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Smokey and the Bandit

Posted by Filed Under: Races & Racing

hamburglar.jpgI’ve never qualified for Boston. I’m not sure I will ever qualify for Boston. Does that mean I can’t run Boston? Nope. I could bandit run it.

If you’ve never heard this term, it refers to the person who runs in the race without registering. They don’t pay a fee, they don’t get a chip, they don’t get bib, or a finishing time, or anything for that matter. They just run with everyone else.

So what’s wrong with that?

The anti-bandits (smokies) say that it spoils the race. The non-paying folks cheapen it for people who’ve earned the right to be there, who have paid their dues in sweat, and bought their place in cash. The bandits jump in and lunch on the set-up. They enjoy the official course and the aid stations and the snacks at the end without having to pony up a penny, and without having to work for it. They can even pull their pictures from the lost and found section of the race photos. They are like wedding reception crashers, only a lot sweatier.

The bandits say: What’s the big deal? So 20 extra people run Boston among the 1,000’s there already. It hurts nobody. They don’t run out of water and the bandits aren’t crashing through people to steal first place. They aren’t even snagging a free medal at the end. It’s no different than being out running on your favorite course and suddenly you are surrounded by people in the middle of a race. What’s the disruption? How would anyone know anything is different? And let’s be honest, is it really that big a deal if a few extra people snatch an orange at the end? Especially when most races end up discarding far more than that afterwards.

Pardon Me, Your Bib Is Not Showing

I’ve always wondered why I never saw bandit runners at races before. Then I was looking at a set of race photos and couldn’t figure out why so many people didn’t have a bib on in the pictures. Some of them wore them on their backs, but some just didn’t seem to have one on at all. How stupid, I thought. Now I realize that many (most?) of them were bandit runners. Out there having a race for the day without shelling out the $25 (or more) for the race.

Somehow, it bothered me actually seeing them. When they were these mysterious, unseen runners, it never made a difference. But now, seeing their faces, and them running between the real racers, it made me mad. I know in many races I’ve had to slow up or jump to the side to avoid other runners who were slower or faster than me. What if some of the bandits got in my way at some point and I had to slow down or move to get around them? They didn’t pay their money like I did, and now they are spoiling my race. I don’t mind moving for the other racers, because that’s part of the race that we all signed up for, but not for the bandit who didn’t pay like the rest of us.

I think my final thoughts on it are that the bandit runners are thieves. They are the same people that take two newspapers from the paper vending machine. The same people that shut off the gas pump but empty the gas from the hose into their tank when filling their car (I saw a cheapo in his Jaguar do that). The same people that buy something from the store so they can use it for a day, and then return it the next day saying they didn’t like it.

It’s theft, plain and simple.



10 Comments
  1. Danielle in Iowa on October 4th at 10:47 am

    I have sort of been struggling with this lately. I have a friend and running partner who is running Chicago, which will be her first marathon. Last year she had to pull out at the halfway point because of her IT band problems. She is still having IT band problems and asked me if I would run the second half with her for moral support. Do I still count as a bandit?

  2. Never bandit a race under any circumstances « Run to Win » on October 4th at 11:45 am

    […] I do not hold with banditing races and I never have. A bandit in a race is any person that runs the course and makes use of the race support but has not paid for the right to be there. Jon over at the complete running network wrote about how he no longer holds with banditing a race: When they were these mysterious, unseen runners, it never made a difference. But now, seeing their faces, and them running between the real racers, it made me mad. […] They didn’t pay their money like I did, and now they are spoiling my race. […] It’s theft, plain and simple. Actually, to my mind, banditing a race is not plain and simple. Not only is it theft, but it is not safe, either. Races have entrance caps because that is the most number of people that a race can support. Volunteers and race directors only scrape together enough supplies for the number of people that they expect to have to support. Non-profits often sponsor races in an effort to raise capital for their charitable work, which is not helped by people who skip paying the fee. Bandits have not signed any sort of liability waiver, and as ridiculous as it sounds the race directors would probably be found liable if the bandit did something stupid like run into a car or trip over a curb. […]

  3. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on October 4th at 11:48 am

    I started to write a response, but around 400 words I went over and finished writing it over at my site.

    Danielle, if you don’t want to read my entire response (trackbacked above) then here is my thoughts on the matter: Register for the race and pace your friend, or else just be there to cheer her on. I was faced with that exact situation this past weekend and just couldn’t bring myself to run, even just on the middle miles.

  4. Dianna on October 4th at 12:10 pm

    Actually, some races don’t mind if a ‘pacer’ jumps in for a few miles. Usually, they ask that the pacer does not enter the finish area. And it’s just good manners for the pacer to bring their own hydration and fuel (if necessary) and leave the aid stations to those that paid.

  5. Jessica on October 4th at 12:13 pm

    If a non-registered runner runs the race and does not take any food or water on the course – are they really a bandit? I don’t think so. Most races are on public property. What’s to stop someone from running a course that happens to be marked so long as they don’t take support from the aide stations?

    If someone paces me through the whole course but is not registered – and they take no supplies – why would that be a bad thing?

    I agree – if someone is not registered and takes food or water from the stations – then they are a thief and the aide station workers should not allow runners with no bibs to take stuff.

    Otherwise I say let them enjoy the course 🙂

  6. Danielle in Iowa on October 4th at 12:43 pm

    Well, if you didn’t register in May for Chicago, you can’t get in. So if it was a simple matter of paying the entrance fee or not, I totally would pay it. Well, whatever I do, I won’t use the aid stations 🙂

  7. Danielle in Iowa on October 4th at 12:50 pm

    Oh yeah, I did actually pay to run Chicago last year and got injured and wasn’t able to run it… So they got my money last year – does that make it okay? 😉

  8. Anne on October 4th at 3:49 pm

    As someone who knows some of those perennial Boston bandits, I wanted to mention that many of them would qualify and could pay but want to prove a point about greedy fees and outrageous rule-bending when it suits organizers. I don’t know about other big marathons, but the crowds LOVE the Boston bandits — who start in the very back of the field and flaunt their illegal status. The bandits I know run with their own water bottles, though I’m sure others gladly grab a cup of Gatorade if they can. Is that any more wrong than someone who buys his way into a race that everyone else must work hard to enter?

  9. Adeel on October 4th at 8:38 pm

    I’ve bandited a few races, then, including races I’ve previously run, by pacing friends. I’ve also been paced at races by friends, but those were smaller races.

    I think there’s a world of a difference between banditing an entire race and pacing someone at the back of the pack (I’ve paced 2:30 half marathoners and 5-hour marathoners) or pacing someone in 12th place at a small race.

  10. Dawn - Pink Chick on October 6th at 7:53 pm

    At my last half marathon a friend out for her morning run on a trail nearby spotted me and joined me for a couple of kms. I was happy for her company and support. However, being a solo runner most of the time I was also happy to continue on my own after.

    As long as the bandits are not interferring with my race or the race of those that have paid, I’m not sure it matters to me, after all the first woman to run the Boston Marathon was a “bandit runner”. I suspect if her and those that followed for the next few years had not proven a woman could run a marathon it may have taken longer for women to be permitted to run in that race.

    Great stuff Jon!

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