- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

JeansMarines calls itself “a group of Canadian women who dare ourselves to do the impossible — to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.”

The small running group from Toronto achieved the impossible Oct.30 — and gained plenty of notoriety in the process.

The group’s co-founder and coach, Dr. Jean Marmoreo, directed many of the club’s members to cut the course — in other words, cheat — to get past the Marine Corps Marathon’s cutoff point.

Since race day, race director Rick Nealis said “about 325 runners were removed from the database as potential finishers. These cheaters were discovered through systematic research utilizing the champion chip timing mats and analyzing the data of runners pace time.”

Nealis said Marmoreo of JeansMarines, a 2005 Marine Corps Marathon charity partner, “assisted runners to circumvent a portion of the course, thereby not completing the requisite 26.2-mile course.” He banned the group from the 2006 race “for their lack of professionalism and unethical conduct.”

He also said another charity partner, Leukemia’s Team in Training, is being investigated for similar improprieties by one of its coaches on race day.

Cutting marathon courses has been around for years — who can forget the infamous Rosie Ruiz at the 1980 Boston Marathon — but cheating at Marine Corps has become prevalent because of its cutoff point. Since the 14th Street Bridge gets shut down for the race, there is a time limit to get across it: five hours. That means runners must average about four miles an hour to make it across the bridge, which is about 20 miles into the race.

Anyone who doesn’t make it to the bridge in time gets a ride in the sweep truck to the finish.

Over the years, runners have found easy places to shave some miles as a result. In the old days, it was simple: run the first 11 miles, stop at the Lincoln Memorial and — in a few steps — join the race in progress at 18 miles.

This year, the course swept past the Lincoln Memorial at 10 and 14 miles, meaning runners could save about an hour to make the bridge cut. JeansMarines reportedly took its shortcut there, and supposedly some Team in Training members have been wandering off course there for years.

It seems to me, however, runners could cut out Rock Creek Park and save another four miles between miles 5 and 9. And cut out East Potomac Park and Hains Point to save another four miles between 16 and 20.

Or, for that matter, why not just walk a half-mile from the start, take a left up the hill to Iwo Jima and the finish and save about 25 miles of grueling pain, gallons of sweat and the morning-after feeling of having been run over twice by the same train?

Or how about just give someone else the chip to activate, sleep in on the last Sunday of October and collect the medal from that person the next day.

The marathon, by and large, still is based on the honor system.

Nealis’ discovery further ignites the furor over charity groups among hard-core runners. Online discussion groups want all charity runners banned from races. That, however, is akin to saying all elite athletes should be banned from track meets because Kelli White was busted for drugs.

In the past, I have not been a huge proponent of charity running groups. Many have bastardized the sport by making it acceptable to walk some or all of the marathon and still be considered a bona-fide finisher.

Charity groups have, as Boston writer Tom Derderian calls it, “dumbed down” the event. The average finishing time has gotten longer and longer. They have made races way too crowded and are allowed to sign up long after the normal application deadline.

At the same time, charity groups like JeansMarines have inspired couch potatoes and others to exercise, and they have brought in millions and millions of dollars for good causes.

What I find most disturbing is this “finish-at-all-costs attitude” toward the marathon, that a medal from an amateur event like Marine Corps is more important than playing by the rules. Is it OK for runners to tell pledges they went the distance because they were raising money for charity? To live out some little lie for what?

Nealis, in an open letter Nov. 17, concluded by saying, “The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, ‘Always Faithful.’” I remember a few years ago when Nealis invited Marmoreo and some of her JeansMarines to his press conference and touted the group for its dedication and rising numbers.

And they ended up cheating on him.

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