Say No to the Race Bib Black Market


Sassafras has written 100 posts on Salty Running.

Southern-transplant lass who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. After cracking the 4 hour marathon mark, I'm hoping to run a Boston Qualifying time!

Race Bib

Don’t become a dealer.  (Photo credit: slgckgc)

So you put off registering for a race because you were waiting to get paid, your original race plan fell through or you just plum forgot. In the meantime, the race sold out. No biggie, you can just buy a bib  off Craigslist, right?

You registered for a race and you trained, only to get injured, find out your cousin’s wedding falls on race day or your child has the flu. You’d really like to make at least some of your money back, so why not just sell your bib?

Has something like this ever crossed your mind? Or have you ever bought or sold a race bib through channels besides race-approved bib transfers?

If you’re thinking about buying or selling a bib for an upcoming race, you should give that another think or two.

Bibs are how medical first responders identify runners who go down. Only you’re not a 55-year-old woman with a heart condition, you’re a 29-year-old woman who’s in her first trimester. Or on the flip side, imagine that your significant other gets a phone call from race officials, because that’s the emergency contact number you gave them – but you’re not the one running.

You’re throwing a wrench into the results and maybe even cheating people out of awards. Just in the past few years, two races have made headlines for disqualifying the person to break the tape after discovering that the winner was running under an illegally transferred bib. You may think, yeah, well, I won’t be anywhere near the front of the pack, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme. The fact of the matter is, you are running with someone else’s bib – someone who may not be in the same age group or even be the same gender as you. That will impact both overall results and age group awards.

Papa Smurf runs the London Marathon

If you buy Papa Smurf’s bib, painting yourself blue will not make it better and also comes off with sweat and looks gross by mile 8, FYI. (Photo credit: mrtopp)

Running a particular race or recouping your money is not a right. I get it, I get it… you have a perfectly valid reason for not registering sooner or for wanting to sell your bib. Everyone thinks their reason is valid. Chances are if you registered for a race, you checked a box stating that you understood that the race registration was non-transferable and when you pick up your packet, you’ll sign an insurance waiver. (Sidenote: if you’re injured, see if they have a deferment policy.) And I know it stinks if the race you’ve been pondering sells out. But adopting an attitude of “I’ll run it anyways, rules be damned!” isn’t the way to handle things. Races sell out, just like concerts; running with an illegal bib causes problems for the race organizers and for actual registered runners. Find another race, or if you’re treating the race like a training run, just go run for free!

I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about this issue until I started seeing people posting on my running group’s Facebook page about buying and selling bibs for a popular local race that is sold out. Life happens, which means that you can’t always meet race registration or transfer deadlines. I get it. But life happens in all kinds of ways that cost us non-refundable deposits. You don’t try to argue with RDs that because you were sick on the last day of early bird registration that you deserve that lower price, do you?

The way I see it, selling your race bib or buying one illegally isn’t an ethical gray area; it’s just wrong.

How do you feel about buying and selling race bibs?

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28 Responses to “Say No to the Race Bib Black Market”

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  1. Shannon Slutman says:

    I totally agree…sometime you just have to suck it up! I wouldn’t want to run under someone else’s bib…what if you ran your best race ever and couldn’t claim the results. It’s like that joke about the priest who gets a hole in one when skips church to golf on a Sunday!

    • MG says:

      Agreed. I thought about asking a friend if I could use her bib to run Twin Cities but decided against it. If I’m going to run a race, I want the glory! It was really only a fleeting thought though because I stand on the side of not breaking the rules.

      A few years ago, a friend of mine got injured right before an 8k race. He contacted them the week of the race to see if they would let him change his registration over to me. They agreed, even though it meant changing a 30-something male bib to a 20-something female runner. There was a little confusion on race day since they don’t normally do transfers, but it was straightened out fairly quickly.

      I wish that more races would authorize bib transfers. I can understand not allowing it on race day, but in this day of electronic records/registration, how much work can it be to change a name? This feels like a holdover of manual records to me. Having to register for the big races so many months out puts me off of them. If I knew I could sell back my bib to the race if I were injured, even at a reduced rate, I’d be much more likely to consider registering.

      • Sassafras says:

        MG, I think bib transfers are becoming more of a trend. My goal marathon (Columbus) has them and the half marathon mentioned above, which is a relatively small local race, had them as well. I truly hope that it’s the new normal!

