Image: YouTube

This March, septuagenarian distance runner Frank Meza finished the Los Angeles Marathon in 2:53:10. That would be a record time for his age group, only it’s been stripped from him after L.A. Marathon officials disqualified the result and ruled that one particularly suspicious stretch of his alleged record-setting run was “an impossible feat during a marathon.”

Immediately after Meza set his record this spring, his result raised some eyebrows in the running community. Sleuths at Marathon Investigation and the LetsRun.com forum picked apart his results and noticed pretty quickly that something was amiss. For example, his marathon times improved rapidly through his 60s, from a 3:19:59 at the 2009 Santa Clarita Marathon to a mark almost half an hour faster in 2019.

Meza was lauded in Runner’s World in 2014 for running the California International Marathon in 2:52:33, though CIM officials noticed that Meza missed several timing mats and the splits he did record were rather suspicious. Meza was retroactively disqualified from CIM in 2014 and 2016, and subsequently banned from the event. His 2:52:47 time at the 2015 L.A. Marathon also drew suspicion, and when officials said he’d have to run with an official observer the next year, he apparently decided to skip the race. As you can see, 5K splits between timing mats from that race are all over the place.

Screenshot: xacte

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Which brings us back to this year, when Meza’s age-group record brought him new notoriety along with renewed suspicions. One of his 5K splits would have been faster than the 5K world record for his age group, which is usually a sign that something’s up. A LetsRun user found a picture of Meza appearing to hop back on the course in front of the Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Marathon Investigation asked Meza about the strange photo, and he claimed he was peeing on a wall “maybe 20 yards from” the street, which prompted Marathon Investigation to check out Google’s street view and discover that there was no such wall anywhere off the crowded main street.

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Marathon Investigation then pored over automatic camera photos from before the 25km timing mat, and those seemed to show Meza hopping onto the course shortly before the mat, so as to register an official time. Meanwhile, Meza continued to claim that he was innocent and had simply walked off the course temporarily to use the bathroom. “I’ve done this several times,” he told Canadian Running. “I’ve realized my problem is that I don’t hydrate properly. I have never cut the distance but I have stepped off of the course.”

Still, questions lingered. LetsRun user deadesq continued to comb through and flag suspicious photos of Meza at various marathons, and L.A. Marathon organizer Conqur Endurance Group conducted an investigation of its own. When asked if he had an explanation for the odd 5K time, Meza said, “I don’t know. I wish I did.” Conqur announced the results of that investigation late last week, ruling that Meza had most likely cut the course:

After an extensive review of original video evidence from official race cameras and security cameras at retail locations along the race course, Conqur Endurance Group has determined that Dr. Frank Meza violated a number of race rules during the 2019 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, including re-entering the course from a position other than where he left it. The video evidence is confirmed by a credible eyewitness report and our calculation that Dr. Meza’s actual running time for at least one 5K course segment would have had to have been faster than the current 70-74 age group 5K world-record [an impossible feat during a marathon].

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Meza told the Los Angeles Times that he plans to run the 2020 L.A. Marathon with an official observer and show the world he can break three hours. LetsRun and Marathon Investigation might be done digging through some of his old race results by the time that race comes around again.