Runner’s World Article Gives Green Light To Bandits

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I initially saw the article in the print version of Runner’s World. It was shared with me by a couple of readers. ‘The Bandit’s Manifesto’.

In it, they list 10 things not to do if you bandit a race along with three things you should do. In printing this article, they are giving runners the green light to bandit a race.

Last week the article was published online, resulting in much criticism.

You Can Bandit a Race Without Being a Total A**Hole

We don’t condone banditing, but if you must we have some thoughts

The author goes to great lengths say why banditing is wrong. But hey, since you are going to do it anyway, here’s how to do it without being an a**hole.

Background

After I wrote an article calling out a popular blogger for running portions of races that she did not register for, there was much debate. In response, Runner’s World published an article It is Never, Ever Okay To Run a Race You Didn’t Pay For.

Banditing is Never OK

The latest article throws the statements made in the previous article out the window. I will address a few of the points

Medical/liability – The article states that you should see a doctor before running. Fine, this would apply to all runners – make sure your body can handle it. But this does not guarantee that you will not need assistance on the course. If you are a bandit, the race does not know who you are, or who to contact if you are non responsive. These instances may be rare, but they do happen. The more people who are emboldened to bandit, the more likely it is that the worse case will happen.

Supporting Friends – The article states that you should support friends the last few miles (but only if race officials allow). Well, if race officials allow this, then you are not banditing. For USATF sanctioned races, pacing by unregistered runners is strictly prohibited and could result in disqualification.

Don’t Argue With Race Officials – The article states that you should leave the course if asked. So, basically they are saying that it’s OK as long as you don’t get caught. No, it’s not.

Taking Resources – The article says that you aren’t to take a medal, Gatorade, etc along the course. Even if you are not taking tangible support or bling, races have costs associated with road closures, police presence, coordinating volunteers, etc. If you run a closed course race while the race is in progress, you are taking advantage of all the resources that the race provided, including the time and effort of the race and volunteers.

From the article:

But the fact remains that every year, thousands of otherwise-respectable runners turn to banditry. Why do they do such a thing? There are plenty of reasons, the first of which is money. Running the New York City Marathon, for instance, costs $295.

It is expensive to put on The NYC Marathon. Closing roads in NYC is not cheap. The cost of police is not cheap. The New York Road Runners is non-profit. If you apply this excuse beyond road running, you can see the absurdity. We buy the things we can afford. We aren’t entitled to those things that we cannot afford.  If a race is important enough to you, you will find a way. If you simply cannot afford it, then run another race, or volunteer to help on race day if you want to be a part of the experience.

Response From The Community

The response was largely critical. I reached out to Race Directors, and here is a sampling of their responses.

The problem with bandits and the RW article is that there is an assumption of entitlement and a lack of truth regarding doing the right thing. I don’t sneak into concerts because there are open seats. I don’t do my grocery shopping at a soup kitchen because the food is free there. People aren’t entitled to races. If you want to participate, then pay and participate, and if you don’t like the full distance, didn’t get a spot, can’t afford it, then don’t participate. Better yet, if you want to be a part of it, volunteer. It’s about doing the right thing and not being a “taker”, regardless of whether you are taking from a charity or a multi-million dollar for profit company. Ryan King – Race Director
It’s really a shame that Runners World ran that piece because making a joke about it suggests that it’s no big deal. I’m the race director for RACE Cancer Foundation, where hundreds of volunteers help us produce our races. They don’t volunteer so that people can run for free. They volunteer to help us raise funds to kick cancer’s ass. When you run as a bandit, you’re effectively telling all those volunteers to f*** off. Go steal from someone else.
J. Alain Ferry – Race Director
Shame, shame, shame to Runner’s World, not funny at all. As an RD in Canada and US, bandits are an issue at all our races, since most are SOLD OUT. Having extra people on the course within the infrastructure of the race is harmful to the operations and dishonest to the integrity of the product supply. This is a shameful act and to have a satirical piece in RW is a further mainstreaming and ‘wink’ approval to this practice is unacceptable. Look pay to play or just stay away and run somewhere else. Infrastructure costs a lot of money, stop stealing.
Chris Uszynski – Race Director
Sounds like many of the runners we catch… just rationalizing for doing something that is wrong and an article that will get some folks fired up. #notimpressed

Frankie Ruiz – Race Director Miami Marathon
Responses to Runner’s World directly echoed this sentiment.
Next: We don’t condone stealing Runner’s World from the news stand, but hey, we get it, magazines are expensive. So if you’re going to steal it, here are the rules.
I have a few thousand friends that will come and run the RWs races in PA next year as bandits. That’s cool with you right RWs?!

