I meant to write this a long time ago, but got sidetracked and was certain no one cared that much.
I've picked on the Twin Cities Marathon, but they've had a huge problem with bandits. I've suggested that they created their own problem, but I've heard some interesting points from people who've been involved with the race's organization. The first thing I learned is that they start with the knowledge that the roads can only hold 7000 runners and allow 10000 entries, knowing that 3000 will not toe the line; when several hundred people gave or sold their numbers to others, it created a logistical nightmare - they were running out of supplies at some aid stations. Runners tend to think in terms of "it's only one cup of water," but the extra runners means moving tons of supplies and not having enough volunteers to handle the crowd. Nothing is worse for either a runner or race director than to have an aid station run out early.
The TCM also had a problem in that some people were giving their numbers to people in different age classes (I haven't heard of a gender switch, but it probably happened too). This meant that people were getting wrong places in the results. The awards weren't messed up, but it could've happened. To deal with this, the race has had to use Draconian measures, making sure that everyone who starts the race is who they say they are. What they would like to be a fun atmosphere at the start is starting to look like a police state; unintentionally, bandits are making the race worse for everyone.
One would think that this is a problem only in the largest races and with the most bandits, but a single bandit can create havoc in a small race. This year's Afton 25K/50K trail race is a good example.
At Afton this year, there were a number of bandits. At least one of them ran through the finish line, which is considered a crime even among bandits. The awards ceremony was delayed more than an hour as the volunteers tried to correctly match runners and times. The reason this happened is that there is one person marking the times as people cross the finish line and another collecting the race numbers. The person marking the times can't eliminate people whose numbers he can't see, as sometimes a runner's number is obscured (please people, put your number on the front of your shorts and low enough that, if your shirt is hanging over your shorts, it can still be seen). The person collecting numbers had no way to mark that a runner finished without a number and no way of knowing whether or not the first person had marked their finishing time. Don't complain about the race officials if the awards are late!
In small races, some things are in very short supply. At Afton, they ran out of parking spaces. There were about a dozen runners who had to park (illegally) outside of the designated parking areas; this happens to be the number of bandits that were there. Again, people are going to complain about the race management if they don't have a place to park, but it isn't necessarily the director's fault.
In trail races, numbers are used to identify runners at more than one place. At Afton, there are multiple checkpoints, used mostly to insure that runners are doing the complete course, but at some of the longer, more difficult races, these numbers can be a matter of life and death. At the Superior 100 Mile this year, one runner seemed to disappear between two aid stations; there's always the possibility that someone got hurt and went off the trail and a search and rescue mission had to be started - fortunately, the runner had dropped out of the race and didn't notify a race official. If someone had been running without a number, there's no way of knowing if that rescue needs to be done (and, for those who say that that's the risk the bandit takes, a casualty at a race can be the end of that race either through insurance problems or bad publicity). At the Leadville 100 Mile, pacers get official numbers (same number as their runner, but different color) just because of this; it's an idea other races should adopt.
At Afton, the race director chased down one of the bandits. Few people can outrun John Storkamp, no one when John's fresh and they've just run a race. He asked him if he ran without a number because he couldn't afford the race; he's willing to give runners with real need discounted entries - it's certainly better than having bandits. That's the thing about these small races; race directors will bend over backwards to help people and they get repaid by people complaining about problems created by bandits.
So, this former bandit's been reformed, but there are others out there. When you see one, let them know that it's not okay. Race directors really need to do a better job of letting people know what goes into organizing a race; transparency in the budgeting would eliminate a lot of people's complaints about the ever rising cost of entries. We all would like to run along with our friends as they attempt their first marathons, but if a race doesn't allow official pacers, either watch from the sidelines or get a number.
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