Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Alison Wade
Mike Rossi took his children out of school to watch him run the Boston Marathon, and gained internet fame with his explanation for their absence. Now, runners are wondering about the race he ran to qualify.
Last week it was hard to miss the news about a Pennsylvania father, Mike Rossi. He had received a letter from his children’s school principal stating the three days of classes they missed to accompany him to the Boston Marathon would not be excused.
The response Rossi posted on his Facebook page on April 25, outlining the educational value of the trip, quickly went viral and was shared more than 32,000 times. News outlets all over the world, including Today, People, Fox News, and AOL, picked up the story.
Now Rossi is experiencing the downside of internet fame. Some members of the running community are scrutinizing his past race results and questioning the legitimacy of his Boston Marathon qualifying time. (See the threads on LetsRun.com and RunnersWorld.com.)
At issue: Rossi’s qualifying time of 3:11:45 at the Via Marathon in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 2014, is inconsistent with all of Rossi’s other publicly available race results.
In an email to Runner’s World Newswire on Wednesday, Rossi stated that he qualified for the Boston Marathon at the Via Marathon in the Lehigh Valley.
“The allegation against me that I did not achieve a qualifying time at Lehigh Valley is completely false,” Rossi wrote. “I focused my training to peak for the [Via Marathon] race in order to hopefully qualify for Boston.”
Rossi, 47, of Rydal, Pennsylvania, needed to run 3:25 or faster to qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon. The 3:11:45 Rossi recorded at Via gave him plenty of room to spare.
Qualifying for Boston has become increasingly competitive, especially in recent years, when there hasn’t been enough space in the field to accommodate all of the interested time qualifiers. As one of the most prestigious marathons in the world, the race sees huge demand for entry.
The majority of the 30,000-person field gains entry by meeting age- and gender-specific qualifying times. (Charity bibs, which require a minimum fundraising commitment of $5,000, and invitational entries are also available.) Simply put, qualifying for Boston is a serious and significant deal for thousands of runners.
Last week a person who requested not to be named contacted Newswire toexpress skepticism about whether Rossi had run the 3:11 marathon. By Monday, doubters were openly sharing their suspicions about the validity of his race time on message boards.
Among those who question Rossi’s time, the main arguments are that his 3:11 marathon was not in line with any of his other race results, and that he does not show up in Via Marathon race photos anywhere other than the finish line. The 10 runners who finished ahead of Rossi and the 10 who finished behind him were all photographed in three to six different spots along the course.
None of the runners contacted who finished the race near him reported seeing anything out of the ordinary along the course.
“I have a selfie picture of me at the start and there are photos of me at the finish and video of me finishing the race,” Rossi wrote to Newswire. “The race bib system also documented me at the start and finish. An independent photographer took my picture at the finish. It should also be noted that the [Via Marathon] course is very runner friendly and is rated one of the fastest marathon courses in the country with much of the course downhill.”
The official event photographer, US Candids, captured photos of Rossi at the race’s finish line.
By comparison, US Candids captured Siobhan O’Connor (in green above), who finished one place behind Rossi, in four spots on the course. Other runners who finished near Rossi were photographed in between three and six locations on the course.
The other argument skeptics point to is Rossi’s race history. Running a 3:11:45 marathon requires averaging 7:19 pace for 26.2 miles. Until the Via Marathon, Rossi, who began running in 2013, had never maintained that pace for longer than five miles in a race, according to his Athlinks.com page, a searchable online database of race results. For his half marathon best, Rossi averaged 7:41 pace. His second-best marathon is 3:43:52—8:32 pace—which he ran at the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, 10 weeks after the Via Marathon.
At Boston, Rossi finished in 4:01.
“I ran Boston in 4:01 under poor conditions and with a serious hip injury for which I received a cortisone shot 10 days prior,” Rossi wrote. “I am currently awaiting the results of an MRI taken this past Monday. Hopefully my hip injury will only be a strain and not a tear.”
Greg McMillan, who has coached runners ranging in ability from beginner to elite and is known for his equivalent performance calculator, said that it’s rare for a marathoner to go from 4:26:37, the time Rossi ran in his first marathon in November of 2013, to 3:11:45 without seeing similar improvements at shorter race distances.
“Typically that kind of jump comes from a slower marathoner,” McMillan said. “So you’ll see somebody who’s run five hours or five and a half hours and in their second or third marathon, they take these big chunks out of it.”
“But once you get sub-4:00, it obviously gets more difficult to take those chunks. In this case, you’re talking about being able to run faster than your personal best half marathon for double that in a race, and that is obviously very, very unusual for a person to be able to do.”
