Wednesday, July 23, 2014

These are the levels of race banditing. Where do you fall?

Depending on your definition, any of these could be considered "banditing" a race

1. As a spectator, go onto a race course to help a wheelchair division athlete whose chair had tipped over
2. As a spectator in the finish area, get a water bottle from the aid station to help another spectator who has fainted
3. Register your child for a fun run but run along with them, unregistered
4. Register for a race, forget your bib at home, but run the race anyways
5. Run (unregistered) with your spouse / significant other for the last couple miles of their first race, being careful to step off the course before the finish, and making sure not to use any of the supplies provided for runners.
6. As a spectator, use a porta-potty provided for runners
7. Wear a friend's non-transferrable race bib in a race, being careful to step off the course before the finish
8. Let your (unregistered) 3-year-old run through the finish line with you as you complete your first marathon
9. As a runner, pick up extra supplies at the final aid station after the finish of a race and take them home for later
10. Post the "PROOF" photo from a race photography website to your Facebook page
11. A race just happens to be held on your usual running route. You run anyways, without registering, stepping off the course before the finish
12. Run (unregistered) the entire route of a marathon with your running buddy to help him make his BQ, stepping off before the finish
13. Hop in to a local 5k where you're not registered. Run straight through the finish line.
14. Climb over the barrier and hop in to the Boston Marathon, availing yourself of free water, gatorade, and energy gels. Get a hearty ovation from the crowd as you run through the finish line on Boylston Street.
15. Forge a race number for the New York Marathon, run the whole race, get a medal at the finish. Complain when you are not listed in the official results.

I've heard folks say that banditing a race is ALWAYS wrong, no matter what. Are all of these actions equally wrong? Are some more wrong than others? What if you did #5 above but donated $10 to the race charity? Honestly, the charity probably makes less than that off of every registered runner, once you count all the expenses that go into a race. Would that be wrong?

I'm not saying it's not wrong to bandit a race. As a race timer, it's especially annoying to me when bandits come through the finish chute. I have to check with every one of them to make sure they aren't actually registered (since many runners remove their shirts with the bibs on them during a race, or put on sweatshirts over their bibs, I need to make sure I get a time for each runner).

But I'd rather see someone respectfully bandit a race than never run at all. If a runner gets motivated by running with others but can't afford a race fee, I don't see a huge problem with that person hopping in the race mid-pack and hopping back out before the finish, especially if they don't use the porta-potties and food and drinks provided for the runners.

And there are other obnoxious things runners can do in races that maybe technically "okay" but I think are much more annoying than a respectful bandit. Like running four-abreast when others are trying to pass, or blasting headphones so loud you can't hear race officials' instructions, or drafting off someone for miles into a headwind without ever offering to take a turn in front.

Yet I see much more self-righteous indignation about bandits than any of these things. Would it be better if no one ever bandited? Sure, but it would also be better if flabby-chested middle-aged men never ran shirtless. If I had to pick one to get rid of first, it'd probably be the flabby shirtless runners.

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