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Is it Cool to Bandit a Race?

Posted by on Jan 19, 2013 | 17 Comments

Earlier today, Shelly and I ran a trail marathon. A few miles in, we ended up behind a few people that happened to be discussing race entry fees. I believe they were talking about the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. Being the antagonizer I am, I suggested they just bandit the race. [For those that aren’t familiar with the term, “banditing” refers to running a race without paying to run the race. ]

Of the group, one sounded interested in the idea, another was appalled, and a third didn’t talk to us the rest of the race. Seeing an opportunity to have some fun, I began describing the “ethics of banditing” to the interested girl. I made up some rules on the spot, which I later shared on Facebook:

1. Don’t start in the gate, run with your pace group. Don’t cross the finish line, either.
2. Don’t use any aid. Ever.
3. Don’t get hurt. If you do, drag your ass off the course and get your own help.
4. Pick up all trash you encounter.
5. Don’t impede a paying runner in any way.
6. If anyone needs help, don’t be a douche and just run past them.


If you’re confronted by race officials, tell them you’re cleaning the course. Get pissed and tell them you’re missing your three kids’ soccer games.

The whole idea made me laugh. Banditing is usually akin to punching a volunteer in the face… it’s just something that you don’t do.

But then I started thinking about it.

Is banditing really that bad?

What if you did follow my made-up rules? There are lots of pro and con arguments for banditing. At first I thought of it as open-source software, but the analogy didn’t quite fit. It would be more like pirating something, then donating to the owner.

Okay, that analogy doesn’t quite work, either.

What would happen if there was a sudden “bandit” movement where people regularly bandited races, especially if they applied a “bandit code” to their sneaky endeavors?

Give me your thoughts in the comments section!

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17 Comments

  1. dan
    January 30, 2013

    You expect a bandit to run 13 or 26 miles and not take ANY water, ANY assistance what-so-ever, and stop at EVERY aid station to pick up discarded cups of water?
    good luck with that fantasy.
    Until then, stay off the course.

    • Jason
      January 30, 2013

      RFantasy?!? You’re not familiar with unsupported fatass ultramarathons, are you? It’s possible to go 50 miles or more by carrying your own water. A half and full mary is a piece of cake. ;-)

  2. Bill
    January 28, 2013

    I found this the perfect topic to comment on. I am a bit of a lone wolf, and do a lot of my trail running by myself. To be honest, I’m not particularly driven to run with other people or sanctioned races.There have been a number of times I inadvertently found myself on the same track that a race was occurring, although I may have ended up there via a different approach route. I guess I don’t consider this banditing, as I carry my own support, and don’t request anything from the race. My feeling is that when your in the mountains it’s kinda like public domain. As long as you are not utilizing the support of the sanctioned race,and defer trail space to the people that have paid, then what does it matter. We’re all out there to have some fun and run in the mountains. After all, lets face it, trail running is the bomb.
    For what it’s worth. Some bandits are out doing their normal thing.

  3. will
    January 28, 2013

    Followed your rules exactly and “did” the half marathon in Central Park this past weekend. I do my long run on Sunday mornings in the park, so I would be there running anyway. Still it was a bit awkward when the person I least wanted to see ran up beside me: Mary Wittenberg–NYRR President. Plus I got “womaned.”

  4. John Y.
    January 23, 2013

    I’d bandit a marathon (due to escalating entry fees) and I would most likely wear a bandit mask just to see who pays attention.

  5. Malva
    January 22, 2013

    You’d also want to be sure you’re nowhere near the front. It wouldn’t be fair to the fast runners pushing harder to catch you and adjusting their strategy for someone who isn’t in the race.

    I do like the concept of starting at the end and sweeping in some way tho.

  6. Joey K
    January 20, 2013

    I think that race fees are getting to be a bit ridiculous, especially for a 5K. The only reason I pay the fee is for the Swag. If they didn’t offer as much Swag, how much could the fees be reduced?

  7. Rob Y
    January 20, 2013

    With all due respect I think it’s a dumb idea to bandit races. This is coming from a long time racer AND long time race volunteer. As for your quasi-volunteer concept? Just volunteer! You wouldn’t believe how tough it is to scrape together enough volunteers to get a race to go smoothly. Any RD worth their salt would be forever grateful to have more help. If you’re going to run a race, PAY and run the race, otherwise volunteer. Especially at trail races there is need to have one or more “sweeps” anyways (sort of fits a lot of the criteria of your quasi-volunteer bandit idea) that help clean up the course, take down markers and help the last finishers make it in.

  8. Barefoot Running University » Eliminating the Need for Validation
    January 20, 2013

    […] fun continued later last night. I made an offhand comment about banditing to a lady on the course (see yesterday’s post), which started a funny Facebook debate about the merits of banditing. At some point, my friend […]

  9. Thomas
    January 20, 2013

    I don’t see the point with it. If you want to join a race, join the race. Otherwise find another one. Many races are already overcrowded, no point in making that problem worse.

  10. Kate
    January 20, 2013

    What if you set up a volunteer bandit movement? A bit like ‘anonymous’ but for races. You start at the back, and you run but follow the rules you mentioned. You pick up litter, you help fellow racers; injured and those who need moral support. You don’t take from the race, I.e. no Aid stations, but you give. Then you don’t cross the line, you just walk away with no one knowing who you are.

    That would be kind of cool. A secret band of on course volunteers. I would bandit a race and go with that.

    • Jason
      January 20, 2013

      Finally! Kate, you get the spirit of the idea. Glad we think alike. :-)

  11. Bare Lee
    January 20, 2013

    I prefer meta-banditry. I don’t register AND don’t run the race. I just think about running the race while viewing its course.

  12. Franklin Chen
    January 19, 2013

    I think there are problems with a slippery slope, and that it’s best to simply discourage bandits. Sort of like, there will always be jaywalking, but if “ethical jaywalking were actively promoted”, there would be more and probably more of the kind that causes problems. So it’s best to set a high bar while knowing that in reality some (but hopefully a manageably and predictably small number of) people will do whatever.

  13. Adolfo Neto
    January 19, 2013

    There are lots of “bandits” in Brazilian race. They don’t follow your bandit code. It is not good. Sometimes people that paid have no water to drink.

  14. trissa
    January 19, 2013

    given your rules,I could justify doing a bandit. You are “running” the race, but not running “IN IT.”

  15. trissa
    January 19, 2013

    I have a friend who does this regularly. She says that she can’t afford it, and that because she has run so many marathons, and they’re “over priced to begin with”, she says she is justified in not paying. She saves her bib numbers from other races and uses that one…or another one…and just jumps right in.