Saturday, January 9, 2010

Banditing: Should You or Shouldn't You?

"Running bandits, or miscreants who enter races without paying, are the sweaty wedding crashers of the running world. They are also the scourge of race directors." --Banditing the Chicago Marathon, Chicago tribune, October 13, 2006

"As far as running as a bandit, I highly recommend it. I respect people that put in the dedicated training and qualify, but there are a lot of people out there who don't have the time. I wouldn't recommend doing one cold, but the level of training necessary isn't too arduous. If you think about it, the average fitness walking pace is about 15 minutes per mile. Translated that comes out to about 6.5 hours... I think most people would be able to cover 26.2 miles if they wanted to. Don't let the hype get to you." --Boston Marathon Report - A bandit's take

Well, should you? Or shouldn't you?

A few years ago, as I was coming into being a runner and hungrily dreaming of my first marathon, I heard that someone close to me "just missed running the Boston last year." All but "the last month of training" was completed, but something fell apart in the last minute travel plans. Duly impressed, of course, I thought that this person had qualified and was robbed of the opportunity. A fair assumption on my part anyway. Recently, I discovered the truth--this person's plan was just to bandit the race. Train, buy a plane ticket, get a hotel room, but not actually qualify (or get in with a charity or some other valid method) just to get in on the biggest and oldest marathon party in the U.S.

This isn't just about banditing for Boston, but Boston is sacred--it is the one race well known for its qualifying times. But also well known for its bandit tradition. Not everyone can line up at Hopkinton, and unlike other world major marathons like Chicago (first come, first serve) or New York (lottery or even more stringent guaranteed entry times than Boston), most people have to qualify to get there. So, if you couldn't make the cut, do you get the crash the party?

Some would argue that the bandits don't really take resources from other runners (carry their own stuff) or that the races plan for them anyway, so there is enough to go around.

I view it as at least pilfering. Not grand theft, surely, but yes, there are reasons race directors have a process for tracking runners. Let's say, the undertrained bandit has a catastrophic event. Without a bib, identification may be hampered should the runner become incapacitated.

Maybe some do carry their own gels and fluid, but I'm certain they all don't. Some take seats on race day provided transportation and create longer lines in porta-potties. And, frankly, much like the White House party crashers, they don't deserve to be there because they weren't invited or didn't follow the attendee process.

The point is, if you are thinking of banditing a race, you shouldn't. If you didn't qualify, don't run it. Instead, if you are trying to reach a minimum qualifying standard, work for it like most of us had to do. Enter other races. Work up to it. Besides, what would it mean to you some years later if you'd bandited your precious Boston, only to eventually qualify for it? It wouldn't be nearly as special to run it with a qualified bib.

If you couldn't get your entry process completed, petition race directors to offer bib transfer or waiting lists (Houston does this). So many of us purchase bibs to run races that many months later no longer make sense for whatever reason and would gladly offload the cost of the bib to another eager participant.

But if you're just too lazy to follow the process or need to get in a supported long run, figure out some other option. Don't crash the marathon if you don't hold a valid bib for it.


  1. Putting aside the randomness of obtaining a Boston Qualifier, you're right that banditing has a long history especially in that race because the imposition of "standards" meant folks couldn't simply show up and have fun. So they started lining up behind the qualified runners and headed east.

    I wouldn't do it. I did bandit a race once though. Back in the 80s, a 10-miler in Central Park that I wanted to do as a workout. I took no water -- no big deal since it was about 30 degrees as I recall -- and didn't cross the finish line, moving to the side. I don't think I got in anyone's way so I don't feel guilty about it. But does that disqualify me from criticizing those that bandit? I don't know. They don't get in my way (well, except maybe the port-a-sans), but I don't think it should be done.

    At the NYC Marathon, it's next to impossible to get to the start without a number; it's on an island (albeit a large one) that starts across a bridge. As one turns into the Park at Columbus Circle, there are a bunch of volunteers whose job it is to "remove" those without numbers from the course. This is just before the 26 mile mark. They've been known to tackle miscreants.

