After two years of disappointment, Gia Alvarez thought 2016 would finally be the year she tackled her first Boston Marathon.
Instead, the New Jersey mother and running blogger finds herself embroiled in controversy — and facing a lifetime ban from the race — after it was discovered that she’d used a friend’s time to qualify for the 2016 race.
“It was a temptation, is what it was,” Alvarez said in a phone interview Friday. “I felt that I had qualified before, and it was a big temptation, and I gave into it. It felt wrong from the start.”
The controversy began in 2015, when Alvarez, though she had qualified for that year’s Boston Marathon, decided not to run because she was pregnant. It marked the second straight year she’d earned entrance into the race but been unable to compete. A miscarriage, she says, had prevented her from taking part in 2014.
Though she sought a pregnancy deferral from the Boston Athletic Association, she said, it was denied. So instead of letting her bib go to waste, she gave it to a friend, who took part in last year’s Marathon — under Alvarez’s name. The friend finished with a time fast enough to qualify for this year’s race.
Bib-sharing alone is a violation of B.A.A. rules. But the trouble was compounded when Alvarez, who says she hasn’t competed in a marathon herself since the fall of 2013, attempted to pass off her friend’s time in the 2015 Boston Marathon as her own.
The decision to do so had been a difficult one, she says, spurred by her disappointment in not receiving a pregnancy deferral the previous year. Such a deferral would have allowed her to carry her qualifying time over to the following year.
The B.A.A., however, stopped awarding deferrals for things like injury and pregnancy in 2010, except in extraordinary cases such as extreme weather or the 2013 bombings.
“I definitely talked through it with a lot with people,” Alvarez said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for me. I knew it wasn’t my time. But I did feel that I had qualified.”
The switch was later brought to the attention of the Boston Athletic Association, whose rules forbid such actions. And in an April 3 post to her blog, Run Gia Run, Alvarez explained that she’d been banned from any future B.A.A. races.
“My heart is broken,” she wrote. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed.”
A spokesman for the B.A.A. confirmed that Alvarez’s 2016 bib had been pulled, adding that the organization has dealt with “a handful” of similar cases in recent years.
“It’s worth noting that the B.A.A. appreciates her efforts to use her blog as a platform to share rules with other runners,” said the spokesman.
Though some have been quick to offer support to Alvarez, others have viewed the transgression as an affront to the running community. Several running blogs have detailed the story, prompting a sometimes bitter wave of response.
“She used that bogus ’15 Boston time to cheat her way into the 2016 race,” said one online commenter. “That’s cheating, plain and simple. And there are no excuses for that.”
Though Alvarez later posted an apology, admitting to using someone else’s time as her own, the online blowback from the incident has continued.
“I’m doing my best to avoid it,” Alvarez said Friday. “I don’t really know how to handle it. I don’t really feel like fueling it. I don’t have words to say to defend myself, so a lot of the stuff that’s said out there, I’m not going to combat it at all, because I get it.”
One thing she does know is that she will continue running. Already, she said, she’s signed up for her next marathon, and if nothing else, the events of the past week have served as a learning experience.
“Huge lessons learned,” she said. Among them: “It’s OK to make mistakes, but you should own them.”