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Ultra Runner Rides In Car During Race, Finishes Third, Uploads Data To Strava

Joasia Zakrzweski runs in the Taipei 48-Hour Run, holding a UK flag
Still via video by 傑克Jack/YouTube

Wake up, wake up, there’s a new marathon cheater! This one is extra special, because it’s actually an ultramarathon cheater—really, a great new development in the world of sports sacrilege. The runner in question is Joasia Zakrzewski, who competed in the 50-mile Manchester to Liverpool Ultra on April 7. She finished third among women with a time of 7:25:17 and was given a wooden trophy for her feat.

“What a finish for 2nd and 3rd female!” read a post on the Facebook page of GB Ultras, which organized the race. “Emily Newton and Joasia Zakrzweski had an epic race and in the end it was just 22 seconds that separated our fantastic two runners … Congratulations from all of the GB Ultras team!” There was no prize money, but Zakrzweski posed for a photo next to Newton with a little wood block trophy.

A few days later, the M2L Ultra posted an update that race results had been adjusted. Kelsey Wiberley won. Newton finished second. But Mel Sykes was now third. Sykes explained in a tweet what happened to get Zakrzweski disqualified: “She travelled in a car for around 2.5 miles of the M2L 50 mile event.” Wow. It’s even more impressive that Newton held her off, then!

Zakrzweski was caught relatively quickly. Race director Wayne Drinkwater said he was notified that a runner had received an “unsporting, competitive advantage during a section of the event.” Skyes tweeted that Zakrzweski uploaded her watch data to Strava. It showed her running a mile in under two minutes, with a heart rate of 90bpm and a cadence of 0. She did not even keep swinging her arms!

In an interview with BBC Scotland, the 47-year-old general practitioner said she got lost on the course when she began limping due to a sore leg. Then a friend drove by, picked her up, and took her to the next checkpoint. “When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was pulling out and that I had been in the car,” she told the BBC, “And they said, ‘You will hate yourself if you stop.’ I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way.”

She even said she “made sure” not to pass Newton, who held her off in that “epic race” the M2L posted about. Come on! She couldn’t even let Newton have her moment of glory?

Drinkwater, the race director, told the BBC he didn’t really believe her story: “There was no attempt by Joasia to make us aware of what had happened and to give us an opportunity to correct the results or return the third place trophy during the course of the subsequent seven days.” Drinkwater added he has written statements from event team members who say Zakrzweski did not tell anyone she was dropping out, or that she had ridden in a car.

Zakrzweski lives in Sydney, Australia and says she was jetlagged after arriving from home the night before and was not thinking straight when she accepted her trophy and posed for photos. She is a relatively decorated athlete, according to the Scottish Distance Running History webpage. In February she set a 48-hour women’s world record at the Taipei Ultramarathon, running 411.458km (255.668 miles) over that time period. That course was just a 1-mile loop, so it would be hard to cheat there. The previous year she also set a United Kingdom 24-hour women’s mark, running 247.985km (154.091 miles). I do not know why these distances for a 24-hour race go down to the thousandth of a kilometer (a meter), but I dutifully copied them as a service to you, the reader, in case you wanted to know.

I talked to a few ultrarunners I know last night about this story. (I accidentally designed the course for an annual 50K run, so I know a few.) All of them basically said the same thing: It’s hard to know how many people cheat in ultras, but the sport does seem to attract people who are more into the challenge of pushing your body to the limit. However, this time a runner rode in a car and took third. So who knows.

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