    One other thing I'm adamant about. It is definitely not OK for someone to come out during the race and pace someone in the race. I forget the race, but someone who won a marathon last year was DQed when a friend ran with her briefly and handed her water. I immediately saw it as a violation, but there was a big hulabaloo on LetsRun and elsewhere about the appropriateness of the DQ.


  2. Joe, Good point on that last bit. I read some of that hulabaloo. I had two friends pace me in a race sometime back (not a marathon), but I purchased their bibs and signed them up for the race. I figured that was a fair compromise to ask for their help--at least they were eligible participants who simply agreed to run along side me.

    Which is another topic I've considered writing about. Wouldn't it be nice if you could categorize your race entry: "pacer," "training run," "competitive," or "fun run." So, when your times were listed and you were running it with a friend or relative, your time would be reflected as such. --Alex

  3. In general, if it's a closed course, runners without numbers should not be there. If it's on a public trail that is not closed down, they really can't stop people from just going out for a run. The last half of Lewis and Clark St. Charles on the Katy Trail comes to mind.

    In Boston, it seems like it is a tolerated tradition. They're paying the police to close down the roads, so they could enforce the no runners without bibs rule more stringently if they wanted to. I would never do it.

    One sticky point on the use of resources. Even if a bandit brings their own supplies, does not use porta potties meant for race participants, etc., what happens if a bandit has a medical issue? The medical team surely won't leave them just lying on the road, which means that resource may be used and less available to registered runners.

  4. I am in complete agreement. I would never bandit a race, have never run as a bandit and certainly click my tongue at anyone who has done so. (Sorry Joe.)

  5. Alex,

    Love the new blog, and the topics that you are writing about. I had posted to your run350 blog with my prediction & your splits after the race as "demoboy", I sell Computer Software so that nickname fits.

    I had 2 experiences with bandits at the MCM this past October.

    I was in a small group of runners at 24 miles when this guy jumped out of the crowd and ran the last 2 miles to the finish. He wasn't sweating and had not been in front of us, he just wanted to run the last few miles to the finish.

    Several people in the group got upset & started yelling at the guy, but he ran on ahead and no one got his race number to report him.

    The 2nd incident occured in the Key Bridge Marriott hotel bar later that night. As you well know after a Marathon you are just happy to be upright & walking, much less doing anything else.

    There were these 2 HUGE (at least 300+ lbs) guys walking/jumping (not limping, staggering, crawling) around the bar wearing their race t-shirts and finisher's medals and talking really loud on their cell phones repeatedly that they had run MCM that day, did great, blah blah blah. These 2 guys didn't look like they could run 26.2 feet, much less 26.2 miles.

    FYI, MCM has a cut-off point to "beat the bridge" based on time, otherwise you get a free ride to the finish, so it's not like they could have finished in 6 or 7 hours.

    No one in the bar believed that theses guys had run the entire race. They may have also jumped in to run the last couple of miles just to cross the finish line.

    I was incredibly personally offended at these 2 guys. I lost 110 lbs in 2008 (from 280 to 170), got myself back into shape and ran 3:30:28 to BQ (I turned 50 in 2009). I know how much hard work I put into losing the weight and getting into shape, much less BQ.

    Here is the link to my MCM Finisher's page

    I have before/after pics that you wouldn't believe, but don't know how to post them.

    Take care.


  6. As you can easily tell from my previous post, I am not a fan on bandits, period. Either pay the entry fee, or go run on your own.

  7. Phil,

    Thanks so much for following me to the new blog! I'm really enjoying writing more about interesting topics... and getting ensuing discussions / comments going. So, I think I'm going to do more and more of this. Thrilled to hear from you again!

    I did check out your finisher's picture. Well done on the 3:30! That is my goal for Chi this year. I know what you mean about the hard work, and not wanting to have someone "steal" a spot, or worse, finisher's swag at the end. I came back from a devastating illness, and I attribute my health and vigor due to my dedication to running. Would love to read more of your story! 110# lost to a 3:30 BQ has got to have some phenomenal twists and turns! Congratulations!! --Alex