, Salem, MA


April 4, 2014

On The Run: Marathon bandits: Harmless or harmful?

Everybody probably knows someone who has run a marathon without an official number or jumped into a race to support a friend or family member for a few miles or more. The practice is generally thought to be harmless, and usually becomes a fond memory for the person who jumped in. These folks are known to race directors as bandits. And in most cases, they’re considered on par with actual thieves.

But if a runner can’t qualify, afford or otherwise get (i.e., run for a charity) one of the coveted numbers for a sold-out event like the Boston or NYC or Chicago Marathon, is it really that big a deal if he or she decides to line up behind the thousands of official entrants? Actually, it is.

The Boston Marathon has traditionally attracted plenty of bandit runners, who usually were allowed to finish. But this year as part of the new security measures at the event, unregistered runners will be pulled off the course.

Race director Dave McGillivray wrote a column for Runner’s World this week that explained how bandits hurt big events like the Boston Marathon by using resources that are allotted for official entrants. Some bandits even partake in the post-race food and drink and walk off with a finisher’s medal. Worse, he wrote, unregistered runners can pose a security risk since race organizers don’t know who they are.

This year, the allure of the Boston Marathon is greater than ever, given the tragic events of last year’s marathon. The Boston Athletic Association raised the number of entrants from 27,000 to 36,000, anticipating the increased demand. People from all over—even folks who have never run a road race before—want to run Boston this year to show solidarity with the bombing victims and the city. But unfortunately, as with every running of the Boston Marathon, there just aren’t enough race numbers to meet the demand.

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