Broadening the Definition of ‘Bandit’

Posted by Filed Under: News and Opinion


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.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. EJ Murphy on November 8th at 12:27 pm

    If Lance Armstrong did it then is it OK for anyone to do it? I have to admit that when I heard that Lance had coaching during his virgin marathon run I was a little disappointed. I had never heard of this practice and knowing that he had world class runners pacing him diminished his accomplishment for me. The time for coaching is during training in preparation for the race. Now the race itself has become the training session. A venue to get that “Personal Best” time. If this is what the athlete wants then they should go in knowing that they have in fact disqualified themselves from placing in the race.

  2. Mark Iocchelli on November 8th at 12:55 pm

    Hi and welcome to CRN EJ. That Lance thing really bugged me until I realized the entourage was more for themselves than for Lance. I read various interviews of those people saying they were thrilled to *get* to be near Lance for his marathon.

    That aside, I have no quarrel with bandits as long as they (as you’ve suggested) don’t take resources from runners or clog up the race.

    My approach is generally what you suggested near the end – to latch onto someone who’s running strong and feed off their momentum.

  3. Adeel on November 9th at 12:06 am

    Mark, I’m feeling crappy in a race, the last thing I want is to do try and run with someone who’s feeling great. The exception, of course, is when it’s close enough (500 m or less) that you can simply “gut it out”.

    I don’t think bandit pacers are a great idea, but I’ve been the bandit pacer on more than a few occasions for slower runners. I’ve done it and I doubt anyone around the runner I paced cared, but I certainly wouldn’t want one of my competitors to be paced by someone out of the crowd. I’d probably try and hip-check the pacer.

  4. Mike on October 11th at 4:49 pm

    I have paced as a sanctioned pacer for the NJ Marathon nine times and I have paced friends and family as a non-sanctioned pacer and I think it’s really the same thing. My purpose is to help people by talking, encouraging, and even singing to them, but they still complete the distance.

    As long as the pacers don’t use up any resources supplied to the official runners, except the port-o-johns and they don’t get in the way, I think it is OK. Also, the bandit pacers can’t try to get a finisher medal or other schwag. Last time I helped my cousin finish NYC, I jumped out at mile 25. She didn’t need me anymore and I didn’t want to be to tackled by race crew.