A race bandit is someone who participates in a race without paying the entry fee. The bandit runs (or jogs or walks) the course, drinks the water, eats the food, and accepts a medal, all things that have been paid for by other participants. So what’s the reasoning behind the bandit?
For some race bandits, money is a motivator. For others, running as a bandit is a principle-based decision. To get a better understanding of these running free riders let’s take a closer look at the arguments.
A case for race bandits
Cost. A race bandit will clear their conscience of not paying registration fees by not using or taking race resources (food, water, bathroom, swag bag, medal, etc.). For them, if they don’t pay and don’t take “stuff,” they’re just enjoying a run with a bunch of other enthusiastic individuals.
Principle. Bandits believe that they have every right to run a race course since their taxpayer dollars went towards paying for the road, sidewalk, or trail. To them, as long they stay out of the way of paying participants there is no problem with them running the race as a bandit.
A case against race bandits
Stealing. The pro-bandit arguments would be fine, but most bandits aren’t running just to run. They run because they can’t afford to pay (or just don’t want to pay) the registration fees, or because they couldn’t qualify, or because they want to run at race pace with a bunch of other people. Whatever their motivation, running in a race that isn’t free that you didn’t pay for is stealing.
Safety. Let’s say a bandit runs a race and gets injured. Unless the bandit has ID on their person, the race director has no way of knowing who that person is or who to contact on their behalf. On top of that, an injured bandit could take legal action against a race director because the bandit didn’t sign the waiver included in the registration form.
Racing is a business. There are loads of costs (insurance, EMT, police, course measurement, timing, etc.) associated with races. These costs increase regularly. If race directors are going to make money (97.3% aren’t working pro bono) they have to raise race fees and/or sell merchandise to cover their own, increasing costs.
A case for a middle ground
I recently skipped a 5-mile race because late registration was $40. I opted not to run the race because I couldn’t justify the expense. Instead, I plotted a 10K course, slapped on my Garmin, and ran as hard as I could.
Could I have gone el bandito? Absolutely. Could I have chosen to run the exact same course as the race? Sure. But why would I want to crash the party? Seriously, I get the pro-bandit argument. I get that you pay taxes for roads and sidewalks and trails. But come on. Are you telling me that of the 3.806 million square miles (in the U.S. alone) you can’t find a place to run? You can. So get off your soapbox. Stop stealing from race directors, volunteers, local charities, non-profit orgs, and mom-and-pop restaurants donating food to the finisher tent. Stop complaining and go run your own race.
FYI, Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, was considered by most to be a race bandit. This is not the case. In fact, Switzer was registered for the race, but was forcibly removed because women were not yet allowed to participate in the iconic race.