Is it Cheating if: Running Hack or Cheat?

We’re diving into the deep existential big running questions this week. Can you count you time if… type questions. If you did this thing during your run does your PR count? You know the important stuff. You see this sort of thing pop up sometimes and you might think aren’t we splitting hairs here? In general I think so. Although I did once report an athlete for cheating. There’s an idea that every single record and thus every single run has to measure up to the same standards as an elite at a Boston Qualifier. Some of this is totally official and some is largely my opinion. Let’s just say that we’re dealing with your average runner here and realistically not everyone needs to hold themselves to the same standard as the elites, after all we’re not dealing with the same resources either. 

Running is a really personal thing and during a race the rules for what counts are usually very clear cut. Time taken to visit a loo for example on course counts and there’s no getting around that. Personal bests are just that personal so if you never run a race it can be up to you how you define that. So if you decide that it’s oaky to pause your run time for a behind the bush pee on your runs, that’s cool with me. If you’ve been wondering about sketchy runner behavior we’re going to settle it here today. We’re going to delve into the things you might be doing on your runs around the neighborhood and the stuff you might be doing in your races too. Some of these are clear cut while others are let’s just say a little grey.

Can you pause your run at a light?

Yes, yes you can, and you don’t have to compensate for that time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 10 second light or you get a two minute break. I think this even mimics race day conditions more than just letting the time tick on after all there are no red lights in races.

Can you full out pause and take a break?

Again I would say this is usually a yes even for a PR… though this is a bit more controversial. If you ‘pull over’ during a race to double over that time still counts. But in this scenario you’re taking a break during a regular run and pausing your watch. Here’s why I think this still counts. For the athlete that you are in the moment that is your personal best. If and when you progress as a runner, breaks or not, you’re going to end up going faster when you’re moving, taking fewer breaks and for less time. As you personally progress in running your running style will progress too. The goals that runners have to take fewer breaks, run the whole time and get faster means this is a ‘problem’ that will take care of itself in a short time. 

Can you shave time off for ‘a reason’

No, but you can always qualify the time and I think you can always round to the nearest minute. Does it really matter if you say your 5k PR is 28 minutes compared to 28:24 in conversation? I don’t think this is cool for regular runs or races though. For example I can’t take 5 minutes off my half PR or 15 off my olympic time because I used a porta-potty or had to fix my chain several times, but I can tell you that implying I am capable of more. I’ve already given you permission to pause your run while stopped as you see fit for your everyday runs so no it’s not cool to shave any more time off your run beyond rounding (up or down) to the nearest minute when reporting the time later. That’s just lying.

Using headphones

This ship sailed a while ago, it’s in Tahiti now, it’s fine!

Running the tangents vs cutting the corners

If you run an official 5k course short does it still count? The official measuring for a race is usually measured taking the most direct route possible on an empty course which is known as running the tangents. If you do that perfectly your race day run will be exactly the race distance. But… under actual crowded race conditions that’s not usually possible which is why your GPS says you ran the race but it was just a bit longer than the official distance. Even though it’s totally cheating to hop up on the sidewalk for a few paces to pass a runner tying their shoes on course (which does happen) I tend to think for most of us this sort of thing all comes out in the wash. Which is to say as long as you’re not trying to run the course short then you’re good.

It can be hard to find the course sometimes

Let’s just say your GPS data comes up a little short of the actual race distance, can you still count that official race time as a PR? I would say yes. If your GPS says you ran 4.8 km instead of that 5k you were promised I think you can still count that as your fastest 5k ever. You might have started late or hit the end button a few seconds early or there might ave even been a bit of lag on your phone connecting to the satellites. As long as your local timing company says it counts I think it does to. However if your fastest time happens to occur at one of those casual fun run events without a timing company present and your GPS data says the course was 5% shorter than it should have been maybe it shouldn’t count that. If you really want to split hairs extrapolate your time out to how long it would have taken to cover the whole distance. If that time is still a PR then you earned it!

