Robert Young maintains his innocence, despite findings from a three-month investigation.
British ultra-runnerRobert Young received “unauthorized assistance” during his attempt this year to break the record for fastest run across America, according to an investigation commissioned by his chief sponsor, the sports compression company Skins.
“We have identified no alternative plausible explanation for the data-of-record other than assistance, most likely in the form of riding in or on a vehicle for large parts of the attempt,” said the 101-page report, which was released Saturday.
The key finding was derived from Young’s private TomTom account, the fitness tracking service that stored data from two watches he used during the record attempt. The data showed that his cadence—the number of steps he took per minute as measured by the watch—indicated he did not run large swaths of the route during the first 24 days.
After public scrutiny mounted, the report found, Young started running the full mileage but could not maintain the rigorous pace, and ultimately dropped out, citing a foot injury.
Young, 33, has maintained his innocence.
“I do not agree that I cheated,” Young told Runner’s World in a 40-minute phone conversation Friday afternoon. “I certainly made mistakes, but I did not cheat.”
Nevertheless, Skins has terminated his contract. The company did not provide details about what the sponsorship entailed.
Young left Huntington Beach, California, on May 14 with the intention of breaking the Guinness World Record for fastest trans-America run. The record, set by Frank Giannino Jr. in 1980, stands at 46 days, 8 hours, and 36 minutes.
Young, who is based in Great Britain, calls himself “Marathon Man UK.”His website says his accomplishments include finishing 420 marathons or ultramarathons over 420 days and running 373.75 consecutive miles without sleep.
To break the trans-America mark, Young needed to run nearly 60 miles a day. He lasted roughly 2,000 miles over 36 days before dropping out west of Indianapolis on July 18, citing a fracture in his right foot.
His location during the run was broadcast live to his website via a tracking device, and his journey was documented with photos and text updates on Facebook. But cheating allegations started a week after he began.
Members of the ultrarunning community expressed suspicions over the volume of miles Young claimed to run and his pace. In the early stages of the run, Young frequently ran more than 70 miles a day, often maintaining a pace faster than 7 minutes per mile, an unprecedented feat according to many of those ultrarunners. They accused him of riding in his support vehicle, a beige RV, instead of running the full distance.
These allegations led to international media coverage and thousands of online posts, many on the website LetsRun. A group of accomplished ultramarathoners, including Gary Cantrell, the race director for the famous Barkley Marathons, decided to verify Young’s pace in person. They tracked him in a separate vehicle for five days before he dropped out.
The group did not witness any wrongdoing by Young, but they did note that his pace and mileage dropped significantly under their scrutiny.
Their observations persuaded Jaimie Fuller, the CEO of Skins and an outspoken advocate against cheating and corruption in sport, to commission the three-month investigation. It was conducted by two respected independent researchers: Roger Pielke Jr., a professor in the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado, and Ross Tucker, an exercise physiologist and founder of the website Science of Sport.
The researchers conducted interviews with Young, a member of his crew, and witnesses who spotted his support vehicle on the road. They also received submissions from Internet sleuths who had already examined Young’s publicly available data during the attempt.
But the strongest piece of evidence came from Young himself. He gave the researchers access to his private TomTom account, which revealed the cadence data that had previously not been released to the public.
“Looking at the data it is fairly obvious,” Pielke Jr. told Runner’s World. “Having the cadence data is irrefutable evidence.”
The Record Still Stands
Regardless of the investigation, Young did not reach New York City. The 36-year-old trans-America record lives on.
Young is one of three people in 2016 who has tried but failed to break it. As more attempt the mark, Pielke Jr. and Tucker have included in their report best practices for documenting such attempts.
“The emphasis should be on total transparency and full disclosure,” the report said. “Such transparency is neither difficult nor costly, given today’s technology.”
Among the list of recommendations, the authors suggested uploading data directly from a watch on a daily basis to at least two tracking applications. They said the data must include cadence and heart rate, and there should always be a tracker showing the runner’s live location.
Many of these methods are being used by an ultrarunner who is currently on pace to challenge the record. As of Friday, Pete Kostelnick was running through northern Colorado on day 20, averaging just over 60 miles a day. His websites displays his current location, as well as running segments on Strava as they are completed.
As for Young, he said that despite the investigation, he will not stop running. He is planning on competing in at least one six-day ultrarace within the next 12 months. He has also not given up on breaking the trans-America record. He is planning an attempt in 2017.
“My reputation is damaged,” he said. “I am not going to just hide away. I know I am going to come back and prove myself.”
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