A top runner who was disqualified from an ultramarathon after driving a car for part of the race said she was “not thinking straight” when she accepted a third-place medal.
Joasia Zakrzewski finished third in the 2023 GB Ultras this month but was accused of covering two and a half miles of the route by car after concerns were raised about her Strava data.
The ultramarathon runner, who works as a GP, said her actions were ‘not malicious’ and that she accepted the lift after limping halfway through the 80-kilometer race from Manchester to Liverpool.
Speak against BBC ScotlandDr. Zakrzewski denied claims she was “deliberately cheating” and insisted what happened was “not malicious” but amounted to a “miscommunication” after agreeing to continue the race “uncompetitively.”
The 47-year-old from Dumfries, Scotland, said she started experiencing leg pain during the race that got so bad that when she saw a friend, she decided to accept a ride to the next checkpoint to tell the marshals she was backing out .
Joasia Zakrzewski, 47, (left) has been disqualified from the 2023 GB Ultras after allegedly using a car to give her aching legs a break during the high-profile 50-mile race
Joasia Zakrzewski finished third in the race above but has since been accused of covering two and a half miles of the route by car. The runner allegedly caught after tracking data showed she reached a ‘superhuman’ speed of 35 mph
When she arrived at the checkpoint, Dr. Zakrzewski claimed she told race officials she had been in the car and pulled over, but they convinced her to continue in a ‘non-competitive manner’, telling her, ‘You you’ll hate yourself if you stop’.
When she finished the race, she received a medal, a trophy and posed for photos, but afterwards said this was a “huge mistake” and she should have returned the honours.
After flying into Australia the night before, Dr Zakrzewski, who now lives in Sydney, said she was “tired and jet lagged” and “not thinking clearly”.
Just weeks earlier, Dr. Zakrzewski held the world record for most miles run by a woman in 48 hours, but has since been beaten by American runner Camille Herron.
Dr. Zakrzewski added that she was “devastated” by the backlash she has received, including some calling for a lifelong ban for the athlete who represented Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Wayne Drinkwater, the director of the GB Ultras race, said the disqualification came back after receiving information that a competitor had gained an ‘unsportsmanlike competitive advantage during part of the event’.
He added: “The issue has been investigated and after reviewing our race tracking system data, GPX data, statements from our event team, other competitors and from the competitor himself, we can confirm that a runner has now been disqualified. the event has taken vehicle transport during part of the route.’
A report has been submitted to the Trail Running Association, which licenses the event and is an associate member of UK Athletics, he added.
Friends claim Dr Zakrzewski (pictured during the race) accepted the lift because she felt ‘sick’, having flown in from Australia the night before, and say she is ‘sincerely sorry’
It came after nearly 400 runners braved a 6am start to pound the roads from Manchester to Liverpool for the annual 50-mile Ultra Marathon on Good Friday, April 7.
Stopping for high-calorie snacks and drinks along the way to give them much-needed energy, the dedicated amateurs spent up to 13 hours relentlessly chalking up the miles.
Dr. Zakrzewski crossed the finish line just 22 seconds behind the runner-up in the women’s category in a time of seven hours and 25 minutes and was proudly photographed posing with her bronze medal.
However, rumors soon began to swirl around her achievement.
Examination of the tracking data showed she had covered about two and a half miles of the route by car — possibly gaining as much as 25 minutes.
Dr. Zakrzewski at the GB Ultras this month. Fellow competitors have also questioned whether her past results and records would now be scrutinized
In addition, it showed that she followed the main road rather than the race route for part of the event. She is said to have completed one mile of the race in just one minute and 40 seconds.
The third-placed woman’s medal was awarded instead to NHS podiatrist Mel Sykes, who on Twitter labeled her embarrassed rival a ‘cheat’, saying it was ‘great news for me, but really bad news for sportsmanship’.
Answering questions about how her rival was caught, Ms Sykes added: “Too many people noticed something was wrong and contacted the race organizers separately, so they had to launch an investigation.”
Race data uploaded to the sports app Strava by Dr Zakrzewski and shared by Ms Sykes on Twitter revealed that she “didn’t take the course of the race,” Ms Sykes claimed. She also claimed there was a section where Dr. Zakrzewski’s performance numbers “didn’t add up.”
Ms Sykes complained that the runner’s actions “take the p**s completely out of race organisers, fellow competitors and fair sport”.
“How can someone who knows they cheated cross the finish line, collect a medal/trophy and have their picture taken?!” she added.
Examination of the tracking data showed that Dr. Zakrzewski (pictured during the race) had covered about two and a half miles of the route by car – possibly gaining as much as 25 minutes.
Race data provided by Dr. Zakrzewski uploaded to the sports app Strava and shared on Twitter by Mel Sykes, the runner who was awarded her third place medal, allegedly revealed that she “didn’t take the course of the race.” She also claimed that there was a section where Dr. Zakrzewski ‘didn’t make sense’
The saga recalls the infamous case of a marathon runner who was robbed of third place after admitting to taking a bus halfway.
Rob Sloan later claimed he had tired out at the 20 miles of the 2011 Kielder Marathon in Northumberland, and got on the free spectator bus.
He later retracted his confession, but was banned from running any more races.
It comes as fellow competitors from the Manchester to Liverpool race expressed surprise, with some calling for Dr. Zakrzewski.
Keith Johnstone, who finished 46th in the updated rankings, said: ‘If someone fails to complete the course they should be named, shamed and disqualified.’
He said it was “great news that justice has been done,” adding that he would “rather die on my feet than cheat.”
Colin Rushton, who came 59th, said, “Such a crazy thing to do in a race with no prize money or qualifying for anything.
“However, I need another 50 to get disqualified before I end up on the podium.”
Entering its seventh year, the event starts at Salford Quays and follows the Trans-Pennine Trail, the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey, finishing at the Railway Club in Aintree.
Scottish Athletics said it was ‘aware of the problem’.