Is Banditing Always Wrong? You Be the Judge!

Running isn’t exactly known for attracting bad guys, but our sport does have its resident criminals: dopers, cheats, and those pesky bandits. While doping and stuff like course-cutting have always been viewed as bad, banditing has a slightly less odious past. For years, banditing was part of the sport. As recently as six years ago, the Boston Globe published a how-to guide for Boston Marathon bandits. By 2014, though, Boston too banned the bandit. More recently, the website Marathon Investigator, riding the wave of ever-increasing scrutiny of the once accepted-renegades, published photos of bandits along with other race cheats. Today, the mere mention of banditing will open one up to a mob hurling words like “stealing” or “dangerous”. Times they have changed.

Recently, banditing hit the running news when Marathon Investigator outed internet running celebrity and Oiselle muse Kelly Roberts as a bandit. While some were quick to dogpile on her, Kelly apologized after noting she was just pacing her friends. Others went further, even arguing women might justifiably bandit as an homage to Bobbi Gibb, the first woman finisher of Boston who bandited because the race would not allow women to register.

Is banditing always wrong? Are all ways of banditing equally heinous crimes? We decided to ask you!

Below our resident bandit (who looks very familiar), serves up some hypothetical banditing situations along with a defense of her actions. For each, you decide whether she was justified or what punishment you’d mete out and at the end of the quiz you’ll find out your anti-banditness.

Ready! Set! Judge!

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Where Do You Stand on Bandits? I'm %%personality%%

What result did you get? Do the cheetahs all belong behind bars? Care to explain any of your answers? 

Sal is a 4 year old 77 hour trail marathoner looking to whittle a few minutes off next time. Being a gastropod, Sal is neither male nor female but will accept either set of pronouns. Sal's spirit animal is the cheetah and Sal's mantra is, "What's slow to some is fast for others." Sal writes about Salty Running news.

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  1. Don’t impede. Don’t take aid. Don’t get tallied in the results.
    Might be forgivable. As long as you wear a mask.

    1. No one has pointed out what I think is the obvious – what happens if a bandit gets hurt on the course? The medical personnel are going to step in and help, bib or no bib. Even worse (possibly) is if the person is wearing someone else’s bib. All the information available to them is about the other person. Imagine if the person’s (the real bib owner) spouse was contacted, and it turned out to be a completely different person. I’m not entirely averse to a little bit of pacing, as you are running with someone (up to a point) but if it’s an already crowded race, as mentioned, you are taking up room on the course.

      1. I get what you’re saying, and I think that’s important to consider, but I’ve always wondered couldn’t you say the same thing about a spectator getting hurt or suffering a medical emergency (not the bib part obvs)?

  2. I think the big issue with one of the notorious bandits you mentioned is that they got famous by being a bandit, and somehow despite a certain running organization having rules against running with someone else’s bib, they have yet to ban said bandit in accordance with their rules. I also see this from the view of liability. OCRs have/had a rash of bandits, and the chances of getting injured in an OCR vs a regular race are higher and these bandits were still suing (and I think a few won) the organizers.

    1. I agree Jes, banditing and then the fame that came from it….acting like you’re above the rules. I think that is way different than some other instances of banditing.

  3. Sorry Salty. As the victim of a pre-mediated bandit (someone copied my bib at Boston… and I got 25 pictures of her with my overpriced photo pack), I just can’t say it is ok. And yes I say victim and I mean it. I know many disagree… victimless crime, who cares, doesn’t affect my performance, yada yada. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I have less venom for someone who jumps into a race knowing full well they might get pulled from the course. Wearing someone else’s bib or worse, manufacturing fake credentials, is unforgivable when it is clearly prohibited by the race. It is stealing. In marathons especially, for many people it is a huge, time consuming and expensive life experience and it is just not ok to take it for free, add stress to race resources, and put other people at risk. If you want to run in a race, pay for it like the rest of us.

    1. Don’t be sorry! That’s a perfectly reasonable position even without your bad experience. If banditing is on a spectrum, what you describe is way on the side of NEVER OK. I don’t have super strong feelings about banditing as a whole. I see the spectrum and I think in most cases it’s closer to not ok and than ok, but how bad it is really depends on all the circumstances. I think the spectrum of banditing is interesting and that some of the people who get very upset about someone like Kelly Roberts probably have bandited themselves, but just didn’t realize they did. It’s an interesting issue in that people have strong opinions, most of them very reasonable even if wildly different.

      1. I have another perspective now, as I’m on the race committee for a 5k we’re doing for a local charity need. The amount of (volunteer) work that goes into planning even a local yokel 5k… and the value of the goods and services being donated so we can raise $ for this cause is astounding. All of this effort and all the donations are with the expectation that people will pay to join the race. What a slap in the face to the volunteers and donors, as well as the cause itself, for someone to waltz in and do it as a bandit “because they only wanted to do a training run” or whatever other excuse. Go run in the park! If you want to do this race at this time on this day… pay for it.

        1. Yeah, using a race with that self-absorbed sense of entitlement is also much closer to the WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU side of the spectrum!

      1. Unfortunately there are stories like this in Boston every year. It is almost like a game for people to figure out how to cheat here. I know there’s a long and complicated history of banditing – it used to be allowed and even encouraged. But rules change, and sometimes for a very good reason. Interesting story – last year, one of my running club friends also received photos with someone wearing her number. Turns out it was the person who ran with that number last year. She saved her bib and ran again. My friend actually contacted her and she claimed she didn’t know that wasn’t allowed….. could the BAA deter this behavior by changing up the bibs, or having tighter security? Sure. Should they have to do that? No. And think of the expense… that race already costs a zillion bucks to enter!

