Running Bandit


We were timing a large marathon in South Texas this past weekend and I was amazed at the number of bandits in the race.  At first we were a little concerned because a lot of people were crossing our split points and then the finish line, but our equipment wasn't recording their times. When we asked if they had a bib on, they just shrugged and ran on.  I probably counted over 50 fifty runners in the race who were running bandit.  I asked the race director about it, and was told that it was a big problem in their area.  It got me to thinking about all of the other races that we have participated in this year where there were bandits in the crowd.  For those of you that don't know what a bandit is, it's someone who is running the race but has not paid an entry fee.  They are participating in the event but have done nothing to help defray the costs of the event and are simply defrauding the race of needed funds.

I personally have a big issue with bandits running the course.  I know that a race is on public streets and there is nothing that can be done about people running the same course, but when I see them using race resources, I draw the line.  At this particular race last weekend, I even saw several bandits receiving finisher's medals.  I was absolutely stunned that someone would run a race and actually take a medal without having paid anything for it.

I have a hard time believing that there are that many people out there that would willingly cheat the races.  I know that some people will come out and help pace or support another runner so to some extent they are supporting the event, but there are many that simply show up and participate and have not volunteered, paid entry, or done anything to help support the event.  My hope is that people simply don't understand the costs involved in putting on an event and that they think it doesn' really hurt the event.  I haven't seen any events take action against bandits but I've known of races that have actually pursued legal action against them for theft of services.

There are several issues that bandits create for an event.  First is the cost associated with hosting an event.  Most would be surprised at how much an event can cost.  Even for a simple 5K with about 100 people, the cost is about $3000 give or take.  A half marathon or marathon can easily run $20000 or more and that is for a small event.  There are costs associated with permits, insurance, venue, security, awards and medals, portable toilets, equipment rental, t-shirts, etc.  It is a long list and while race organizers try to keep costs down, there are certain expenses that simply cannot be reduced.  Bandits on a course drink the water from race cups, use the toilets, take advantage of the permit and security on the course, and sometimes even participate in post race activities and eat the food and drink.  In my book, it is nothing less than theft.

A second issue has to do with liability.  One requirement that all races have to meet is having liability insurance in place.  If something were to happen during an event, the liability policies will help cover and protect the organizers, volunteers, and participants.  Bandits aren't covered under those policies so if something were to happen, someone participating in an event and not having paid and signed the waiver, will simply be left hanging.

A third issue and one which is really the most crucial is the opportunity cost to a race.  Not only has the event incurred expenses supporting a bandit, but they have lost any potential revenue that the athlete should have paid.  As most races are non-profit and supporting a particular cause, that means that the charity has now lost revenue that should have gone towards supporting the particular cause.

If you know of someone who regularly bandits events, please encourage them to either not participate or to start paying for the event.  It's a disservice to everyone to have someone in a race that has not paid or been granted entry by the organizers.  If you run bandit yourself, then please do your part to support the event and especially the organization that has gone out of its way to produce the event while hoping to first recover their expenses and second to raise money for the cause.

See you at the race!