        That said, transfer programs have deadlines, and with both of these, I have seen people scrambling after the deadline trying to buy/sell bibs. So I am not sure that alone will help!

        • MG says:

          Oh sure, you’ll always have people doing a last minute scramble. But I think as long as the transfer deadline is reasonable (1-2 weeks out), it should greatly cut down on people trying to buy/sell.

  2. Cathryn says:

    I’m torn on this one. I am strongly anti-banditing but this is less reprehensible to me. What do you think about giving bibs away to friends if you can’t run?

    • Sassafras says:

      Unless it’s through official race bib transfer processes, I’m against it.

      To me, what causes the issue isn’t so much whether money changes hands but whether people who are running with bibs that are in names other than their own. Even if you give it away for free, this still has the same possible consequences as far as medical emergencies and results.

  3. Jackie K says:

    I don’t like the idea of selling a bib or buying one off of a secondary market. This year I did strongly consider joining a charity team with the lowest fundraising minimum to get into a sold out race, but ended up deciding against it. Getting into larger, long distance races isn’t cheap and people are reticent to let their registration fees go to complete waste. I understand the motivation. For the money spent on half and full marathons, I’d like to see the bib get used instead of making a donation to for profit race organizers. That being said, I wouldn’t worry about it for 5Ks. It would be a shame to let my $30 go to waste, but I wouldn’t be too upset.

    My main inhibition behind not using someone else’s bib is simple and shallow. I want my race results on the internet to be exclusively mine. It’s a strong enough motivator to me. That being said, I would love to see more race directors allowing deferral or bib transfer. I’d even pay a nominal fee to accomodate it. I understand that this can be a hassle, and may inadvertantly create a market for scalpers, but it would more accurately reflect the needs of runners.

    I think the medical emergencies risk is overblown. I’m a rebel and never write contact info down on the back of my bib, mostly because I don’t want ink to rub off on my shirt. Again with the shallow… (NB, I do provide it online)

    • Sassafras says:

      Jackie, thanks for commenting! I don’t think you’re shallow at all. How does the sign go? “Pain is temporary, Internet race results are forever”?

      Could you put tape (like packing tape) over the pen to have a protective layer between that and your shirt?

    • MG says:

      I’ve never filled out the contact info section, but I also don’t remember the last time that I saw a bib that had a contact info section.

  4. I’ve never bought or sold a bib, but I know people who have given their bib to another runner. I’ve been offered free bibs before but never took anyone up on the offer. I would also never run as a bandit.

    I think the medical emergency thing is overblown also. I usually don’t write on the back of my bib untill the night before the race anyway.

    I understand why race organizers do not want to deal with transfers. They have enough chaos to deal with. But because of this they are creating this environment were people fee they should be able to give or sell their bib since they paid a small fortune for it.

  5. Bobby says:

    I completely disagree with the idea of recouping your entrance not being a right. The races are absolutely GREEDY, lazy, and dumb!
    Greedy b/c they won’t refund.
    Lazy and dumb for not transferring. If they were smart they would charge a small fee and handle the transfer for you. Or just stamp/flag the bib# as ineligible to place. It would solve the issues with people placing in age, or gender groups they shouldn’t.

    • Sassafras says:

      Bobby, I agree it’s frustrating if you can’t recoup your costs, but the policies are all spelled out on registration forms, so it’s not like runners don’t know this going in. It’s the chance you take. Here’s an example from a race I am registering for this weekend: “I further understand that there are no entry refunds, exchanges, transfers or rollovers.”

      Many races these days do offer the option to transfer within a certain time window, but even with that, people will always have last minute things pop up and want special treatment.

      I don’t think it’s fair at all to call races or race directors lazy, greedy and dumb. A race, even a smaller one, has all kinds of logistics and the transfer process adds more complexity. I do think there is the start of a cultural shift towards more leniency in these matters, but even with those cases, runners – in my observation – tend to push for more, up until the very last minute, which is just not feasible. Part of this is due to social media and the way that runners interact with RDs now. It will be interesting to see if more races go this direction in the future!

