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Is he a record-setting marathon runner, or a cheater? (latimes.com)
30 points by ilamont on June 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

I wonder if the neurotransmitter "kick" one gets out of pulling off a successful cheat is equal to or greater than that of legitimately winning.

Sometimes I wonder that about fraudsters, especially the successful ones who pull off lengthy cons. The amount of effort, work and diligence they put into cheating and ripping others off could have probably got them to where they wanted to be in the first place if they just applied it towards studying and working hard. For example, see this kid in Florida who kept repeatedly getting busted for being a fake doctor. He set up his own medical clinic and was seeing and billing patients. It takes a lot of work to run a medical clinic! He probably could have just applied himself and become a physician. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-teen-arrested-p...

The only way we could know would be to ask someone who had done both. But of course it's very unlikely there's any such person. If you can win, you probably wouldn't cheat, and if you have to cheat, it's probably because you can't win.

Back when I played contract bridge semi-seriously, there were lots and lots of known cheats, all of whom were already world-class players when playing under stringent conditions to prevent cheating.

But the moment those conditions were relaxed, they cheated.

I don't know why this is even a mystery: These people want to win, and they will do everything, including get as legitimately good as they can, AND cheat if they can get away with it.

We see this is lots of other fields: Black hat hackers who clearly are talented enough to make money legitimately, politicians who rig elections (cough--votes suppression--cough) who are probably going to win in their strongholds anyways, unicorns that raise hundred of millions of dollars in funds but still break all sorts of ethical and legal rules...

What about "deflate-gate?" Did the New England Patriots need to play fast and loose with footballs to win? Or did the just want to win so badly that they did everything legal, questionable, and illegal to win?

Lots of big-name athletes have doped and dope today. Do they need to dope to win? Is it a red-queen's race against other dopers? Or are some of them so focused on winning that they see dope as just part of winning along with the best equipment and the right training and winning the VO2 Max lottery?

Some people just want to win, and they want to win so badly they are prepared to get good AND cheat. They think that cheating is part of winning, just as being good is part of winning.

I do not think that the only people who cheat are people who couldn't win without cheating.

"I don't know why this is even a mystery: These people want to win, and they will do everything, including get as legitimately good as they can, AND cheat if they can get away with it."

That's a good point. Top athletes have a crazy drive to win in addition to being talented. Most of them will do whatever it takes, be it cheating or hurting themselves.

p.s. For maximum fun, look into accusations that professional cyclists--including some very big names--are using hidden motors!

Race officials scan for hidden motors at all the major races now so it's impossible for high profile pro riders to get away with that any more.

It's true that they scan, and perhaps its true that the current generation of scanners cannot be defeated, but I think we're in violent agreement that some world-class athletes are thought to cheat despite being world-class.

I think plenty of people have done both. Winners can't be cheaters and vice versa is a nice saying but I don't think it holds.

There are a few cases of well known esports teams caught cheating, who were really good on their own / likely won smaller contests without cheats. Although after the fact becomes known, the opinions / memories may change a lot.

The whole "dopamine hit" thing isn't real, mostly just bad science writing, https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3817 (p.821).

Zero need for an observer here - just allocate the person a GPS watch with a tamper tag on it. Indeed, anyone who wants to post record times should probably be required to have one.

I was thinking it’s entirely possible for him to just live stream the whole run.

Heck, he could run a marathon on his own this weekend and live stream it.

All the serious runners I know have their own GPS watches already, and chest straps to monitor heart rate. I only know a couple though, so it could be a biased sample. Or perhaps it is an age group difference, but I would think a doctor who is serious about his training would be a prime candidate for buying one though.

Most serious amateur athletes now use GPS trackers but many elite pro marathoners still compete with nothing or just a simple digital wristwatch.

They’ll want an observer because “GPS watch malfunction” will be the next excuse. It does happen.

Great, then you don't get an official time. For noncheaters they can request a pacer as well.

He could also do the Yasso 800s for ex, no need to even run a full marathon to estimate pretty well somebody's time.

Yasso 800s are a good predictor but don't substitute for an actual time trial.

Observer is way cheaper.

If you found that interesting, the story of Kip Litton (name dropped in the article) is a good read.


"I took up running for fun. What I can tell you is that I did not cut. My last few marathons I have had to step off the course, looking for a place to pee. I didn’t know this was against the rules, I was not aware of that. I’ve done this several times. I’ve realized my problem is that I don’t hydrate properly. I have never cut the distance but I have stepped off of the course."

