Race bandits take away valuable resources from registered runners.
DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
The English dictionary defines the word “bandit” as “an outlaw who lives by plunder.” In the running industry, we define them as people who don’t officially enter our race but feel it is okay to just jump in at any location along the course and run.
Not all races have the unique experience of dealing with bandits or unofficial runners, but many do. The most common races where non-official runners tend to jump in are those that sell out quickly or a race like Boston where you would actually have to qualify to register.
Some say, “It’s a public road so I can do what I want, so what’s the big deal?” Well, a few things actually do make it a big deal, for example:
- How do we know how many are going to show up and thus how many do we need to plan for? In some cases it could be just a few and in other cases it could be hundreds or even thousands.
- We haven’t been able to communicate with the bandits, so how do these people know what to do and where to go? When these people just show up, they are uninformed and tend to get in the way.
- They use official runner services like water stations and port-o-johns and thus create longer lines and cause major problems for the race.
- They take up valuable space the race didn’t have and/or wasn’t planning for.
- They add to the traffic congestion getting to the race and take up parking spaces available at the race.
- If they get hurt in the race, the race may not be able to identify who they are or have any emergency contact information for them.
- Many people feel that it is okay to jump into the race somewhere near the end of the race and run with their friend or loved one across the finish line. They don’t realize that takes up valuable space, too, especially in the finish area. Some even take water and food that belongs to registered runners and even worse take an official finisher’s medal, which isn’t theirs to take.
- Most importantly, we don’t know who these people are so they can pose a security risk, especially with the heightened security measures at road races.
- And, by the way, it just isn’t fair for all those who earned the right to be there who have trained hard, entered on time, and who may have raised a lot of money for a worthwhile cause. These bandits didn’t officially enter and they didn’t pay the entry fee like everyone else did. The race cost money to pay for all these services, including police along the course to secure the roads so the runners can run on them, provide port-o-johns and medical supplies and the list goes on and on. Bandits didn’t pay for any of this.
In their defense, I do believe that most people who consider “jumping into a race” aren’t aware of these issues and once it is explained to them, they get it, and decide against banditing a race. However, there are always some who still ignore all this and still feel it is their “right” to run no matter what.
So, what should races do about bandits? First, we should publicly “discourage” participation by bandits and explain why it can hurt the race. We understand it is a public roadway and they feel they have the right to be there but based on the facts presented above, I would think they would reconsider their position and be respectful of the effort and dedication of thousands of people to make the race safe and well-managed for those who have earned the right to be there.
Yes, it’s a “free” country we live in but it isn’t a “free” race. It’s a delicate balance between publicly stating and announcing that you discourage people from running who are not official entrants but by doing so bringing more attention to the issue and actually giving more people the idea of doing it.
Let your conscience be your guide. Of course, that assumes the person considering jumping into the race has a conscience to begin with.
Train, earn the right, officially enter, and run. Seems like a simple solution to me.