        1. I was thinking how this issue is made so much more complicated because of the past acceptance/normalization of banditing, particularly at Boston. As I wrote in the post, just 6 years ago the Boston Globe posted a how-to bandit guide and not just the pace your friend banditing, but full-on race without registering banditing. Crazy! But because of that history, there is a bit of mixed messaging and I think Boston does carry a burden of getting the message out or enforcing their new policies on this. At the same time, I cannot for the life of me understand how someone could think faking a bib to race a super expensive, hard-to-get into race is ok. It’s basically like faking tix for front-row seats to the hottest concert of the season. That’s taking banditing to a whole new level. WTF!

  4. … I got “Proud Bandit”?! I guess my personal definition of banditing is pretty specific. I don’t think pacing a friend for a few miles is wrong, premeditated or spur of the moment, running part of a race for a workout might not even be that bad if you don’t take any race supported food/drink, or get in anyone’s way — particularly in a small, local race. Hell, selling your bib? Who cares about that, too really… I’d never buy someone else’s bib just because my results wouldn’t show up under my name, lol. Clearly what happened to Jen above is straight up wrong (and the woman should be internet-shamed if nothing else), I think starting a race and running the whole thing while using race-provided support is wrong .. and becoming celebrity famous from banditing makes me super eyeroll.

  5. This is tricky for me because where I live (Chicago area), most race courses use public paths and those paths are considered open to everyone during the race — so I have many times crossed into a race without knowing, just by merit of being out there. I would not want a list of all of those read out with my full name for sure, because by the time I runsplained that “Actually, the path was open,” the damage to my reputation would be done.

    Stealing bibs is wrong. Knowingly running a whole And more races should facilitate legal bib transfers, for everyone’s safety (bonus: there’s money in them thar numbers). Still, I can’t imagine what my last marathon would’ve been like without my sister jumping in with me in mile 22. That mile and a half she ran with me was some of the most fun I had on course (although the pictures do not back that up AT ALL). Maybe it’s because I’m toward the back of the pack, but I can’t remember being inconvenienced by anyone jumping in to run. with someone else. (Just as long as they aren’t BIKING alongside. Gah.)

    On a much lighter note, these sepia toned bandit mugshots are cracking me up!

  6. Bandit Banisher: I’m okay with that; bully absolutely directed always at race director why because it is up to them to follow their own rules for the race. Last year at a half I found a ghost in the results 4 people with the exact same time, had I not past the group of three at mile 8 I wouldn’t know. I even watch the finish line video, sent proof to race to race director. Still wait for that DQ.

    If pacing is allowed at the race, I have no issue with it, The Ultra I run allows that even feeds them as long as they have a pacers bib. If not, stay off the course why because you’re an extra body taking up space on the course.

    1. “Last year at a half I found a ghost in the results 4 people with the exact same time, had I not past the group of three at mile 8 I wouldn’t know. I even watch the finish line video, sent proof to race to race director. Still wait for that DQ.”

      I’m trying to figure out the crime here. If they were in the results, they weren’t bandits? Not sure I understand and it’s bugging me I can’t figure out what it means!

  7. LOVE these pictures!

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with jumping in to help pace someone during a race. But intentionally running and finishing an entire race without officially entering it? Shouldn’t be done.

  8. I accidentally bandited a race once! I was running a long run on my usual route when people wearing bibs started flying by me. I had no idea there was a race that day or I would have gone somewhere else, obviously, mostly because I felt like an ass…people were cheering for the racers and there I was, putzing along! That’s why banditing can be a gray (grey?) area…when Runner’s World publishes an article saying banditing is never ok for any reason…obviously the course was open, I didn’t take any water, and it was an innocent mistake. Sometimes it’s not that big of a deal.

    1. I was doing a long run and ran into a race too! That’s how I came up with that hypo 🙂 I cheered and encouraged everyone for the couple of miles I was running with them and then ran home. Now I wouldn’t even do that probably because I wouldn’t want any possible drama, but back then was a more innocent time.

    2. I don’t think this is what anyone means when they use the word “bandit”…. mistakes happen. Banditing is when you do it on purpose.

  9. I‘m a Look-The-Other-Wayer, not surprising. I don’t feel comfortable even jumping in to run for a few minutes with a friend in a road race. If it’s a trail race, which tend to have runners way spaced out, I might run with a friend for a mile. But if someone else wants to do that, then fine. Just don’t get in the way of people who paid!

  10. While Boston has a history of being bandit friendly, that stopped quite a while ago, almost coincident with the increase in charity bibs and programs. Anyone without a bib or using an old bib or fake bib is intentionally violating the rules. This is true at any of the major urban races, where as many commenters have said, the cost, organization, safety/security and logistics are high. NYC has struggled with bandits as many formal/informal running groups promote “running the city”. It is sad these major races are so costly, competitive (time or lottery wise) and have become destination races, where many locals can’t participate. While I love that these big marathons now raise lots of money for charity, I haven’t seen any programs that provide free or discounted entries to groups so that poor/local runners can participate.

    While I fall on the “Kind Forgiver” spectrum, that’s more about allowing planned or random partial pacing in a marathon race. I would NOT support any intentional full race banditing with fake or bought bibs. I see NO need to jump in a local 5K or 10K to get a work out in. I would (and have) paid to participate if I really want to run (for reasons cited by one of the respondents). I do wish more races allowed bib transfer. I have heard the race director side of this saying – too complex but, for a small fee, subject to strict process, with a little bit of programming to the racer database, it should not be. I mean if you can add last minute sign ups, you can allow bib transfer at the start.