Just analyzing the man's statements for basic "tells" of non-candor and non-forthrightness, like they do in law enforcement:

1) "What I can tell you is..." - That's a distancing, qualifying phrase - we might call it an abstraction layer. It's like there's an AnswerTheQuestion() method that instead of just returning an answer, has to first call the GetAThingToTellThem() method. Hmm interesting. Great separation of concerns if you're a computer program, but totally unnecessary if you're being concise and direct.

2) "What I can tell you is that I did not cut." - It's a non-denial denial. He doesn't actually say he didn't cut. He says he can tell you that he didn't cut. (OK go ahead and tell me then, whenever you're ready.) He can also tell me that he's a purple elephant that farts rainbows.

3) "...I did not cut" - Resorting to a formality by eschewing the contraction - using "did not" vs. "didn't." And I wouldn't make the usual allowance for Latin heritage, because he's a doctor and has been in the US for a long time, plus he uses contractions freely elsewhere (didn't, I've).

4) After starting two sentences with "I've", notice in the last sentence (the second it comes time for another direct denial), it goes back to formal language: "I have."

5) "I didn't know this was against the rules..." Getting defensive, trying to portray himself as a victim being persecuted unjustly (totally outside the normal purview of the usual rules which he thought he knew) and therefore deserving of sympathy. Also subtly attacking the interviewer for asking the question. Aggression is a big tell.

6) Overall does it seem to be just impartially reporting/presenting information or does it seem to be making a case or argument by "dressing up" the facts to favor himself? Notice the overall wordiness of the thing and the volunteering of superfluous information. I do this for fun. I don't hydrate properly (WTF does that mean, you tryin to say you drank too much water dawg?)

None of these on their own would be inherently suspicious, and might have other explanations, but occurring all together like this, they're a billboard telling you "Take a closer look."

Edit: Reply comments are starting to object along the lines that this doesn't prove anything. That is correct. The goal isn't to prove guilt; only evidence proves guilt. The goal is only to direct the course of the investigation. You're only looking for "warmer or colder." Keep going this direction or look somewhere else? That's why I conclude with "Take a closer look" and not "Please convict this person of a crime immediately." It's akin to a polygraph reading - fairly unscientific, generally inadmissible, but valuable in deciding what to do next in the investigation.

(1) Studies on the correlation between these sorts of linguistic tells and deceit tend to be very poorly designed.

(2) they also tend to be massively over-interpreted. Oh, were people 10% more likely to look left if they were lying? “Looking left is a sign of deceit.”

(3) I couldn’t find the source of the quote, but it’s worth noting that spoken language studies do not extrapolate to written statements at all. The same things that are a tell in an extemporaneous conversation are just signs of editing and preparation under other contexts. Preparing to make a public statement? All those signs that make it into the pop-sci lie detection books don’t apply.

> 1) "What I can tell you is..."

"What I can tell you is that I did not cut" but I did step off the track, and that might be against the rules, so I can't say I didn't cheat - seems like a phrasing you could stumble into if you're trying to avoid saying something that isn't true.

> It's a non-denial denial. He doesn't actually say he didn't cut.

He does five sentences later: "I have never cut the distance".

> Resorting to a formality by eschewing the contraction (thoguth ese above for next) / it goes back to formal language: "I have."

If I'm being accused of something, I'm going to stress the "not", and say it more forcefully which could involve dropping the contradiction. I've noticed myself doing this for things that don't matter in the slightest.

> Getting defensive, trying to portray himself as a victim being persecuted unjustly

I didn't read it like that at all. It reads more like an explanation/justification for his behaviour, and a _bad_ one at that (it's on you to know the rules).

> Notice the overall wordiness of the thing and the volunteering of superfluous information.

Presumably it's a rehearsed statement (at least conceptually if not in the exact words), and he's trying to provide an explanation for his actions. It doesn't really seem superfluous.

> WTF does that mean, you tryin to say you drank too much water dawg?

Yes. Marathon runners can drink too much, putting them at risk of hyponatremia.

Extrapolation guilt/suspicion from that seems dicey. None of it seems like something you couldn't say if you were being entirely truthful.

That’s quite an analysis but means nothing as words can be mixed or he can use non conjugated words to make sure there is no distortion.

Also, I’m not a cop, but I grew up around a lot of cops. I spent many nights serving cops after their shift and listening to their stories. As such, I can say that your whole “this is how cops do it” is bullshit because it’s not admissible in court. What cops do is ask the same question a thousand different ways until you tell them the truth, hence the long sessions.

