The bib-less bandits run among us. They gum up aid stations, photobomb our race photos and steal our bananas at the finish line. But they also make history.
Today I’m writing about bandits: people who run races without paying to enter them. While researching the net for this post, I’ve become more apprehensive to reveal that I’ve…*ahem*… “jumped into” a few races without paying the often overpriced entry fee. But does it help to say that I would never bandit my “A” race of the season? If I also thought I might be in for a big PR mid-way through training, I will gladly pay the fee to compete, too. Other than these two scenarios, is there really any harm in heading out for a run that just so happens to be with 5,000 or so other people on a perfectly marked course, fit with timers and water stops?
Is it wrong to bandit?
It depends who you ask.
On one end of the spectrum, there are runners who believe that banditing a race is wrong, unethical and considered stealing. Smack dab in the middle of the debate are those who believe that as long as you use the race as a training run, do not take any fluids, and do not take any of the food at the end of the race, than you are ok to freely join the entrants. Kudos if you don’t cross the finish line, too! At the opposite side of the spectrum, there are the true Bandits at heart: jump in, take the water, eat all the food you can eat, and grab that hard-earned medal because you earned it!
Am I paying for the race or the shirt?
When you bandit, you will likely not receive a t-shirt. But the t-shirt debate is one reason runners will bandit a race. As entry fees have risen, the quality of our shirts have gotten better, too. For some smaller races, there are options to pay a discounted race fee if you don’t care about a shirt. In fact, open track meets at colleges are usually pretty cheap ($5-$10) and there’s no shirt involved. The bandit argument is that if more races had the option to run shirt-less, so to speak, you’d have a little less bandits and possibly more competition showing up to race. But then more competition equals more staff and more police and well, more money!
It’s not against the law.
There is no law being broken by a middle-spectrum bandit. A police officer cannot issue a warrant for your arrest if you happen to go for your jog on the day of the Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon. In fact, some would even argue that it’s ok to take a Gatorade as the reason for the drink on the course is to advertise. So, the more, the merrier. I’ve never jumped into a race over 13 miles so taking fluids has not been an issue for me. However, after the race is over, I’ve seen plenty of bib-less people grab some post-race goodies. I’ve also seen volunteers throwing away boxes of food after the awards ceremony. Does it make it right? Let me go ask my superego.
Just don’t cross the finish line.
Along with not taking any fluids or food, many runners insist that if you are going to jump into a race, just be sure to not cross the finish line as it can mess up the results. I’ve got another confession to make. I’ve only bandited two or three races but I haven’t been able to escape the finish line (sorry race directors!). Maybe this is a sign that I should stop with the banditing altogether. If you accidentally receive a medal at the finish, turn it down. Or better yet, give it away. When I jumped into a half marathon last year and was too disoriented to notice a volunteer draping my neck with a medal, I walked away and gave it to a two year-old girl whose face lit up as bright as the medal itself.
I know, still doesn’t make it right.
Does it just need to stop?
There a multiple ethical issues involved in this debate. Wherever you stand, it’s probably not a good idea to become a cheapskate weekend warrior. But most runners even frown upon the middle of the road bandits. A primary issue is that if one person thinks it is ok to bandit a race then what would happen if a hundred other runners thought it was also ok to bandit? The liability is then placed in the hands of the race director. And this includes those just jumping in to help out other runner friends!
What do you think? Have you run a race without paying? Do you think it’s wrong no matter how it’s done or do you give some leeway for the act?