I heard about him a few months ago. It was a curious story about a middle-aged guy who burst onto the running scene as a masters runner, and ran some fast times, winning or placing in his age group for various marathons around the country.
Just one problem. It seems, he likely didn't really run the entire races. Think Rosie Ruiz, only more crafty.
Then my brother lent me the full story in The New Yorker from several months back that documented the story of Kip Litton. He's a dentist from Michigan who claims to have goten bit by the running bug several years ago. Like a surprising number of runners, he says he discovered a talent for it, and became dedicated to marathons.
He recorded some pretty impressive times, including a number of sub-3 hour marathons in places like Boston. I say 'recorded' because how much he ran is very much in question. As is documented in the New Yorker story, he is very good about activating his timing chip at the start line of races, and recording his finishing time at the end. And the chip is usually recorded at the various mats along the course as well. Here is a link to the story: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/06/120806fa_fact_singer
But there are usually no photographs of him along the course. Just at the start and the finish. And on several occasions, he is wearing different clothes at the start than the finish. Yet he managed to place in a series of races without scrutiny until, in a smaller race several years back, he finished ahead of a runner who never saw him on the course. That runner started asking questions, and others joined in, discovering a pattern of similar stories at other races.
It's a fascinating story, if only because there's really nothing at stake but pride. You rarely win anything of value for placing in your age group in a race. Yet we runners often place tremendous focus on training to meet such goals. So if we cheat to achieve the goal, we are really only cheating ourselves.
I have given a bit of thought to trying to figure out the 'how'. How can you get around a marathon course with the timing chip, manage to get it near the mats, and still be able to jump back in the race a short distance from the finish line without being noticed? It really seems impossible, especially in a big, crowded, point to point race like Boston. At one point he even made up a race in Wyoming that he, of course, won.
But the more interesting question is why? What would be the incentive for someone to perpetrate this fraud? Why risk the embarrassment of getting caught? What's the point of it? Runners, more than any other people I know, are goal-oriented, and hard-working. The point of racing, for most of us, is to challenge ourselves to see what we can accomplish, whether it's finishing the race, or meeting our goal time, or placing among the leaders. As I mentioned earlier, there's no incentive to cheat.
If you search the name Kip Litton, you will find quite a lot has been written about his exploits, and none of it is complimentary. Well, with one exception. I read one commentary that suggested, somewhat like the late Andy Kaufman and his wrestling matches, that Litton is doing some kind of ironic performance art, and the joke is on us runners who take our sport too seriously.
We might never know the truth, because Litton doesn't seem to be talking much to reporters.
See you at the next race. I'll be the one running the whole thing........