Friday, June 6, 2014

J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge: Why So Serious?

Never have I ever been accused of cheating--at anything, as far as I can recall, but certainly not at a running race. Until this week, that is!

Now, if cheating at a running race sounds silly or downright impossible to you, make sure to read the wonderful story of Rosie Ruiz . . . after you finish reading my blog post, of course. (Okay, okay, you can click now. But come back!) However, for most of us runners--myself included--cheating would defeat the entire purpose of running races, which is to beat ourselves. Cheating at a race just makes you look good in front of other people, and let me tell you: competitive runners are not out to look good in front of a crowd. If we were, we'd go into something like modeling or golf, not a sport where we finish with salt crusted under our eyes, snot dripping out of our noses, and, sometimes, pee dripping down our legs.

So. Back to the story of cheating . . . or at least the accusation.

On the evening of Wednesday, June 4th, I ran the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge. This event is comprised of thousands upon thousands of company-sponsored workers running, jogging, or walking a 3.3 mile route around Central Park. Since the organizing body is a financial company and not, say, an organization that knows how to put on gigantic races (think NYRR or BAA), things tend to turn into a free-for all, in spite of J.P. Morgan's best intentions. Honestly, though, I have to say that this year was much better organized than in years past. I made it to my proper corral this time, and I didn't run headlong into strings of walkers fifty meters into the course. For those small miracles, I am grateful, and I think J.P. Morgan is on the right track in whatever they're doing to elevate the level of this race. What I do not appreciate, however, is what happened after I finished.

Due to the time I projected running when I registered for the race, I received one of the very elite-looking red bibs, which put me in the first, front-most corral. This all seemed very exciting to my teammates, being "right up front," but the reality of it was just me standing amid a sea of smelly sweaty men all jostling to get an inch closer to the start line. After about thirty minutes of shifting from foot-to-foot within five square inches of personal space, the gun finally sounded. Off we went.

In spite of the incline right at the start, I somehow managed to run the first mile in six minutes flat. This both freaked me out and spurred me on. I was running fast! Of course, as anyone who has ever tried it knows, running fast hurts. And hurt it did. If technology ever enables us to record our thoughts straight out of our heads, the world will discover that the last mile of any race unleashes the bleakest, darkest thoughts imaginable. But I persevered and, in the last 500 meters, managed to overtake the one woman I had been tailing for nearly the entire race.

Long story short, I ran my best time ever: 20:09 (which breaks down to an average 6:07/mile). As if that weren't thrilling enough, it looked as though I'd place second overall, too. Second, out of nearly 7,000 women! However, as the night carried on and my friends continued to check the results pages on their phones (my phone is too dumb or I'd have been doing the same) my name wasn't showing up. In fact, even searching for my bib number yielded nothing. It was as if I hadn't even run the race!

Fortunately for me, I have very supportive friends--so supportive, in fact, that they virtually forced me to call the race info line at 10pm to try and get my race results sorted out. No one was there, so I left a message, and the next day I emailed the address listed on the site, too. Finally, at long last, the race coordinator called me.

"I'm sorry, but no one saw you finish," he told me, "so I had to disqualify you."

I'm sorry . . . what?

"Look I understand that your chip registered. But there were five certified US track and field referees at the finish line, and none of them saw you."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After a bit more back-and-forth, he asked me a strange question.

"Where did you finish?"

I wanted to say something snarky, along the lines of, "Right in front of the girl who you probably have listed as second overall," but I held my tongue. As it turned out, he wanted to know which side of the finish line I had crossed. The volunteers on the race course had shouted to "stay right," so that's what I had done.

"Ah. That explains it. I think I know what happened. See, all the women were supposed to finish on the left. You finished on the right. So no one saw you."

At this point, I was expecting an apology. Instead, I got this:

"Have you run any other races?"

Have I run . . any . . . other . . . races? Is this guy serious?

I listed the HOHA as my most recent, and then asked if he was looking for NYRR races or just anything. As soon as I said "NYRR," that seemed to be the magic word.

"Ah, no that's all fine. If you run NYRR races, that should all check out. Let me just go watch some of the video footage and check a few things, and we'll get your results back up there."

And then I guess he felt he had to explain himself, because he added,

"Some people try to cheat, you know. But you told me you finished on the right before I even said anything. Before you even knew where you should have finished. So you understand. . . ."

I wish I had been mentally present enough to ask the question that, afterward, loomed large in my mind: who in the world would bother to cheat at this race? First of all, it's not even an official 5k distance; it's exactly 0.1 miles too far to qualify as a 5k. Secondly, there are no prizes! It's not as if by winning second place, I was getting some sort of massive check or vacation or Lamborghini, or even anything for my company. So what was the big deal? I just wanted the results to reflect the race I ran! That's it!

What's especially funny is that after another 24 hours passed, my name dropped down on the rankings to third. So the same thing must have happened to another woman. Ridiculous.

I never did receive an apology for all that nonsense. But I ran the fastest race of my life and received probably the most adoration I'll ever get from my coworkers. So I'll take that and cherish it. Screw the rankings.

J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
3.3 mi

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