The Running Chick’s article last week about the different ways to finish a race got me thinking: Is it okay to have a non-entrant pace you through part of a race?
I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of runners recount their big fall races and noticed many had prearranged company on the course, people without running numbers. If an earlier CRN comment I read this fall is correct, some of the regional marathons now actually encourage these hookups. I don’t recall seeing this 10 or 15 years ago, at least not to the extent I do now. So what gives?
Let’s be clear here. I’m talking about those running with someone for mostly moral support. People who aren’t registered for the race but who pop in on the course when their runner goes by. They don’t use up water and Gatorade at aid stations. And presumably they aren’t contributing to any course crowding, given they typically file in after the field’s fanned out. They also fall off the course before the finish line. But officially they are breaking race rules. Then again, so’s anyone running with headphones.
And let me also make a distinction between road races and very long trail ones, usually done in remote areas where sometimes people stick by to ensure a struggling runner’s safety. Sometimes it’s even sanctioned by race officials. These don’t typically contain miles of course marshals or even other runners, and they aren’t always within easy reach of aid stations or cell phone reception. But a marathon with 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 others is different. It’s unlikely you are ever truly alone unless the course closes while you’re still out there. And then your family and friends are providing a different role: protection.
A Chicago Tribune columnist brought up just this subject before her big city’s marathon last month. In that piece, the writer admitted to having been a bandit several years ago when she helped a friend “get through some of the tougher miles.” She asked if being a bandit is ever permissible. Some said that until she posed the question as she did, they’d never considered people who crash a course for support to even be bandits. Others predictably unleashed a heap of harsh words on these folks.
I don’t think such vitriol is warranted. So many people—people I know personally and virtually—do it. People that I admire. So maybe I’m just out of touch. Or maybe I’m jealous that I never thought to do the same, to get a little bit of an edge over others forced to grab their own drink and turn inward for strength. Maybe this is why my marathon times keep slowing. Rather than rely on fellow racers for that final push, I should find someone with fresher legs and follow their lead.