The Gift Race Directors Don’t Want Us to Give: Race Bib Transfers

Sorry I missed this race; it looks like fun! (Photo of Jack London 10K via

My fastest race ever was the one I didn’t run.

A few years ago, I registered for a trail race in New Hampshire:   the Jack London 10K, named for the author of “The Call of the Wild.”

It was in another state.  On Nov. 1.  Can anyone see the problem here? Captain Oblivious here didn’t, and so yes, I paid money to run a race in another state early on the morning after Halloween.

And no, I didn’t make it.  But amazingly enough, I ran my personal best!

A few months later, a friend spotted my name on the list of finishers. I’d finished in 49:26, a pace just under eight minutes a mile.

Had I actually run this race, I would have petitioned the Vatican to deem this a miracle.  But of course, someone just picked up my lonely bib and ran with it, literally and figuratively.   Technically, yes, that made him or her a bandit, but I don’t care.  If I can’t make a race, I’m happy to have someone run in my place, particularly if they’re going to make me look good, but race directors who forbid the transfer of numbers make this difficult for those of us inclined to generosity.

They do it for safety and liability issues, I know.  Still, runners are such a dedicated lot, the percentage of people who don’t show has to be small.  I wonder why we can’t give away numbers if both the giver and the givee sign a release. Why can’t we legalize bib-swapping?

Sniff, sniff. I’ll miss you this weekend! (image via

This weekend, for example, I’m registered to run in the Kiawah Island Half-Marathon in South Carolina, but I can’t make it because I waited too late to book a flight, and now I can’t afford to get there.  I’d love to let a friend who lives in Charleston run instead, or open it up to any Salty who lives in the South, but most races require ID at packet pickup.  (That’s not stopping one registrant who is injured, but has put his or her bib up for sale on Craigslist for $75.)

Unwilling to enter the shady world of back-alley bib exchanges, my options are:  A) drive 17 hours straight and pray I can still run, or B) pay a $20 fee to defer and hope I can make it next year or C) Do nothing, and let my packet be looted by race officials.

Don’t like any of them.   I’d rather give my bib away. How about you?

Salties, what do you do when you can’t make a race?  Is it time for race directors to let us buy and sell bibs in the marketplace?

I'm a single mother of four who has been running injury-free for 27 years, astonishingly without ever losing any weight. I'm a writer and editor near Boston, and author of "Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner."

Leave a Reply


  1. Without runners the race directors have no races. Race fees have gone up tremendously over the past ten years. It really isn’t that difficult to establish a waiting list (limit it if they want) and then allow for transfers up to a week before the race. If no one buys your bib you are out the cash. But at least allow people to try to recoup their losses, or get into a race they really want to be in. We don’t plan on getting sick or injured but it does happen. I can sell a concert ticket so why not a race bib? If the races handles it then there would be no profits made. I am starting to avoid the big races because they treat runners like they are unimportant by making us pay to go to an expo to pick up our bibs, no deferment or refund. The big races (like R&R) have become a big business that only cares about profits, squeezing out the little guys who actually cared about the runners.

  2. I’ve never not been able to make a race, but I have used someone else’s bib before. I’m usually against it since I hate breaking rules, but my friend got sick the day before a sold out half. I happened to have the day off and I know the RD pretty well and she didn’t mind at all. That happening is rare, but I think big races that sell out 6+ months in advance should have a bib transfer policy. It sucks that you have to register right when registration opens and have no idea what will happen in that huge time span before registration and the race itself.

    1. As a runner, I agree to the directives of the race. If its says no dogs please, I don’t bring a dog. If the application says no refunds or transfers, that is what I have agreed to. There are a number of other ramifications beyond the emergency contact.

      One Example: Mother/15-yr old daughter registered for race. Daughter has conflict. Mom’s friend runs with daughter’s bib. Awards are announced and daughter names is announced as 1st in 19& under category. No one comes forward. Race Director happens to know mother & daughter & emails the following day to congratulate daughter. Mom is embarrassed and explains daughter didn’t run, her 35-year old friend did. So, 16-yr old girl who did actually place first is contacted (turns out it is her first AG win), make our apologies and arrange to get 1st place medal to her. This actually happened at a race I RD’d although names & genders have been changed.

  3. I wish that RDs were more supportive of authorized bib transfers. I’ve eaten the cost of 2 marathons and I would’ve loved to have been able to recoup some of that expense by selling my bib.

    I have done a bib transfer once. A friend was injured right before a race, and the RD allowed him to transfer his registration to me. It can’t be that hard to change a name in a database, so I don’t understand the reluctance.

    1. Well, this year, Kiawah has the runners’ names printed on the bibs, and of course, they can’t change that… but people who love to race so much that they’ll run another another’s name aren’t looking for glory, just the experience of racing.

  4. I am so glad you brought this up because I thought about it quite a bit after Ginger’s banditting post. Since it isn’t allowed (usually), if you do it, you are technically banditting (or is it inducing banditting if you give your bib up?). :)

    I am against banditting, but I too think race bibs should be transferable. I understand the liability part and the administrative nightmare big races would have, but it is hard to watch your money go to waste when you know someone else could have run in your place. I missed the Chicago Marathon a couple of years ago and it was painful to watch my $150 registration fee whiz right on down the drain.

    Then last summer, I was signed up for an out-of-state half marathon and couldn’t make it due to my kids’ schedules. I friend asked me if I’d give her my bib #. I was hesitant because I too felt like I was being asked to enter the dark black market of bib swapping, but I didn’t want it to go to waste. The registration fee was high – I believe $125 and the race was sold out. Had I not transferred it, she wouldn’t have been able to run it. So I let her. I did ask that she write her name and emergency contact info on her bib though in case anything happened.

    I still feel very torn about whether it was okay or whether I really shouldn’t have done it.

    1. See, that makes perfect sense to me … you addressed the emergency contact situation, which is really the only thing that should matter to race officials, so long as we don’t mind someone else’s time being posted under our names. Just curious … did she pay you for it?

      1. She did not pay me for it, but I didn’t ask her to either. To me, the $$ was already gone. Interestingly, she did offer not to cross the finish line, but I told her to go ahead if she wanted to.

      2. This is wrong in so many ways. I’m an RD for a non-profit. I’m also a full time professional. I RD to give a bit back to the sport I love. I don’t get paid and I can assure you I put in countless hours organizing my event. My race sells out with 500 people in 30 minutes. It CLEARLY states on almost all race entries “no refunds, no transfers”. Why do you elect to enter then think you can request to not follow the rules?
        I know it stinks to pay then not be able to run (I have paid and not used a host of race entries too!) but the amount of hassle it takes to manage transfer is beyond imaginable. My very first year RD’ing, I allowed a few transfers. For one of them, it took 11 emails to finally get the required entry form from the new runner. In another case I allowed a transfer but then the original person showed up on race day to run and said they had changed their minds. Really? The bib and computers and chips had already been programmed. Just two examples why it seems “easy” for you but from an RD’s standpoint its certainly not.

        1. Jim – I understand your frustration, but the onus should fall on the ones who messed up. 11 emails is too many. One or two emails for the correct entry form; after that, no transfer. Wrong person showed up on race day – not allowed. I work with a running group that puts on a half and full marathon every year. There is an legal transfer period that cuts off about two weeks before race day. Yes, there are and always will be bandits and illegal transfers, but at least there is a window to help cut down on that.