September 3, 2012


MARATHON MAN: A Michigan dentist's improbable transformation. (MARK SINGER, AUGUST 6, 2012, The New Yorker)

On July 24, 2010, Strode received an unexpected inquiry from Jennifer Straughan, the Missoula race director, who asked him to look at a photograph of a runner wearing bib No. 759. It was Litton. "There is some question as to whether he was seen along the course," Straughan wrote. "He finished in a time similar to you so theoretically you would have noticed him."

While Strode had been immersed in what he'd assumed was his own private Kip Litton obsession, the official timer at Missoula had been contacted by his counterpart at the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, in Deadwood, South Dakota, where Litton had turned up the previous month. Photographs taken in Deadwood showed him crossing the starting line fifth from last and finishing in 2:55:50, putting him first in his age group and in third place over all. The fourth-place finisher protested: he'd been running third at the halfway mark and said that no one had passed him after that, an assertion bolstered by the fact that most of the remaining course was a trail only six feet wide. Litton had registered a half-marathon split, and the Deadwood timer was skeptical of the protest against him--"I was trying to prove Litton was legit," he told me--but he changed his mind after determining that Litton had, improbably, run the second half eleven minutes faster than the first. In addition, he found photographs of Litton only at the start and the end of the course. Deadwood disqualified Litton, and Straughan followed suit in Missoula.

Strode, who in a later Web post described his mind-set as "sucked in, fascinated and pissed off," broadened his investigation. He sent an e-mail to Richard Rodriguez, who on the Web site of the West Wyoming Marathon was identified as its race director; Litton had a listed winning time there of 2:56:12.

"I'm writing to ask about the winner of your marathon a few weeks ago, Kip Litton," Strode wrote. "He was recently disqualified from the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon for cheating (not running the whole course). . . . I don't know the guy--I just hate cheating in running. I wonder whether he may have had a legitimate performance at your race or whether he may also have cheated in Wyoming."

Two days later, Strode received a response: "Wow, that's quite a scenario! It would have been very unlikely for the same thing to have happened at our race, as there were only 30 participants and the lead 2 runners ran almost the entire race together. I have not received any complaints. I will keep my ears open though. If there is an update, send it my way. Take care, Richard."

Strode began to wonder if his suspicions were misplaced, but he kept investigating. At the Providence Marathon, in Rhode Island, where Litton had finished first in his age group, photographs showed him wearing shoes and shorts at the end of the course that were different from those he was wearing at the beginning. (A costume change at Deadwood had involved shoes, a hat, and a T-shirt.) In the Delaware Marathon, Litton had finished first in his age group. After being prompted by Strode, the race's director, Wayne Kursh, found that, among the finishers, Litton alone had failed to register split times. On an out-and-back portion of the course, Kursh had taken photographs of the top runners at the turnaround point--but Litton was not among them. He also failed to find images of Litton elsewhere on the course.

Kursh had a blog, and on August 6, 2010, he posted a blind item about Litton titled "Another Rosie Ruiz?"--a reference to the scammer who was briefly heralded as the winner of the women's division of the 1980 Boston Marathon, before it was determined that she'd jumped onto the course less than a mile from the finish. Kursh wrote in a follow-up that he had been exchanging concerns with other race directors, adding, "I smell a rat."

In an e-mail exchange initiated by Kursh, Litton claimed that photographs of him would be hard to find, because his shirt had covered his racing bib. He added, "Wasn't there a timing mat at the turnaround?" Kursh ultimately decided to disqualify him, explaining, "From your comment here it is pretty obvious that you have NO idea where the timing mats were on route. They definitely were not at this turn-around point."

On occasions when Litton responded to such pointed challenges, he never did so in a hostile or nakedly defensive manner. After a disqualification, he simply deleted the result and the recap from his Web site, as if he had never registered for the race. His default demeanor was equable mystification.

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Posted by at September 3, 2012 8:45 AM

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