    • John says:

      I agree more with Bobby’s perspective.
      Most race organizations are in it for the money and it’s easy to see this by how much and what they charge for. The worst offenders are the likes of Tough Mudder and Spartan. They are so greedy that they charge for parking, (even after you have spent $130 for participation), and charge each individual spectator, (as much as some other race registration amounts), and for each vehicle that they arrive in. It infruriates me when they then have silly rules about transfers and such. For me, I don’t do them, bandit them, or give them a bad name for it.
      Lazy is right. I know they are busy, but they could capitalize on the the situation if they charged a nominal fee. (Key word there is nominal.) That way all the medical issues, which is a blown out topic, and race credit and accuracy is all worked out. Plus, maybe there will be less bartering going on.
      Well, gtg, I have to go bandit the Phoenix Marathon. …hey, it’s a public street and I promise not to eat any of their bananas at the finish line!

  6. MP says:

    @Sassafras – I totally understand the transfer reasons. I get it and recently even considered it; HOWEVER and this is a BIG HOWEVER, not only is it about the medical reasons; it’s about someone running a better time to qualify someone for Boston (example). Also, the liability if you got injured on their course and NEVER signed the waiver (the person you bought the bib from signed this). I’ve overheard some ladies talking in a top corral that they had their daughter(son) run a race for them months before so they could ‘move’ up in the corrals; thus stopping to take pictures with the characters. Well I run a 1:49 half and believe me; I about ran over several “larger” individuals that started the race by walking.

    • Sassafras says:

      MP, I think what you describe is horrible – people essentially having a ringer run for them. However, I’m not sure why it’s necessary to point out that people who were “larger” were walking. Yes, maybe they should not have been in your corral (and who knows how they accomplished that), but making a comment on about their size seems unnecessary and not really relevant.

  7. FA says:

    I’ve done both. I ran once with a friend’s bib in a very large race. I removed the tag so I wouldn’t show up in the results. I had planned on pacing someone, but couldn’t find them and end up with a PR. Banditing has always been for the purpose of pacing a friend. I don’t take anything from aid stations and pull off the course before the finish line.

  8. Sassafras says:

    FA, why not register through normal processes if you want to pace someone? Is it a cost issue? I’m sure your friend(s) appreciate the help, but even if you don’t physically take anything, you are still impacting race operations by banditing.

    • FA says:

      These are small races that don’t discourage it. The race director from one of them is a teammate. If I’m going to pay, I going to want the medal, but I don’t really care to run the full marathon.

  9. Howard says:

    I agree with sentiments from FA’s comment. Furthermore, a lot of the concerns mentioned in this article are just not relevant at a high enough frequency to serve as strong points.

    Note: I understand that the below may be deemed over generalized statements as they are not cited with any supporting evidence. These statements are the opinion of a humble, armature runner who has been training/racing for about 3+ years.

    Bibs are how medical first responders identify runners who go down.

    Let’s be real. If your friend is buying a bib from you, he/she is not running their first time/race at that distance (who would want to run their first half under another’s name/bib?). This means most likely they have run the distance before and are conditioned to do it again relatively easily. I understand things happened but running under another’s bib is not something new runners do. If they bought a bib, they are probably running that race as training for a longer race (e.g. your friend runs a half marathon under another bib in training for a full). Or they are pacing someone else as FA mentioned, which means he/she is an experienced enough runner to actually pace someone else!

    You’re throwing a wrench into the results and maybe even cheating people out of awards.

    Unless your friend is fast enough to finish top 20% (where their placing would actually be noticeable), just tear the sensor from the back of your bib. Issue solved as FA mentioned.

    Running a particular race or recouping your money is not a right.

    Given the domain of runners which would usually be doing this (running under another’s bib), there are not many inconveniences one can cause to runners who officially registered (a human body is a human body on the race route). Sure, you checked a box during registration. Let me ask you something. Do you jaywalking ? Do you lie? Do you always brush your teeth before you go to sleep? How about speeding? Driving faster than the speed limit is dangerous as well. As long as the runner is courteous (don’t block runners, pass them too close, etc.) and runs knowing he/she is simply there for the ride and not a belonging presence, the world should be able to continue turning.

    Note (this is me being a jerk): I have noticed that the only people who seem to complain about such things are runners on the slower end (of all ages, genders, ethnicities, disabilities, experiences). If I was passed by/beat/ran with a runner who bought his or her bib; who cares. If he/she beat me, guess what, they were faster than me. The fact that I could have beat them if they were not in the race does not make me feel any better or worst. I just need to get faster. Kudos to them and I am glad to have being running against/with someone that inspires me to be stronger and faster. Only slow runners or people running for shallow reason complain about this? The truth is most likely, that runner is miles ahead of you. So their negative impact on your run should be minimal.



