Mere hours after (Not) The Biggest Loser Dane was voted off the weight-loss ranch scandal erupted, a controversy which has earned him the moniker The Biggest Liar. I’m not afraid to admit it, I love the Biggest Loser. The over-the-top transformations fascinate me. Although I tend to fast forward through much of the absurdly long two-hour shows (filled with tedious product placements - chew gum, use plastic baggies, get skinny!), I always watch the post show update. According to TBL, after leaving the ranch Dane ran The Desert Classic Marathon in Phoenix Arizona – in a shocking 3 hours and 53 minutes. Shocking because when he started TBL the man weighed over 400 pounds and hadn’t exercised, let alone run, in years. With almost no training, his coach-potato lifestyle not far behind him, and still weighing in the neighbourhood of 300 pounds, we see Dane and his wife cross the finish line, hug their cheering fans, and proudly accepted their finisher’s medal. Dane romantically proclaimed it was “one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be able to run side-by-side with my wife for an entire [emphasis mine] marathon.”
Although a skeptic, I am also naïve. I’m still astonished that despite many incredulous moments, I always accepted the legitimacy of his achievement. My hubby’s first thought – something doesn’t add up. I, on the other hand, was amazed but impressed. I called hubby a cynic. Logical me assumed no one would publicly tell a lie that could so easily be unraveled. Apparently I overestimate people. Given my assumption that the results were legit I just figured he must have crazy untapped running potential. It happens. I wondered what he could pull off if he actually trained. I did comment on their perky finish line appearance – sweat free and looking easy Sunday-stroll breezy. Who looks like that at the end of a marathon? I thought perhaps the finish line crossing was a re-enactment. Good actors (read: not reality TV show contestants) would at least try to look tired and sweaty, but maybe the producers were going for the inspirational ‘this is so easy anyone can do it’ approach. Then there was a conspicuous lack of other runners. I thought maybe it was a fake marathon – 26.2 miles, but an unofficial course set up by the show for Dane (I was wrong – it was a real, albeit small, marathon). Upon closer inspection (love you, PVR) the finish clock looked like 5:53, not 3:53. Trick of my eyes? Again extending the benefit of the doubt I thought perhaps the text scrolling across the screen reading “Dane completed the 26 mile marathon in 3 hours and 53 minutes” was a typo and should have read 5, not 3 hours. That time sounded a bit more plausible. It’s true, I didn’t see the scandal coming.
Soon after the show aired other runners in the marathon reported that Dane and his wife did start the marathon but were spotted jumping into a van around mile 17 and were driven several miles down the road to the finish line. The exact distance driven is unknown, there is an unconfirmed report that the van dropped them off at mile 20 (this is consistent with Dane’s story) but others say it was closer to the finish line. What we do know for sure is that they were driven between 3 and 9 miles. A Rosie Ruiz finish. The duo originally accepted their finish medals and times as legitimate and the first posting of the official results reportedly included the couple, but after protest from the other runners they were removed from the official results. They did not, on their own accord, register a DNF – they were disqualified.
On her blog (no longer public) Mrs. Dane admitted that they were aided but blamed production for the assistance, in that they needed to make up for time lost when they stopped for filming at a water station (I don’t think this clip aired). But if they truly ran at a 3:53 finisher’s pace and this is a typical marathon with a cut-off in the 6 hour range, they were in no danger of course closure [later reports indicate that the finish was 5:53, not 3:53 and they were indeed trying to make the 6-hour cutoff, although other runners finished in over 6-hours]. Even so, people get held up during races all the time. I wonder if I can make a case for a 3-mile hop the next time I get stuck in a port-a-loo line? The would-be marathoners believe that running most of a marathon is just as good as an entire marathon and that they “only” drove 3 miles, so they earned their accolades. I think this is where we see a difference between runners and people who happen to run a race for reality TV purposes. Hilariously, she also goes on to say ….”I hope that they do say [Dane] completed this marathon because had time allowed he would have!” Oh the number of ifs in my life that would have come to be if only time allowed.
Dane recently addressed his marathon controversy essentially saying that because he’s not a runner he’s not really familiar with running etiquette and thus he did not know he was doing anything wrong. Oh-kaaaay. I surveyed my non-running friends, friends who don’t know if a marathon is 5K or 50K or something in between, and asked “if someone runs part of a marathon, then gets in a van and is driven a few miles up the road, then gets back out and runs across the finish line, did they run a marathon?” Not a single non-running respondent said yes. Despite not being part of the running community they all very quickly grasped that riding in a van is not running and if the event is a running event then riding would be cheating. Granted this was not a scientific survey, but I think the results generalize. You don’t need to be a runner to realize that if a car drives you any part of the distance of a running race you didn’t in fact run the entire race. Dane’s interview with People magazine is fascinating – he’s really doesn’t get the uproar. He told them ”I went back [later that day with cousin and former Ranch teammate Blaine] and ran those three miles so in my mind I ran the full 26 miles”. Just not all at once. Last weekend I ran 32K on Saturday and 10K on Sunday. I ran another marathon! Of his marathon standing he says “If they want to take away my marathon [emphasis mine] away from me than that’s fine”. No one is taking away his marathon. He did not run a marathon.
I do appreciate the irony of the scandal. A “reality” show contestant faking a marathon is amusing. Ok fine, I love a good pseudo-celebrity scandal, ironic or otherwise. That the scandal involved running is icing on my gossip cake. On a more contemplative note though, running 17-23 miles (whatever it was) is a huge accomplishment. I’m not sure why anyone felt the need to embellish. The lies diminish the real (and impressive) achievement. It’s as though it had to be a marathon to be important enough to air – 10K or a half marathon wasn’t good enough - even if it meant cutting corners to do so.