Race Ethics, Bandits and Illegal Transfers

Let’s talk about races. Specifically, let’s talk about running races that you’re not officially signed up for—whether because you’re a bandit or using another person’s bib.

Perhaps one of the most famous "illegal" racers, Kathrine Switzer

Perhaps one of the most famous “illegal” racers, Kathrine Switzer. Isn’t she awesome?

Everyone has a different moral compass and we all run different types of races—trail runs, ultras, local quiet 5ks, large renowned road races, perhaps none at all and everything in between. For this reason, I understand that no two people will feel identically about this subject. What I didn’t realize was how strongly people would feel.

Personally, I’ve never supported bandit racers. If you are one, I likely won’t shame or judge you, but internally I’ll reserve the right to disagree with the practice. My reasoning hinges on money—race organizers spend a lot of time putting on these races, a task that isn’t easy or cheap. Bandit running is the equivalent to stealing in my head—and it’d be stealing from people that I respect and appreciate greatly.

When it comes to illegal bib transfers, I’ve never given it much thought nor had much of an opinion. I actually bought a bib and ran a half this summer when the opportunity fell in my lap. With my near sub-1:40 half marathon a couple weeks ago, I’ve been anxious to run another half and as it turns out there is a (sold out) race here in San Diego on Sunday. I decided to look on craigslist for bibs and to my surprise there were tons. I was pretty confident that purchasing a bib through craigslist didn’t obtrude my moral code, but I still had a twinge of ethical doubt.

Unsure of if I approved of illegal bib transfers I decided to broach the subject to an online running community I’m part of, thinking I’d get a few responses and maybe a couple more pros and cons to mule over. Instead my post had approximately 50 replies and many strong opinions. One community member seemed irritated that I was simply “looking for assurance that cheating was okay.” Oh man! Cheating? (Note—that reply was later deleted by the commenter—eye roll).

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 7.56.31 PMSome people were adamantly against it—rules are rules and we should follow them. Others felt it was not super, but if you do illegally buy a bib at least don’t use the timing chip, leverage aid stations or take a medal. The majority had a middle approach—go ahead and buy a bib illegally, but definitely don’t use the timing chip. Lastly, some said—fuck it and do whatever you want. In fact, one user expressed this last sentiment (albeit in much milder language) in a private message for fear of community backlash!

I was more confused than ever. I respected everyone’s opinion, but many people had brought up points I hadn’t originally considered.

For example, I hadn’t considered that some races oversell spots under the assumption a certain percentage of people will not race. As such they plan aid stations to be stocked with only a certain amount of supplies. And then, there was also liability and personal safety to think about if the illegal runner got injured. I never fully thought through why unapproved bib transfers were illegal, but when a community member highlighted the liability/safety aspect, the reasoning clicked. Sometimes when you understand the reasoning behind a rule—and especially if it’s a valid reason—it makes it harder to break.

Finally, the consideration that hadn’t dawned on me was the timing chip. By using the chip I would negatively affect the accuracy of the results, especially if I ended up with a bib that reflected a different gender or significantly different age. Yet, the whole point of me racing was that I wanted to beat 1:40. I’ll be frank, if I bought a bib illegally I was using the chip…no doubt about it. I understand and agree it’s wrong, but what’s the point of racing if you can’t get an official time out of it (even if that official time is associated with another person’s name).

So what do I think of illegal bib transfers? To be honest, the jury is still out. In the end I realized that this bitch is broke and couldn’t afford to spend $100 on yet another half marathon. That settled the debate for me.

What do you think? Are you a bandit runner, stick to the rules 100% or somewhere in the middle?


One thought on “Race Ethics, Bandits and Illegal Transfers

  1. Flagrant banditing is a definite no-no for me. But I wish races–especially the big, popular ones–would make more provisions for transferring registrations. For instance, I registered for the Surf City Half months ahead of time, then found out a couple of months later that I had a schedule conflict I absolutely couldn’t get out of. The SC website didn’t seem to offer a solution, so that ended up being one wasted spot in the race. Once it sold out, I’m sure someone would have appreciated a transfer (and I’d have appreciated the refund), but I’d want to do it legally.

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