McMillan said that it would be possible to come up with an example of someone who made such a jump—someone who didn’t realize how good they were at first, for example—but he would expect to see a corresponding jump in that runner’s training and race performances at other distances.
Rossi said his Athlinks history doesn’t tell the full story.
“My race history as shown on Athlinks is not indicative of my performance level but my training does show an ability to run a sub 3:15 marathon,” Rossi wrote. “Many of my races were run for fun or were performed while I had documented injuries.”
In a blog, which has since been made private, Rossi alluded to running more than 1,000 training miles in 18 months, or roughly 15 miles per week. It’s typical for runners who are capable of a 3:11 marathon to train at least 40 miles per week, especially among runners over the age of 40.
McMillan said that when runners have breakthrough races, they often follow them up with other performances in the same time range.
“Certainly, you could have your ‘A’ day where everything goes perfect and that is your best performance,” McMillan said, “but even if you back off, you’re still going to be within five or 10 minutes of that time, or the equivalent at other distances if you’re racing other distances.”
According to scientific tables called VDOT tables, developed over the years by Jack Daniels, an exercise physiologist and noted running coach, someone who can run 3:11:45 for a marathon should be able to run 20:02 for a 5K and 1:32:02 for a half marathon. McMillan’s equivalent performance calculator would expect Rossi to be even faster—19:41 for 5K and 1:31:07 for the half marathon.
Rossi’s best 5K is 21:52 and his half marathon best is 1:40:44, according to his Athlinks page.
Unlike Rossi, all of the runners who finished near him at the 2014 Via Marathon have run other times—in the marathon or at shorter distances—that are in line with their marathon times that day.
While some races have timing mats along their courses that make cheating difficult, the Via Marathon had mats only at the start and the finish in 2014. Via Marathon spokesperson Lisa Walkiewicz told Newswire by email that the current plan for 2015 is to have a minimum of six timing mats along the course, including the start and finish.
Walkiewicz also said that the race is looking into the allegations regarding Rossi’s performance at the 2014 race.
“We have requested investigatory support from the USATF and are in contact with them to see what resources they may offer to provide a quality and impartial investigation,” she said. “In addition, we are asking for a recommendation on action steps in addressing the matter should they determine an infraction has occurred.”
A representative from Super Race Systems, the company that times the Via Marathon, confirmed that the difference between Rossi’s gun and chip time—31 seconds—indicates that Rossi, or at least his bib, was at both the start and the finish of the race.
Those who question the validity of Rossi’s performance are wondering what happened between the start and finish mats along the point-to-point course. Because the race runs a simultaneous five-person marathon relay, many people run only a portion of the course and are getting in and out of cars at four different exchange points along the route.
While Rossi documented his other recent marathons in detail, he didn’t say much about his 3:11:45 breakthrough on his blog and social media before they went private. He never wrote a race report about the Via Marathon, but he wrote about his 3:43 marathon in Philadelphia 10 weeks later. He posted about qualifying for Boston on social media, but refrained from mentioning his breakthrough time.
Mike Rossi posted a photo of himself at the Via Marathon’s finish line on Facebook the day of the race, but did not mention his time of 3:11:45 in any of his public posts that day.
Shortly after Runner’s World first contacted him for this article, he changed the viewing permissions on his Facebook page and blog and deleted his Twitter account. He wrote that he took these steps “because of the excessive harrassment and personal threats” he was receiving as the story began to spread.
In the Philadelphia Marathon race report posted on his now-private blog, Rossi wrote that after the 20-mile mark, “I finally looked at my GPS watch and saw that I was not far from another BQ! Then, around mile 22 I had to use the bathroom…and that crushed any chance of a BQ. Bummer 🙁 ”
The splits from Rossi’s Philadelphia race tell a different story. He went through 10K in 51:14 (8:14 pace), halfway in 1:47:08 (8:10 pace overall), and 30K in 2:34:32 (8:17 pace overall), indicating he was never on the 7:50 pace he would need to run a Boston qualifier.
He wrote on his blog, “Overall I was happy with my time.”
According to his blog, Rossi ran his first-ever race, the 2013 Broad Street Run, just over a week after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “It was then that I decided I had to run Boston,” Rossi wrote.
His description of the Boston Marathon on his blog suggests that getting into the race was an important goal for him.
“The Boston Marathon isn’t just another race. It’s the Holy Grail of running, and there’s a good reason for that,” Rossi wrote. “Boston is not like any other races. They only accept the fastest times of those who beat the stringent qualifying standards. Just being about to qualify (BQ) for the race is something that most runners never accomplish.”