> officials lacked evidence to take action but requested he run with an observer the following year. Meza agreed but ended up skipping L.A. in 2016, entering the Oakland Marathon instead.

I suppose that says it all.

Inferentially speaking, this remark says more about you than the data point does about the accused.

How so? If you know anything about running, you know that it would be quite simple for the guy to go out and run another race to confirm the level of his fitness. He might be a few minutes off, but it's quite easy for a marathoner to go out an run another (observed) race five or ten minutes slower than a recent PR. Five or ten minutes slower would be fine, would confirm his level of fitness is close to what he claims. Very suspicious that this has not happened.

The truth is probably that his actual fitness is half-an-hour or an hour or more slower, and that he's a cheat. Yes, this assertion could be wrong. But given that it would be so easy for the guy to disprove it (and confirm his previous race) it's very suspicious that he hasn't done it.

Irrespective of the other evidence, it’s the unwillingness to entertain alternative explanations and just label an absence of self-defence as “very suspicious” that I find to be the hallmark of a braying lynch mob. It’s a rejection of critical thinking.

Which is why I specifically called that out and nothing more.

If you want to pursue critical thinking, what are the explanations for the various discrepancies in his races?

I see on the marathoninvestigation site the Dr. has been given opportunities to explain these suspicious discrepancies and either hasn’t or provided explanations that are contradicted by hard facts.

The GP saw a chance to denigrate someone, took it, and when others questioned the motivations behind the denigration, he or she retreated to some kind of weird psuedo-objectivity.

>Inferentially speaking, this remark says more about you than the data point does about the accused

Shortly after:

>It's why I specifically called that out and nothing more

Self-righteousness is a weird thing.

Nope. Happy to stand by the original claim that the specific data point quoted was meaningless and everything that flows from that about the quality of judgment for those believing it was, in contrast, definitive of guilt.

“Nothing more” refers to consideration of any other evidence.

As for “retreating into objectivity” I’d say I was far from it when subsequently upping the emotional ante with the descriptor of a “braying lynch mob”, which is how I really feel about the peanut gallery.

Luke 6:37 applies recursively to all of us.

I have no comment on the incriminatory data points. My comment is on the incorrect inference being drawn for a specific non-incriminatory one.

It doesn’t make sense to take that comment out of context, though. I sounds like you are trying to do that, but it doesn’t make sense and that’s probably why many people don’t see your comment as valid.

I can sort of understand someone having that opinion, but if you know running there's powerful evidence that it didn't happen (more than comes through in the linked article) and all of the alternative explanations sound very fishy. And I don't see how it's a lynch mob mentality at all if everyone is open to the guy going out and demonstrating conclusively that he has that level of fitness, which is quite easy for him to do if he wants to (if he really does have that level of fitness).

It's a tired scenario that's been seen many times before. The accused cheater here, if he were a reasonable person, would say, "Yeah, I understand how it looks, it certainly doesn't seem like I could have actually run that race without cheating. So, here, let me go out and show you that I really am that fast." Why doesn't this happen?

Did you read the article? There is some supporting evidence for the conclusion..

> Meza should have crossed in front of an official video camera (..) Meza “did not appear in the video. The only reasonable explanation is that he did not run this section of the course.”

> wherever Meza shows up in photos or video, “his pace is significantly slower than his official splits.”

> photographs that showed Meza emerging from the sidewalk to rejoin the pack along Hollywood Boulevard (..) Meza reiterates he did not cheat, saying he needed to use a restroom

Sure there could be explanations for all of these.. but on top of it all he ducks out of a race where he was to be monitored, in favor of an alternative race? He could have cleared his name right then and there, but he didn't, so naturally this furthers suspicion.

> Did you read the article

I sure did. And I can distinguish which data points are suspicious or incriminatory, and which are empty of meaning.

> naturally this furthers suspicion.

No, it doesn’t. This is my point: claiming it is so only reveals the low standards of evidence of the claimant.

Well, it's a lot of circumstantial evidence that he cut or disappeared during suspiciously fast splits. Meanwhile there is no definitive evidence that he's actually able to finish races as fast as he says he is -- not a single instance in which an observer or tamper-resistant GPS tracker can verify his splits. Until we have that evidence, the balance seems to tip toward him likely being a cheater.

That’s true. What’s untrue is that being absent from one opportunity to build that counter-claim somehow, and I quote, “says it all”. It doesn’t. It doesn’t add to the weight of evidence one way or another. Believing otherwise demonstrates poor judgement.