Summary

Simply put, do not enter a closed course during a race that you are not registered for. By doing so, you put yourself above the runners that are running legitimately. You are adding to the strain on resources whether you take the Gatorade and space blanket or not.

No one would argue that if everyone had their own personal unregistered pacer on the course, that it would be a huge issue. So, why is your friend so special that they deserve to have you run the course with them the last few miles? While I was struggling just to finish The NYC Marathon, I was inspired by many runners in the last few miles. Many runners encouraged me, and I tried to encourage others as well. You can have much more impact on the side of the course encouraging EVERYONE that passes by. Your friend or loved one will make it under their own strength with the shared community of those facing the same struggle. Be there at the finish, and along the course, but not ON the course unless you are authorized to be there.

Bandits put themselves above others that paid or raised money for their entry. Those that bandit feel that they are somehow entitled to something that the rest of us are not.

If you jumped in and helped your friend and were completely unaware of the implications, now you know. If you read this article you are aware of the issues, and despite what Runners’s World wrote it would be impossible for you to bandit a race without being a complete ***Hole.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. I was just waiting for you to highlight this article. I saw it online and couldn’t believe RW would put that out there. Maybe they could do a series:
    “Don’t use EPO, but here are effective ways to mask it in your urine”
    “Don’t cut courses, but here are the races where it’s easiest to do so!”
    “Don’t steal merchandise from locally owned running stores, but here are the ones near you with lax security”

    I get it – racing is expensive. If you’re an avid runner, the bigger races are eating a larger and larger portion of your race budget each year. I also understand the urge to help friends participating in a race, and in smaller races it’s pretty easy to run alongside the course to encourage them. If it’s THAT important to you or the participant, enter the race. Sign up early to take advantage of discounted pricing. Seek out promotional codes to knock a few bucks off the registration fee. Better yet, volunteer at the race or expo and see if you can get a discounted entry. I know some of the expenses and liabilities races have to incur to run a safe, professional event. If you’ve not chipped in your part, you’re using services you haven’t paid for and that is stealing.

    • Don’t forget their upcoming article: “Here’s where to buy your shoes online — after you get your local running store experts to help you select the best shoe for you!”

  2. Completely agree, Derek. I still can’t believe that RW published this. They only thing I could disagree with in your piece is that several RDs seemed to give RW the benefit of the doubt that this may have been a satire piece. It clearly was not. Shame on them, and the author.

    I’m curious whether BAA will decide to void the author’s 6 legal finishes in Boston, since she admitted to banditing in 2010. At a minimum, they should dis-invite her from future Boston Marathons.

    I looked up her other articles in RW, which were mostly clothing and shoe reviews. The thing that really struck me was an impression that she couldn’t possibly have really tested that many different types of shoes in order to properly evaluate them. Of course, incomplete shoe reviews is something I’ve come to expect from RW. Unfortunately.

  3. Excellent summary. I always shake my head at the justification, “Hey, let’s face it– race fees are expensive.” So that gives you the privilege of participating without paying?
    The same people who would never say that shoplifting is ok will justify stealing from a race.

  4. Responding to something like this is tricky. By highlighting the article, you are both calling them out for bad behavior AND raising their profile. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the lead editor for RW was in the “more clicks = more ad revenue” camp.

  5. Hi Derek, I would like your thoughts on this one.

    I signed up and ran a half marathon recently. After I finished, my tween-age daughter, who got the jitters, wanted me to run the 5k with her. She did have her own bib. The entire 5k course was within the half marathon course, which was still open for slower runners. So basically, I did pay for my bib, which covers the resources, roads, medical emergency scenarios, etc.. I didn’t take a 5k medal or get a time (since I took off my timing chip). Was this wrong?

    • I think that is totally cool, though it would have been best to talk with an official at the starting line (and maybe finish) first so that they could advise you on making sure your bib from the half didn’t mess up the 5K results, or even your own Half results.

    • Obviously it was just as wrong as it would be for anyone else to run the course who was not signed up for that race. Why didn’t you ask the race director if it was okay or if you needed to sign up for and pay for a 5K entry for yourself?

