It’s a race like no other, and thus the temptation to acquire an entry through anything less than honorable means is enticing. In 2015, a firefighter started the Boston Marathon after cutting the course at a 2013 qualifying marathon. Murphy caught him, and Runner’s World spoke to him by phone, agreeing not to disclose his name. “My teeth are grinding, I am so sick to my stomach. If I could take this back I would,” said the distraught firefighter.
The temptation to cheat in a race can be great when no one is looking and prize money or qualifying times for Boston are on the line. But doing this is a severe breach of personal integrity; it’s an egregious violation of character. The question, then, is this: what will you do when no one is watching? In the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “A man’s character is his fate.” Or consider the words of Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British writer and politician no less. “The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”
While the phrase “Lights Out” signifies a noteworthy accomplishment, it can also denote defeat. I realized this after pulling a Rocky tee shirt from my closet recently. The image depicts Rocky Balboa delivering a crushing jab across the face of Clubber Lang, the brutal boxer who destroyed Rocky in the first fight of Rocky III (1982).
To put another way, Rocky’s lights were knocked out when he first faced off against Lang, but the champ enlisted the help of Apollo Creed, once his fiercest competitor, to train in new ways and thus avenge his humiliating loss to Clubber. Whatever the distance, cheating in a foot race is also tantamount to loss, to being harshly knocked down in the ring of life. Resisting the temptation to shirk the rules and finish with integrity, however, will lead to a stat sheet that has no need for an asterisk next to any of the posted results.
Lights out. Game over. Check my stats.