Are rules meant to be broken?

Much ado has been made about the Lakefront Marathon.  This is a smallish race.  Until the scandal I had never even hard of the run.  The marathon made news after the first place and second place female winners were disqualified for breaking two different USA Track & Field rules.  Non-competitive/elite runners might not be aware, but runners in contention for winning an award are governed by different rules than the non-elite mortals.  Races with a competitive field are essentially two races in one: (1) the upfront battle for plaques/money/glory with runners who were probably invited to run, didn’t pay to register (indeed, may have been paid an appearance fee to run), and are escorted to the front of the pack and (2) the larger open race of general runners with their own individual goals (PB, BQ, finishing, top %, etc) that follow in the speedy footsteps of the would-be winners.  This particular race served as the Wisconsin Marathon Championship and as such I expect that USATF rules would be strictly enforced. 

Sure you can argue that the USATF rules are Draconian and should be changed, but detestable or unpopular as the rules may be they did stand on the day of the race.  Should the USATF allow runners to pick and choose which rules to follow even if they are in contention for an award?  I propose not.  I once flouted an iPod rule in a moment of desperation, but I did so knowing that I risked disqualification.  It didn’t happen, but I knew the risk.  My rule-breaking was very stressful.  I won’t do it again.  I sure wouldn’t do it if there was a chance of hell freezing over that I might win an award. 

The USATF rules are not secret.  An elite or competitive runner, racing for money and a state championship, should be aware of the rules.  Pleading innocence by ignorance is no defence.  Pleading innocence by protest to the rules is no defense.  Rules can and should evolve overtime and a controversy can be a catalyst for change, but in the spirit of fair play in any given race the contenders need to be operating under the same set of rules.  In my not-so-humble opinion.

This is what went down.  First place went to Cassie Pellar until officials discovered she had accepted a water bottle from a friend, outside the confines of an official aid station.  DQ #1.  First place was then awarded to second place finisher Jennifer Goebel until photographic evidence turned up showing Goebel running with an iPod for a portion of the race.  DQ #2.  I am a runner amid the masses, not racing for a podium spot, and even I know that outside aid and iPods are banned for competitive runners.  The listening-device rule in particular has been the subject of endless controvery and a recent change in ruling garnered international media attention.  In other words, you would need to be running in some sort of media-free bubble on a deserted island with no human contact to be unaware of the music-player debate.  In January the USATF removed the general ban on iPods leaving the decision in the hands of the race director, but retained the ban for competitive runners:

The visible possession or use by athletes of video, audio, or communications devices in the competition area.  The Games Committee for an LDR [long distance running] event may allow the use of portable listening devices not capable of receiving communication; however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices.

The rule is clear.  No ambiguity.  Goebel, however, firmly believes she should not be DQed stating  “If they’re going to disqualify me for having an iPod they should disqualify everyone who had one,” she said. “It’s just a little ridiculous. I went there to have a fun race with my friends.”   However, her opinion directly conflicts with the well-advertised rule surrounding listening devices.  Not everyone with an iPod was a competitive runner.  The non-competitive runners with iPods followed the rules.  So there is no reason to DQ those iPod wielding runners.  She is not “everyone”.  She is governed by a different set of rules.  She did not follow those rules.  She got caught.  There is no way the USATF can set a precedent of making an exception to the iPod rule for one runner who, quite frankly, should have known better. 

She claims that she needed a boost and that an iPod is a harmless motivator.  The thing is, maybe runner number three also needed a boost in miles 19 through 21.  That is, afterall, the infamous Wall zone.  Maybe with that boost number three would have made up the minute she lagged behind and finished number two.  But number three followed the rules (as far as we know) and a fair competition would ensure that those who beat her also followed the rules. 

I am, admittedly, a rule follower.  I don’t cross against the red, I don’t (intentionally) park in no parking zones, I don’t even cheat on crossword puzzles.  Perhaps my law-abiding tendencies are the reason I am forever confused by people who think they are above the rules, that the rules don’t apply to them.  In my mind, if you disagree with the rule then lobby for change.  Or skip races with rules you don’t like.  Don’t break the rule then throw a temper tantrum when you get caught. 

That’s what I think.  Harumph.  What do you think?

p.s. Is anyone else thinking that the third, I mean second, I mean first place finisher will be subject to “random” drug testing?  I’m certain her race photos have been scrutinized under a microscope.  Next up, urine analysis.  Runner number four, I mean three, I mean two, is anxiously waiting in the wings.

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6 responses to “Are rules meant to be broken?

  1. Hmmmm were the ladies on the leaderboard all registered as elites? If so, then yes, I think the rules apply. But does the person who registers as an age grouper and happens to pull off a top finish also have to abide by the no ipod rule? Tricky.

    Judging by the *new* second place finisher’s bib number, she was a regular ol’ age grouper. If she wore an ipod (as non-elites are allowed to do) would she be ineligible for the money and DQed?

    I’m confusing myself…
    Will stop typing now.

    • I actually wondered the same thing, because every so often a regular runner does manage a top finish. That would be a lot trickier. Chances are at least one of the new 1, 2 and 3 were not registered as elites, as this isn’t a huge race. However it does seem the iPod-wearer did start out as a competitive runner with a shot at placing, having run a 2.52 in the past in Chicago. I haven’t read otherwise yet and I assume if she was not an elite that would have been her defense.

  2. There were 205 posts on the RW blog about this subject. I agree with you and the USATF. She obviously had a chance at placing looking at her Chicago time, and this was a pretty serious race from what i hear. Even if she’s not an elite, wouldn’t she be considered to be someone in contention for prize money, thereby DQ’ing her? She should be able to take it gracefully instead of criticizing the rules.

    I was debating whether or not to use the ipod for the race this Sunday. Looks like fate decided for me since i managed to lose it last week. 😦

  3. I agree with you. I always thought that the expression “rules are made to be broken” was kind of lame.

  4. I am also a bit of a rule follower so I agree with both you and Mark. But I think Goebel’s response to her DQ is the worst part of the whole stinkin issue….I really enjoyed this reply to her response…

    “”If they’re going to disqualify me for having a gun, they should disqualify everyone who had one. It’s just a little ridiculous. I went there to have a fun race with my friends. If you’re bored, it pumps you up a little bit.”

    I think this could increase my chances of winning my age group…”

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