Bad Bandits

2014bostonAt the 2014 Boston Marathon, history was made. If you haven’t heard, American Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon. He is the first American male to win the iconic marathon since 1983. I should probably mention that is was also a few weeks shy of his 39th birthday. The female race ended with the first three women beating the current course record – with Rita Jeptoo smashing the course record by almost 2 minutes. It was a great day for America and for the sport of marathoning. I know I was a ball of emotions as I watched live coverage of the race on my laptop, screaming for Meb to run faster over the last few miles as his pursuers closed the gap, coffee mug in hand.

In the wake of a beautiful race day, news hit the running community of many accounts of people duplicating race bibs and running the Boston Marathon by cheating. Bandits (runners who unofficially run a marathon, often by hopping in without a race bib), have been part of road race culture for a very long time. The Boston Marathon is famous for its bandits. However, with this being the first Boston Marathon after the 2013 bombings, security was planned to be heightened and bandits were strongly discouraged. Registered runners were not allowed to check bags for post-race, and the entire course to Boston was protected like never before. When stories broke of folks stealing bibs by printing them off of photos runners posted on social media of their official race bibs, the reaction was hardly positive. In an attempt to not get into the self entitlement and selfishness of folks who decide the rules do not apply to them, let me put on my coaching hat for a second….

Do NOT run bandit. If a race has rules, follow them. Simple. If you cannot play by the rules, don’t play.Yes, its totally unfortunate and sucks that if you purchase a race bib and months later cannot run the race that your bib must go to waste and your entrance fee goes up in smoke. Sure, your buddy could use your bib if you can’t, right? But what does it matter who is running if you aren’t going to win? Look, I get it. I’ve been that runner who couldn’t use her race bib because of an injury. I’ve also been offered friend’s race bibs when injury gets in the way of their race. Its tempting to accept it, but so far I have never taken another runner’s bib. It may sound silly that a bib that may cost $70-$250 will go to waste, but once again – rules are rules.

Here are reasons to NOT bandit/steal bibs:

  • Safety. Every bib has an identity attached to it and emergency contact and medical info. If you run bandit and something happens to you, no one will know who to call, or if you are diabetic or are on blood pressure medication. If you steal someone else’s bib and something happens to you, that person’s emergency contact will be contacted. You may say “I’m healthy so who cares?” Okay, fine. Do you know how many “healthy people” DNF because of dehydration, cramping, injury, fainting, cardiac arrest, etc? Don’t assume you won’t be part of that list at some point. I know I have. And if something crazy like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings happens again, none of us can assume we are going to be the lucky ones.
  • Consideration. Rules are rules. If you want to run a race, enter it officially like everybody else. It’s unfair to everyone lined up beside you who PAID good money to run that race. That money goes towards permits to shut down roads, race-day equipment, refreshments on the course, race medals, medical support, and more. You are stealing from everyone around you if you run bandit. If you are simply too poor to run a race (I get it, some of them are VERY expensive!), sign up for a charity and raise money. If you raise the amount of money required by your charity, you won’t need to put a single dollar of your own towards race fees.
  • Fueling. Race organizers plan to support the amount of registered runners. Period. Sure, there is some wiggle room, as they often try to overshoot the numbers to make sure they are over prepared. But if you steal a bib and run bandit, you are a person the race director wasn’t counting. If you think its okay, do you think you are alone? Nope. There are far more self-entitled bandits out there than anyone has taken the time to track down and count. Have you ever run a race where they run out of water or Gatorade? Or race medals or mylar sheets? Guess what, it sucks. If you bandit, your actions may mean a runner behind you won’t have the supplies they paid for and are expecting at the water station. When you are dehydrated and tired, the WORST thing is getting to a station that has run out of supplies. You want to cry. What gives YOU the right to take that from the runner behind you? That runner has probably trained hard for this race, paid their entrance fees, and played by the rules.
  • Ethics. Look, we all have different moral codes. We’re human. But I would like to think that we as a running community can all agree that PEDS, cheating, and running bandit are all wrong. If we don’t hold ourselves to those simple standards, how can we be happy with ourselves? How can we feel that we truly accomplished something great? I don’t think anyone with a moral code who stole bibs, finished the Boston Marathon, and claimed their medal can ever really feel good about that race, can they? Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think the race would have the same meaning to me as qualifying or running for a meaningful charity, and doing it the way the race rules state.

It is my hope that more and more races will allow official bib transfers, which are starting to happen in some popular races. Race directors realize that runners cannot always use their bibs, and official transfers means the original runner can get their money back and the new runner will have their information (including emergency info) on record. However, this isn’t common practice for all races, so read the fine print if you are debating signing up for a race months down the road.

Perhaps because the Boston Marathon is a very special race, requiring its participants to qualify or run for charity, that bandits left an even more sour than normal taste in everyone’s mouth. it’s a race that avid runners spend years trying to qualify for. Its the closest thing many of us will ever see to the magic of the Olympics or the Olympic Trials. It is a race that so many runners put blood, sweat and tears into getting to, that printing out a bib someone else posted online seems so incredibly wrong. Of course its really not more wrong than cheating your way into any other marathon, or is it? I suppose that’s up for debate. Regardless of reason, the bandits in this year’s Boston struck a chord.

*** Now, there are always grey areas and exceptions to rules. Here’s how to handle those areas in a way that protects your safety and doesn’t take (much) away from everyone else out there:

  • If you buy/transfer a bib from someone unofficially, (NOT stealing a photo of a bib off the internet!!!), wear a Road ID in case you need medical or safety help. Remember, the bib will have the official runner’s emergency info attached to it. Also, write on the back of the bib your own info. List any important info and write clearly.
  • If you are unofficially using a bib from a friend/transfer, for God’s sake make sure you are NOT going to win an award (top finish, age group or otherwise), and that you are NOT qualifying the original registered runner for Boston or Olympic Trials.
  • If you are hopping into a race to pace a friend for a few miles, DO NOT take any of the refreshments on the course. It’s common practice for a buddy or a coach to hop in during those tough miles, but taking away from paid participants is wrong. Be sure to hop OUT before getting to the finish line. (Due to security post-Boston 2013, it may be difficult to do this in the major big-city races.)

To me, running and races is about becoming a better person and a better athlete. Putting challenges in front of myself and working hard to rise to said challenge. Cheating is a sour, ugly, awful toxin that poisons this sport. If you couldn’t get a spot in a race for whatever reason, there will always be next year. be a grownup, and play by the rules. I guess if you wondered what my thoughts are on bandit runners, now you know.

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