If there was an evidentiary record of the participant specifically avoiding that event to avoid being definitely found incapable, that would be a different data point.

Not really. He was given a chance to prove them wrong. If it's true when he said "I’m kind of losing sleep over it", then he chose to continue being distressed like that over a chance to run in a different location with friends. Doesn't pass a smell test.

Why does anyone care? I don’t run matherons or exercise at all but why do people feel so strongly about this? No one is making money on running marathons and if people want to cheat, more power to them I suppose.

> No one is making money on running marathons

A few do. For example, the first-place prize for the Boston Marathon is US$150K. That's one race. Then there are endorsements etc. Running is big business.

> if people want to cheat, more power to them

That's just a crappy attitude in any context. Even if absolutely nobody is hurt in a particular instance, cheating should be discouraged to maintain the integrity of the system for when it does matter. Also, as it turns out, this is a race. People competing against one another is an essential part of the exercise, even if there's no money involved. That's why there are rules, and significant effort to enforce those rules, and everyone who participates pays willingly for that enforcement. Comparing their performance to others is an important part of how people motivate themselves to do better. Among people who run marathons more than once, it's why they put in those long hard hours training. It's also why cheaters cheat. They wouldn't risk disqualification and censure if they didn't believe that the competitive aspect matters very much. Apparently the people in these races, both honest and otherwise, believe in the benefits of competition. The implication that competition is meaningless sounds a bit like sour grapes TBH.

Because it affect others. There are trophies and prizes, even if they aren't large. He isn't just coming in in the middle of the pack he is winning his age group. And you have to qualify for larger races, which have limited numbers of runners. If he cheats to qualify then he is taking a place that someone else should have gotten.

Yeah... I think this is the key thing. For "normal" runners, if someone wants to cheat - no big deal, whatever. It's all supposed to be fun and there's no reason to be too anal about auditing results. It's lame if they cheat or whatever, but they're really only cheating themselves.

For the age group record, it matters! It should be, like, a real thing... the people who get those records work really, really friggin' hard, so they deserve to be treated fairly.

Even in amateur leagues it's pretty annoying to lose against somebody who cheats. When I did kickboxing I knew some people were taking steroids and other stuff so either you have to take stuff yourself or you are in a bad position from the start.

I mean, I don’t think if I lost a programming conpetition to someone who was taking adderall I would feel any different about it. If it’s a conpetition, let’s just have the best person win and not impose arbitrary limitations on people.

A good example is the South African women who the olympic committee told to take a testosterone lowering drug in order to compete.

Competitions aren’t fair and there’s no such thing as “natural” in the first place. If the purpose of competitions is to find the absolute limit od human ability, it’s seem silly to me to ban steroids or long legs or too much testosterone.

I guess this is a different point that cheating, though.

Moreover, life is about bettering yourself and winning. That’s why I’ve always thought that cheating in college say is irrelevent. Unless the students are being graded on a curve, I don’t think academic cheating is a big deal.

tl;dr: By cheating you are only short changing yourself and no one should care about it.

> If the purpose of competitions is to find the absolute limit

Not everyone shares that assumption. If you think there should be races where the only goal is to get from point A to point B in the minimum time with whatever aids are available, go ahead and organize one. See who comes. I suspect that the vast majority of people would prefer races where competitors stay on the course and eschew most forms of mechanical aids. Opinions on chemical aids are more mixed, but that's not at all the kind of cheating at issue here.

> Unless the students are being graded on a curve, I don’t think academic cheating is a big deal.

Again, you're ignoring some effects of cheating. Students are often competing for admissions to graduate school (including e.g. medical or law school) so even if the grades themselves aren't on a curve the students are still being compared to each other. Those who don't cheat therefore are harmed. Also professors are graded too, so there's harm there. The purpose of the exercise is learning, which often means doing exercises as laid out. You don't learn calculus by letting a calculator or program do it for you. You don't learn programming by installing prepackaged software. When students take shortcuts, those paying for their education - usually not the students themselves - are not receiving the service they paid for. There's harm all around, and no amount of rationalization by those who can only keep up by cheating will change that.

I think your attitude is abhorrent.

Cheating matters. The purpose of going to college, or recording track times is for measurement and comparison. Allowing cheaters isn't just cheating yourself, it devalues the meaning of the measurement. It is inherently selfish and shows a lack of ethics that is detrimental to society as a whole.

It absolutely is not "only short changing yourself", as it also has very real, direct effects when a cheater displaces an honest hard-worker for a job or college acceptance.

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