Easiest Ethics Verdict Of The Month: Using A Car To Win A Marathon Is Cheating

Joasia Zakrzewski finished third in the 2023 GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on April 7. It was subsequently discovered that she traveled by automobile for about two-and-a half miles of the course, since she was tracked on GPX mapping data as bridging one mile of the race in a minute and 40 seconds. That’s fast, man!

The 47-year-old Scottish runner, who has won several championships and set records, surrendered her medal and fully cooperated with officials. She would have looked better in the ethics files, however, if she had just confessed to cheating and left it at that.

She can explain, you see. Zakrzewski had arrived the night before the race after flying for 48 hours from Australia, where she now lives. She said she became lost on the course near the half-way mark and one of her legs began hurting. She saw a friend on the side of the course and accepted a ride in his car to the next checkpoint where she planned to tell officials she was quitting the race. But when Zakrzewski arrived, the officials told her that she would “hate herself if she stopped.”

Oh! Then I guess its OK for me to continue, she apparently thought, even though I’ve been riding in a car.

“I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way,” Zakrzewski explained, forgetting the crucial principle that when one is already in a hole, one should cease digging. “I made sure I didn’t overtake the runner in front when I saw her as I didn’t want to interfere with her race.”

Then why, after she crossed the finish line, did she accept a medal, the third place trophy, pose for photographs, and not mention the little detail of her car ride for seven days? “I made a massive error accepting the trophy and should have handed it back,” she now says.

Ya think?

“I was tired and jetlagged and felt sick….I was feeling unwell and spaced out and not thinking clearly.”

For seven days! That’s really bad jetlag, poor thing. Adrian Stott, a running friend, insists that Zakrzewski never meant any harm and is truly sorry. “Joasia has been a great ambassador for British sport and has inspired so many women to run and achieve their goals,” he says. This is known around Ethics Alarms as an appeal to the King’s Pass, rationalization #11.

In another statement, Zakrzewski apologized to the real third-place finisher and said, “It wasn’t malicious, it was miscommunication. I would never purposefully cheat …but I don’t want to make excuses.”

Stop making excuses, then.

10 thoughts on “Easiest Ethics Verdict Of The Month: Using A Car To Win A Marathon Is Cheating

  1. I am not sure how you get lost running a race, but let’s say that is true. You know you pretty much lost at that point.

    Still, many people run for the purpose of finishing, not winning.

    If her purpose was to win, what she did was a flat out violation of the rules.

    If her goal was to finish, it is still a violation of the rules, but she only hurts herself by getting a ride back to the race.

    That would even justify her decision to continue on from her drop-off point.

    This is where her story gets weird. Why hold up on the person in front of you? You have already thrown off the people behind you. If, at that point, you are just doing it to finish, why not give it your best.

    The only way that I can see her salvaging her situation is that she finish the race and declare herself disqualified at the finish line.


  2. I have to disagree a bit here, Jut (something I never expect with your comments), but I think she should have dropped out well before the finish. As you note, she had thrown off the people behind her, and with her ahead of them, there is the possibility they may have eased off knowing they could not make it to the top 3. If she had dropped out earlier, there might have been a stronger competition for third place.

    • Yup. In addition to the non-substantive but still real effect of diminishing the thrill of the real racer who crossed the finish line in third place but was robbed the fun of getting the cheers, the trophy, and the publicity.

      • I should have thought of that, too. You can give the medal back, but you can’t re-enact the moment of crossing that line as a part of the top-three.

    • That’s a fair point. When I imagine myself running a marathon, I don’t imagine finishing the marathon in any position other than “not last.” Actually, I just hope I would stay ahead of the street sweepers who clean up afterward.

      I have to confess that I know next to nothing about the rules and etiquette of the sport. She claims she was inclined to stop when she got to the next check-point. Maybe that was the correct inclination. It puzzles me though that an official (apparently) told her to continue. While I agree that it is a clear cut case that she should be disqualified (this is not the first time I have heard of an automobile being used in a marathon), I am not sure when that decision should have been made under the rules.


  3. Am I alone in wondering why it took the review of the mapping data to figure out something was wrong? No competitor, race official, or spectator noticed someone in a competitor’s bib emerging from a motor vehicle in mid-race and suspected that something might be amiss?

    • As a race official if I see someone not running the course properly e.g. going off course, taking short cuts, stopping, etc. I would go to them to see what was going on.
      It can be easy for runners to lose their way when utterly exhausted. Their brain stops working and all they can do is plod along and if the course is not clearly marked then they can lose their way. Not all courses are marked as well as those you see at the Olympic marathons. For shorter courses it is the very old and very young that need the most watching. For one runner aged about 90 we had to count the number of 2 km laps he had done because he could never remember. When he retired it made the officials job a lot easier. And a seven year old boy one year fell over and when he got up starting running the wrong way.
      If an athlete had left the course, then I would direct them to go back to where they had left the course and re-enter at that point.
      If a runner stops running and then walks a short cut back to the start finish line, I would note their number and inform the finish area that that athlete is not finishing.
      If an athlete takes a deliberate short cut, i.e. cheats then if I am a race referee I would disqualify him or her otherwise I would contact the referee to say what I had seen.
      Or it could be a matter of an athlete needing medical attention. At my city’s cross country champs last year I saw a group of spectators gathered around so I jogged over to find an athlete collapsed on the ground and one of the spectators who was a doctor looking after him.
      In a long course such as the 50 mile course Zakrzewski ran it would be difficult to mark the course every metre of the way and nor is it possible to have officials close enough together to see when a runner gets lost. Maybe all runners should have to use a GPS tracking system to check that they have run the correct course.

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