In case you missed it (not likely), last week there was a massive online hunt to capture and punish those that were caught using fake bibs at this year’s Boston Marathon. Based on comments in articles and social media (remind me next time not to read the comments in news articles), many runners feel these bandits should be tarred, feathered, and then publicly stoned. I’m only slightly exaggerating, but not by much…long jail sentences and lifetime bans from all races were all presented in a non ironical manner.
I should preface this (mostly for fear of getting including in the tarring and feathering part) by saying that I in no way condone making a counterfeit bib to enter a race. But at the same time, I’m not quite as outraged as many others apparently are. Should they have done what they did? No, of course not. But I also believe the punishment (or in particular, the quest to publicly find and shame them) should fit the “crime”. Bandits have long been a part of major marathons, but the circumstances surrounding this year’s Boston Marathon have brought the issue to the forefront.
In my opinion, the biggest mistake these bandits made was that they didn’t just bandit the race, but counterfeited bibs. Historically, bandits are those that sneak into the race without a bib (often at the back of the pack), either right from the start or at the first opportunity. As this Boston Globe article points out, Boston race organizers have always turned a blind eye and passively approved of bandits. Just don’t take a medal (volunteers are instructed to check for bibs when distributing medals), and all is ok. However, ahead of this year’s race, Boston Marathon officials requested that bandits not run given the extra security concerns and high demand of those wanting to be part of this year’s race.
The second mistake this group of bandits made was picking Boston, which of course is typically earned and reserved for those that are fast enough to qualify. Although the race does set aside a certain number of spots for charity runners (and some of these bandits did apparently raise money for charity – again, not justifying, keep those feathers away from me!). So counterfeiting your way into a race that is typically earned is going to draw an extra bit of ire from runners.
Will Boston Banditgate 2014 put an end to future race bandits? Of course not, and although I’ve never run as a bandit, I guess I don’t have too much of a problem with those those choose too, as long as they are respectful of the unwritten bandit rules (such as don’t counterfeit a bib, don’t take a medal or other resources from registered runners, etc…). Yes, banditting could potentially cause problems for a race, but I believe there’s probably some breaking point or threshold to where it would become a real problem. Where that line is, I’m not sure…and maybe that’s part of the problem. But if race directors feel the threshold has been crossed, I’m sure there will be increased measures at future races to help ward off potential bandits (wristband scanning, more spotters on course a la NYC). But couple high registration costs with demand outweighing supply, and bandits will always try and find a way to beat the system.
Here’s a few interesting articles on race bandits:
- Boston Globe article mentioned above regarding the history of bandits at Boston Marathons past.
- Peter Sagal from NPR talks about his experience of running as a bandit at the Chicago Marathon a few years ago, interesting discussion of “The Categorical Imperative.”
- WSJ article from 2011, talks about a race (Bay to Breakers in San Francisco) where the bandits outnumbered the registered runners (threshold crossed!)