Walking during a race

Lots of runners sign up for a race with two goals to live to the end and to run the entire time. So if you end up taking a few walk breaks is that cheating? Hell no! I don’t think there is a race out there that says “at no point can both of your feet be on the ground at the same time while on course” which means that even the race directors say you can walk. Even if you walk the whole time that time counts!

Wearing super shoes of the future

Much debate was had and much ink was spilled debating this one but the International Associations have weighed in and investing a month’s rent into a pair of carbon fiber sneakers is not cheating. As long as a shoe is technically available to everyone it is not cheating. Just keep in mind those few minutes you took off your time overnight don’t really reflect you growing as a runner. Don’t stress about it though soon enough we’ll all have this technology and the playing field will once again be level.

Being or hiring a bib mule

If it’s your bib then yes it’s cheating, not mostly because a time you couldn’t run is now attributed to you but because you’re cheating another athlete out of the experience. If you’re the bib mule well it is cheating for the same reason but it seems a hair less egregious then hiring the mule. This is a pretty crappy thing to do all around and you’re largely cheating yourself.

Hiring a personal pacer

You see this at races sometimes and I’ve been this person for my step dad. This one is a grey area for some athletes but I would say it’s not cheating. Technically having your own pacer not provided by the race is against the rules. However you see lots of people who seem to be running races with their own personal run coach who encourages them and keeps them focused the whole time. If we’re being honest these are not the athletes that are in any danger of placing in the race or even their age group. If you’re a runner who needs a little bit of help and support just to finish I think this is okay after all in these situations aren’t usually world record times. In a big race you usually have all manner of alternatives from official pace bunnies, another random runner and GPS data so I think this is almost always okay.

Getting in an Uber

This is totally, totally cheating! You knew that didn’t you? If during a race or a run you use a wheeled or motorized vehicle to move faster it’s cheating even if you don’t get caught. Same goes for leaving the route to make it shorter on purpose. If you actually have an idea that this isn’t cheating you might be very dishonest overall.

Is it a PR if its not race official?

Yes, yes it is. Some runners never race (although I think they should try) and those runners have personal bests too. Fun fact about racing, the energy of the day pushes you harder than you would otherwise push yourself so at a certain point you usually just don’t get a PR unless it’s a race. 

Should you count gun time or chip time?

There’s a fine line between purest and petty guys. Even little races usually have a couple hundred runners in the field so there are always a few seconds between the gun and when you enter the course. In large events that can stretch on to minutes. Since we all have good manners as runners and we line up according to our speeds so as not to get in someone else’s way. If that’s all true and it is, we get to count our chip times as PR’s. Even the Boston Marathon let’s you count your chip time now so it’s cool.

I needed help to reach the top of the wall

If you ever find yourself bored with an hour or so to kill check out the site This is where people (I’m not really sure who) go out of their way to catch runners actually cheating. It sounds dull but it’s actually strangely fascinating. As you can see there are definitely ways to all out cheat but it’s more about the spirit of the infraction if you ask me. Since regular runners don’t perform at the same levels as the elites or have that sort of support I don’t think we generally have to hold ourselves to the same extreme standards. Life happens right even when you’re running and we need to be realistic about that when running too. Do you disagree with any of these assessments? What regular runner habit do you consider cheating? Leave it in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Is it Cheating if: Running Hack or Cheat?

Add yours

  1. If I’m on a training run, I’d never count it as a PR.
    If I’m running a virtual race I count the time when I hit the designated distance. I can’t really cheat and cut the course short since I’m running whatever the race distance is.
    During a virtual race I only stop my watch for a pit stop, but usually not when waiting for a light. If the line of cars is long or the intersection is treacherous I’ll stop my watch.
    When I run a real race I try to run the tangents as much as possible. As you mentioned, this is difficult due to the crowd. I only run on the sidewalk when there is a mob scene in the street.
    For a real race I use the timer’s chip time. Around here even most 5Ks have a timing mat at the start.
    A few times when I’ve known there was a starting mat, I’ve started way in the back to avoid the crush.
    And I’ve used a porta potty during a marathon before. It’s pointless to stop your watch since the official time is the only one that counts.


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