Wednesday 4 March 2015

parkrun cheaters (not cheetahs)

There's something that disturbs me greatly... people who cheat at parkrun.

If you've been living under a rock and don't know what parkrun is... It's a five-kilometres, free, times run that happens concurrently at dozens of locations throughout South Africa (usually parks or park-like areas) at 08h00 on Saturday mornings. Every Saturday throughout the year. (parkrun is also in other countries - just talking about SA here)

Some parkrun venues have routes that include loops. The benefit of loops is that unfit people starting out can walk only one loop (shorter overall distance) and build up steadily to completing the full five-kilometre distance. Those who only do one loop are not meant to go through the timing finish because they have not completed the full distance and they mess up the placings for people who have.

A few weeks ago at Woodlands I came flying through to the finish and just ahead of me was a woman who was walking... and walking slowly too. The marshals asked her whether she'd completed both loops. And she said "Yes!". Liar-liar pants on fire! There was no way that she could have beaten me. She wasn't even sweating!

My mom has had the experience (walking and near the back of the field) where she's seen walkers behind her but then they finish ahead of her.

I've chastised people cutting corners at parkrun. "I'm just trying to get ahead of  them", they say - pointing to people ahead.  Then out-run them, idiot.

People even sit on the side to wait for people (strangers and/or friends) who they walked with on the first loop, to return at the end of the second loop so that they get an 'appropriate' time at the finish and yet they haven't actually done the full distance.

Do they go home and proudly proclaim to friends and family that they did parkrun in 42-minutes?

And what about those that arrive late and then just hop in with the passing crowd?

You should all be ashamed!

The sad truth is that when people see an opportunity to cheat, many will. It is disgraceful. Where's that sense of achievement? If they can't manage five-kilometres now, they will in a few weeks and then how proud will they feel when they earn that full-course time?

It really is up to us to call out the cheaters and to remind them not to go through the timing chute if they haven't done the full course. I like to think that they day they do complete the distance and receive that time that they'll feel proud and appreciate having earned it.

This may seem like a small cheat but people who cheat at something as 'insignificant' as parkrun are certainly cheating in other areas of their lives too and maybe they just need a reminder to do what is right.

One of my favourite TED speakers is Dan Ariely - he's a behavioural economist and many of his talks were featured in the Think101 online course I did last year.

Here's one of his TED talks on why we think it is ok to cheat and steal (sometimes). The first few minutes speaks about irrationality and this links on at about 4:30 to simple cheating experiments and the irrationality behind this.


Anonymous said...

Yes, woodlands parkrun is notorious for that - probably because its quite hard! I never could figure out WHY people would want to cheat at it - there is no benefit... but humans are strange animals I suppose. Therefore i completely ignore my placement and work solely on time for Parkrun - but it is quite sad.

Anonymous said...

Then there's runners that start 5 meters before the starting line and sprint of before the gun goes off.
I know Parkrun's are there for fun, BUT if it is a timed event rules should be applied.

Anonymous said...

I think because you can get 500 discovery points there has been a huge influx of people who do this run. However, the name is park run, and more than half the people walk ! For us runners, the walkers can get in the way and at the moment joburg park runs are bursting at the seams. I think in the spirit of the park "run" discovery should only award points to people who finish within 40 mins and hold a park walk at 8:40 for walkers.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

LOL our parkrun is full of kids who take shortcuts through the woods, two lappers and various other naughty people. As long as they don't get in my way I'm not too bothered.

indiebio said...

As an aside, the Ten Commandments doesn't remind about morality, it reminds that someone is watching. Not the same thing. Check this as a counterpoint:
Perhaps it is about fairness, and how people respond when they see something as not fair, or not equitable to them. Sure, some people are just annoying. But is that reason to screw the whole lot of struggling but willing people over?

Do I think people doing only half the course should go through the finish chute and get a time? Yes. They can use that time to see how they improve until they feel they can do the whole thing. If they're cheating, hey, they still got out of bed. I'm not going to judge all the reasons they felt they don't want to do the whole thing. It's not really anything to do with me. It doesn't cost me more or affects me in any way. Does it cause Discovery to lose some money? Not nearly as much as it's making them.

Do I think the Discovery point system sucks and forces people to cheat? Yes. I see the crazed look that people get when there's a possibility they can't get their points, and I think it's cruelty. That algorithm needs modification. It directly opposes the attempt to get more people to volunteer because they're terrified that they won't be able to get their points, and then as an added bummer we can't say publicly that people are allowed to run beforehand to get around this. As a parkrun volunteer I see myself as part of the group of parkrunners with the point system on the outside, if you want to argue about fairness.

I am involved in parkrun to build community, first, and to exercise, second. It's not a running club, so it's not exclusively for runners. If that annoys you, congratulations, you have achieved the point where you have outgrown parkrun, it's not for you anymore. And if you do want to do parkrun but your current one is getting too big, launch another one.

The positions and age gradings is nonsense, as in is not part of the definition of parkrun not being a race, and is apparently being phased out.

adventurelisa said...

I don't think that people doing half the course should get their time. It is a great incentive to them to build-up to do the whole course. parkrun is a 5km timed event. Simple. If people only want to do 2km they can walk from their homes.
We had an older woman and her friend here who recently started parkrun. They were slow; almost 1h30 for the 5km distance. The older woman has been through three back operations and was getting back into regular activity. Her husband is a regular participant and volunteer.
Most of our participants are done just after 9am and these ladies didn't want to be inconsiderate by keeping our volunteers waiting another 25-odd minutes for the two of them. Being a small parkrun, we can be accommodating and allowed them to start earlier so that they would be finished around 9am. I would rather see them coming every Saturday than not. They were responsible for keeping their time and I would enter it manually. Their aim was to build up to finishing in under an hour. To achieve this, they started walking 2-4 kilometres a few times a week. I was the RD on duty two weeks ago when they completed the route in 50 minutes, not even three months after they started.

I'm with you on the Discovery points thing. I'm not on Discovery and while I think the points are a good incentive to get people out-and-about, the system is flawed. Of interest, I bumped into a guy yesterday morning that I know and haven't seen for years. We had a quick chat. He is new to parkrun. The guy with him is also a newcomer and said that the only reason he was there was for Discovery points.

My mom has a friend who used to volunteer regularly. Discovery did away with points for volunteering. She stopped volunteering. She needs these points to stay on her tier. Our locals know that volunteers can run earlier, which we've done for ages. It works. People get to run an be involved (and get points).

I haven't quite gotten into the age grading thing but I am aware that some things give other people a kick that doesn't do anything for me.

There used to be an accumulative points thing based on age gradings (I think) and participation. I didn't follow that either and when it was done away with about a year ago, I didn't even notice until a local contacted me to ask about it - she took pleasure from seeing her progress on this. Each to their own.

indiebio said...

I agree that it shouldn't be policy for people to do less than the full course and get their time, should have articulated that more clearly. We see people who wouldn't come if they can't do half, they just don't trust themselves. For me personally it's really intimidating to start, so whatever I can do to help people take that first step, I will. We have people - women, mostly - who don't have the confidence that they can finish, we tell them, do what you can. They finish almost all of the time. They just need the chance, the openness. And I don't want to see people dumping on that.

The volunteers know about running earlier, but we struggle to get new volunteers to tell them. Anyway, this random 'rule' is my biggest bugbear with parkrun management.

To me, the site says it best:
"Whether you’re young or old, male or female, fit or unfit, able-bodied or not, you’re always welcome. It’s not about racing, it’s about running."