  10. Howard says:


  11. Gaz O'Connor says:

    Why can’t the race organizers offer official transfers? None of the above arguments against bib swapping would be valid if they offer this (very straightforward) service. Until they do I’ll continue swapping race numbers.

  12. S C says:

    That’s why I love Vacation Races, if you can’t run the day of the race you are allowed to tranfer and run any of their races within a year.

  13. katie says:

    As a race organizer, for the Great Wall of China Marathon on May 1st each year. We currently only offer deferments to another year (any year, even 5 years from now) or another race we hold in China. We want to give runners a refund if they can’t make it, come on its China, We know you can’t always make it. But we have fees that we are charged to run on areas of the Great Wall where tourists just can’t go. We use to give a partial refund, but runners complained that they weren’t given a full amount refund. We have given transfers in the past until one time an expat runner told us he couldn’t make it and so we transferred his bib to his friends name, then the friend picked up the bib then told us he forgot it in a cab. We were kind, we understand, we’ve all left things behind, and issued him another one on race morning. Then when looking through the race photos we found that the bib was not lost in a taxi cab like he claimed, it was given to either the original person or to a friend. 2 bibs for the price of one! We lost out on additional fees we had to pay to reach those sections of the Great Wall as they count the runners, who cross into the military zone, extra T-shirts, extra medals, extra breakfast, extra lunch that is given to the runners, The extra water that volunteers have to haul up to the Great Wall, to make sure runners stay hydrated. There is so much work that goes into a marathon that people just don’t realize. And in the end we are out money and now no refunds or transfers. Was it worth it? As a runner myself i know what its like to miss a race. As an organizer i know how much work goes into this race, and i know there is not a lot of money made and what money is made for this race is all put back into the local community and restoring sections of the Great Wall that are just in ruins. Not all race organizations are greedy. Just like not all runners brake the rules.

  14. Jamie says:

    Just ran a race 2 days ago where an acquaintance won the women’s race. On a borrowed/bought bib. It is a small (less than 700 person for multiple events), community based trail run that does try to accommodate transfers/deferments, but due to the size of the race staff, has to close transfers a few weeks out. As this person is part of my running group and I never heard her mention running the race, I can only infer than she got the bib last minute.

    It drives me nuts because the second place woman was only 90 seconds behind her and was the master’s champion – so she would have won outright and there would have been another master’s champion. Several people were cheated out of a 1st place that day. This person had the nerve to post pictures on facebook boasting of her win and her time, making it easy to look and *not* find her in the results.

    So now what? Several people did not get the recognition they earned. Someone who did not earn it (the original bib holder) is acknowledged officially as the winner and this person is parading her win around. I’m still seething about it, and am on the fence about letting the race director know. If she hadn’t won – I wouldn’t care so much – and is the drama in the running club worth it? Probably not. Ugh.
    Suck it up and register on time next year.

    • Derick says:

      How was anyone cheated? Did she cut the course? Ride a bike or bus? No, she flat out ran faster than them. Place is relative to the competition that shows up. I just ran a race yesterday where I had always placed in my age group in previous years. Ran my best time ever on that course and ended up 4th in my age group. I wasn’t cheated out of a medal, I lost to a more competitive field. You don’t mention the distance, but 90 seconds is a lot of time. They got whooped!

      • Jamie says:

        Yes – I suppose you’re right. It was a trail half marathon, so I figure 90 seconds is still competitive-ish (vs. a 5k or something on the road). Perhaps without the parading it around on social media it wouldn’t have driven me crazy… or it’s the attitude of the person in general. Or considering there *was* a transfer process, it just couldn’t go until the last minute for procrastinators. Many, many people (some fast, some slow) did not get into this race, as it is very small, so it’s irritating when it is won by someone who isn’t even there legitimately.
        Something seems off, but maybe that’s just my view from the back. Didn’t actually hurt me any (I was in the bottom 25% of my division), except my respect for the person who did it.

      • Charlie says:

        Best argument yet. It’s a competitive race, it’s a race. You are only as good as the person crossing the line beside you. I don’t even agree with age categories per se. If your not the winner, you’re not the winner.
        The emergency contact issue I understand, however I think that can be changed to other people.

        Oh and I did legitimately get my place on the Hopkinton start line today.

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