Combating Bandits

Race directors reveal some of their best practices for keeping scofflaws off the course

There’s an old adage from the real estate world about how the three things that matter for any property sale are “location, location, location.”

When it comes to keeping bandit runners out of road races, that could be revised to a best practice of “education, education, education.”

Following a recent dramatic story out of the London Marathon in which a man was jailed for picking up another runner’s bib, crossing the line, and collecting a medal, we checked in with several Running USA member events around the country to see how they prevent bandits from running with others’ bibs on race day.

We learned that race producers are realistic about the reality that runners may try to swap or sell their bibs to others – and take proactive steps to address it. Most sign-up waivers include very clear policies that prohibit swapping or selling one’s registered entries. FAQs, website rules and policies, personal emails with race day directions and word of mouth are all employed as ways to combat bib swapping.

Searching for sellers

The Sacramento Running Association (SRA) takes it one step further for their December race, the California International Marathon (CIM), which usually sells out. Race director Eli Asch said that his team will actually monitor local Craigslist postings and other online media forums to make sure that no one is attempting to sell a CIM entry.

“Each one of those posts receives a note from us, if we are able to contact them, saying that it is against our event rules and they will be disqualified if they go forward with it,” Asch explained. With a marathon field of 7,000, he noted that there are single digit instances of such behavior each year.

“And if they are someone we can attach a name to, they are on a list of those who we should be aware of going into that race and whose results will receive a higher level of scrutiny. They may also receive a higher level of scrutiny at packet pickup.”

Packet pickup in another place in the registration-to-race-day process where ownership of the bib can break down. Just about every race now requires photo ID to be presented to pick up a registration, but many also allow people with a photo or copy of another runner’s ID to pick up their materials, mainly to accommodate out of town runners or those who can’t get away from the office.

“We know admittedly that that’s a door we have opened, but we want to be able to do that for customer satisfaction,” Asch explained.

Allowing for swaps

Because of the likelihood that some runners may try to sell/swap their bibs, the Kentucky Derby Festival took ownership of the process with its major annual event, the KDF Marathon.

“We implemented bib transfers to make it easier for runners unable to participate to pass along their bib legally to unregistered runners,” said Shanna H. Ward, Senior Event Manager and Race Director for the Kentucky Derby Festival.

“For a small fee runners can transfer their bib to another unregistered runner, and we will switch the information associated with that bib to the new runners.” Many other races around the country have also instituted such policies, and even realized a nominal amount of additional income as a result.

Eyes and ears on the course

When it comes to catching up with runners who may have contributed to inaccurate race day results, the Houston Marathon Committee, producer of the Chevron Houston Marathon, reports that other runners are usually the best source of information.

“We find our local running community is our biggest advocate when it comes to the integrity of the race. Oftentimes they are the individuals who are making us aware of incidents that occurred during the event that may require further investigation,” said Amanda Sandoval, director of participant services for the Houston Marathon Committee.

Creating relationships with those committed local athletes can make a big difference, as they will work as an unofficial security network.

“We have outreach initiatives with local running clubs to help build trust and understanding with our runners. We find that these runners are our eyes and ears on the course and are the best way to provide an honest race,” Sandoval said.

Additional tips

A few additional tips about how to deal with race day imposters:

“Our start corrals have volunteers checking bibs as runners enter the corrals, and a very visible police presence also creates a strong deterrent for bandits.” -Ward

“We also try to accommodate runners who feel they are not able to compete in the event by offering the opportunity to switch distances (from the marathon to the half marathon) or to defer their entry to the following year.” – Sandoval

“Participants who are found to have run with a fraudulent bib or without registration for entry are banned for a minimum of 2 years. The participant who provided the fraudulent runner with the bib is also banned for a minimum of 2 years,” - Sandoval

“If malicious intent is determined, we have banned people from running the race for a period of years. Others don’t know that what they are doing is a problem and when contacted while trying to sell their bib, apologize and have made donations to our foundation to cover the amount of the entry.” - Asch