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Christian Cowart
Kim Cowart with her mom Debbie Hammond after running her first Boston Marathon.

One Saturday when I was 10, my mom took me to the Roseburg (Oregon) City Library. I was a voracious reader and looked forward to these trips and the armload of books I would carry home. This particular Saturday I’d forgotten my library card. There wasn’t a lot to do in Roseburg during the winter months, and knowing this my mom let me borrow her card so I’d have books to entertain me. After checking out, the librarian handed me the card and said, “Have a nice day, Debbie.”

My name’s Kim. I was a shy girl, so I just smiled and walked away. My mom must have overheard because she insisted I go back and let her know that Debbie was my mom, not me. It was a simple request that taught me a lot of lessons. First, I had to learn to speak to people. That was big for me, especially when it came to strangers. More important, it taught me to be up front and honest. To always be who I claimed to be.

Would it have harmed anyone if I’d let the librarian think I was Debbie? No. But I’m not her, so I went back and straightened it out.

Honesty matters and it’s best learned in benign situations like the one I was in at the library. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

Not long ago I ran across an article about runners who cheat during a race. More specifically, it was about the people who called these cheaters out and shamed them on the internet. Had her point been that it’s unacceptable to berate people on social media, I would have been on board. A lot of ugly words are thrown at others under the cloak of anonymity and it’s not OK.

But she took her point further. Her claim was shaming cheaters is worse than cheating. That, in fact, cheating in a race is relatively harmless. She even posed the question, “Does it even matter?”

The answer is simply, yes. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. Holding cheaters accountable for their actions matters. Cheating is not harmless. It sullies the entire sport.

Whether someone cuts a course short, steals someone’s bib to run the Boston Marathon, or bandits a race outright, those actions hurt the sport of running and should not be brushed off. Tell the person who qualified for Boston but couldn’t run because the field was full that cheating doesn’t matter. Tell the runner who placed in his or her age group but lost that award to someone who cut a few corners to shave a few seconds and took that age group award that cheating doesn’t matter. Tell the runners who ponied up hundreds of dollars to run a race that the bandit who paid nothing but received all the aid that honesty doesn’t matter.

The author of this article asserted that the cheater’s guilty conscience should be punishment enough. More mud thrown at them was unnecessary. I agree that bullying online helps no one, but calling someone out for essentially lying isn't bullying. Waiting for a guilty conscience to remedy the situation is like waiting for your chocolate cake to magically adopt the nutrients of broccoli. It's not going to happen. If cheaters felt guilt, they wouldn’t have cheated in the first place. A lot of cheaters are caught because of others’ vigilance. Crying foul and demanding a wrong be made right is our right and duty as those who love our sport.

Even if you aren’t robbed of an award or a Boston bib, cheating still hurts. Remember Paul Ryan’s claim of running a sub-three hour marathon? He’d only run one marathon at the time he made this claim, and his real time was 4:01. Once caught, he professed to not remembering his exact time. Most runners remember their first marathon time down to the second, and if we run a sub-three, we probably remember that down to the millisecond.

No one was physically or emotionally harmed by Ryan’s falsehood, but for many it called into question his integrity. It also told the world that a four-hour marathon was humiliating enough to lie about.

Comment on this story

What I admire about marathons isn't the finish times; it's the amount of work and dedication it takes to run one. You can’t fake a marathon. Success depends on the individual and the training. I refuse to shrug my shoulders when someone else attempts to fake their way to the finish. We can decry online bullying at the same time insist that liars and cheaters be held accountable. There is no defense for dishonesty.

Does cheating matter?

Of course it does.

The day it doesn’t is the day I stop running.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor, marathoner, Feetures! and Fit Mom Strong Mom Ambassador. You can follow her running adventures at www.kiminthegym.com.