Is Breaking The Rules Really That Important?
Hey, we’ve all been there. You want to run a certain race but the registration period has ended or else the race has been sold out for weeks. And then a friend comes along who can’t run because they’ve suddenly become injured. You offer to take that race bib off their hands. What’s the big deal, right?
Just ask this guy: Scott Downard. Last Sunday he crossed the Cowtown Marathon finish line in first place and was almost immediately stripped of his title. You see, Downard didn’t actually pay to run the race. Instead, he borrowed the race bib from a friend who could not run. Because Downard did not officially register for the race he was disqualified.
The second place finisher, Kolin Styles, was awarded first place title and with it he received a free trip to the New York Marathon later this year.
Does this mean that officials of other races will be checking their records more closely? It could, but the problem has always been there. Runners who wear a race bib that they did not officially register for are still considered bandits. People want to be a part of the excitement of a certain race, that’s understandable. But rules are not always made to be broken. From the standpoint of the race director, it can even be dangerous.
A race director insures their race which covers the runners who are officially registered for the event. Directors also rely on the official registered numbers to calculate their race needs such as water, food, toilets, etc. Bandits drain the resources which registered runners have paid for and are entitled to in exchange for their registration fee.
The New York City Marathon actually has a team of “bandit catchers” whose job it is to intercept bandits before they try to cross the finish line. Organizers guess that approximately 400 bandits join the 40,000 racers each year. Bay to Breakers is probably one of the most famous bandit races with a matching ratio of 1:1 of bandits versus paid runners.
Basically, even if you paid your friend money to cover the cost of the original race registration, if your name is not on the official runner list, you are a bandit.
As races fill faster and faster due to demand the number of bandits is sure to rise. This is certainly true of those races for which there is a high demand. This problem will never entirely go away. It really boils down to ethics. Here are a couple of the problems surrounding bandits who cross a finish line:
1. If a bandit finishes a race representing a person who did not run, the results become entirely skewed. Let’s say that “Joe” has taken a race bib off the hands of his friend, “Sally”. Joe will officially cross the finish line as a female and completely change the results for all of the women who finish after him. He may even earn himself an age group placement in, let’s say, the women’s 30-35 category. While I’m sure Joe is not going to go up and accept that award (at least I hope not!) the woman who won second place should actually be the first place winner. That just isn’t right.
2. Bandits cause a lot of pain and aggravation to those people who are timing the race. Instead of being able to get the finish times posted quickly and accurately – because we all know that runners are standing around after a race waiting for those results to be posted – they have to pour through all of that data over and over again trying to pinpoint exactly where the problem(s) occurred. This is a painstaking process and a real waste of everyone’s time.
Are there any real solutions? I’d love to propose an entire slew of answers here that would solve everyone’s problems and make everybody happy … but I can’t. I think it’s going to boil down to individual races and directors.
Waitlists – These are a great idea! Directors can keep a list of names and as one runner drops out they can allow another runner into the race. While this sounds rather simple one thing that runners need to understand is that a race director may decide to charge an additional fee in order to make this happen. Before you get upset, hear me out. Behind the scenes a race director is working pretty darn hard to pull a race off, from meeting and working with local officials to finding the best deals on race amenities (often requiring months of back-and-forth emails and phone calls). They are quite busy pulling together their race and until you have actually directed or helped direct a race I’m not sure you can completely understand the magnitude of what is involved. To top it off, a race director is not going to get rich off their race. (Not unless they are single-handedly pulling off an event on the scale of the New York City Marathon or the like.) Race planning can oft-times be a thankless job. So, when an RD goes the extra step and offers to maintain a waitlist, understand that they are doing this out of the goodness of their heart and accept the minimal fee that they might charge for the extra time they need to tend to this matter.
Bib Transfers – Another great option which I wish more race directors would offer for their races. The upside is it helps to eliminate bandit racers, keeping everyone on the up and up as far as legitimately being there. The downside is that there are behind-the-scenes administrative costs for the race director which they may decide to pass off to the runners. Usually these are fees which are associated with the credit card processing. Again, I hope that everyone can see that transferring bibs is mutually beneficial for both sides, and that the runners can understand the reasoning behind an additional fee which might be charged when processing a transfer.
I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on this issue?