      • If it were obvious, I wouldn’t be asking.
        1. Since I did pay for the half marathon, my entry paid for the road closures. So I was not on a course I did not pay for, since the half marathon course was still open.
        2. Since I was a registered runner using my own bib, the medical concerns such as knowing who I am or knowing who who to contact in case of emergency is also covered.
        3. I did not take any additional resources or a medal. Timing was not even recorded. So no, i did not even bump the 99th place to 100 in my division.

        Basically, all the things that are listed as reasons why banditing is so wrong do not apply. I know this is a very unique scenario. Now, if the 5K ran on another time or day, then it would definitely be obvious. Again, that’s why I am asking.

        I only thing I can think of is that I took up a couple of square feet in area they wouldn’t have expected.

    • It would have been better to talk with the RD or some official first to get this cleared. That would put you on more solid legal ground, but more importantly it was an opportunity to show your daughter how to handle this in an ideal world.

      If that would have been feasible, time-wise, I have no idea.

      Then again, on the scale of banditry, it doesn’t get much more benign than this. Great to read that you had this experience with your daughter, and helped her through the jitters. Since the situation bothers you and your daughter is old enough to “get it”, talk with her about how your concerns.

      • It did bother me a little, but I wasn’t sure if it was something I should even be bothered about.

        Thinking about this actually reminds me of my very first half marathon over ten years ago. My brother, who is way faster than me (i mean like 1:20) came back out to look for me on the course. Somewhere around mile 10-11, he found and supported me by pacing me to the end, along with his medal around his neck. Should he have stayed off the course?

  6. You guys are completely ignorant to the history of our sport. Did you know the Boston Marathon director bandited the Boston Marathon.
    Banditing a race has a rich tradition in the running community. Race Directors have rmexasperated this problem

    But Derek is not a journalist or running commentator. He’s in a business of trying to get $$ from RDs to pay for his “service” his opinion piece is basically an ad.

    Not to mention he sanctioned RDs stealing from runners by saying they shouldn’t allowing bib transfers without even looking at how many races actual do this successfully and many non-us races do this.

    His work should be taken with a grain of salt

    • I never said that races shouldn’t allow bib transfers as a general statement. Races that sell out or have qualifying standards should not allow bib transfers. Because that opens up a black market. I am all for allowing deferrals and transfers. But if you sign up for a race that does not allow for transfers or deferrals, then you need to follow their rules.

    • I’m not gonna say that it was ever okay to bandit, but our sport is a lot more complicated than it was when I started racing in the early 80s. RDs have to put up with a lot more legal, policy, safety, and security issues in order to hold a race these days. That makes banditing much more of an issue.

      Derek is trying to make a few bucks off a niche thing he is interested in. Okay. I’m fine by that. Beats most of the other bloggers and bots out there making money and click-baiting us so they can sit home all day.

      I’ve never seen Derek come out against bib swapping, except when the Race prohibited it. I think RDs could make more money by allowing swapping for a $10 processing fee. The point this site has always made was: follow the rules of the race!

    • The Boston Race director also wrote the definitive piece on why banditting is wrong. It was actually linked in the RW article that was the subject of this article.

  7. People seem to have a hard time grasping conditional statements. Nowhere – NOWHERE – did the author suggest, let alone claim, banditing was okay. She just came to terms with the fact that many people keep doing it. Since that’s a FACT – whether you like it or not – she’d like bandits to be more considerate, less like jerks. This only applies to those who can’t help banditing (again, bearing in mind, as the author emphasizes, that it’s wrong). It’s also tongue-in-cheek and, importantly, it’s not like race banditing is a serious crime.

  8. Here’s another reason not to bandit: I did it once, around 1992, high school junior year or so. Anyway, one or more of my friends registered for a 10K, and one or more of us other cross country kids decided to bandit it. I really did not have much money, and neither did my family, so that was my rationale. I also felt like it was along a waterfront that was public, that I had as much right to run there as anyone else, etc, etc. There was no such thing as “finishers medals” at that point and I specifically did not take any snacks or other goodies at the end.
    BUT, ya know what… I think that race was my lifetime best 10K. But I didn’t get to go thru the finish line or get an official time. So, it doesn’t count, there is no records of it anywhere!! Booo! I will never know, and that is sad. BANDITING IS NOT WORTH IT!

  9. RW Editor David Willey left the magazine and now they have a new editor. Perhaps that’s the reason the magazine contradicted itself on Banditing? I like to think the vast majority of runners are ethical and will do the right thing.

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