Join 3,375 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Is it actually legal to bandit a marathon? (run w/o registering)
February 26, 2014 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I would never personally actually bandit a marathon (to bandit is to run a race without having paid the fee to register). Please no comments on whether it's good, bad, or immoral. But for curiosity sake, according to this article in the wall street journal, it's not illegal at all. And if it's not illegal, how can the "bandit catchers" force a bandit off the course? Are there really that many bandits at most marathons? What if a bandit only ran from mile 2 to mile 24? I find everything about this topic interesting. Experiences, and tips are appreciated.
posted by crawltopslow to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are tons of bandits at marathons, although post-Boston there are a lot less. Here's the thing. Marathon courses are closed. They are private roads that the public is not allowed to be on if they aren't registered as a runner or a volunteer. IANAL, but I'm pretty sure bandit catchers are catching people who are trespassing.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:09 PM on February 26


I think the thing they usually get race bandits on is "theft of services" when they take water, food, aid, etc.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:12 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I imagine this will vary with locale.

Still, I used to volunteer for events - working as a course marshal and at way stations. As a rule, we were instructed that we could not offer things (water, food, etc.) intended for participants to non-participants. Largely, we would let them do the race or whatever - unless they were causing trouble or interfering, in which case we called the cops and they dealt with it. But, none of the events I worked were we instructed to call the cops on otherwise non-troublesome bandits.

So, I don't think that it is illegal per se, but to the extent that you are seen as interfering, you might invite at least a talking to by the local cops.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:13 PM on February 26


Let's assume the bandit takes no water, Gatorade, or aid etc.
posted by crawltopslow at 12:14 PM on February 26


I am also thinking theft of services, the services being the establishment of a marathon course, crowd control, first aid at the ready (even if not used by a particular runner), provision of timekeeping (even if you don't run with a chip).

They are private roads

They assuredly are not private roads. They are public thoroughfares. Just because you put up a sawhorse and rent a cop, you don't have a private road, even if you have a cognizable claim against someone interfering in the race.

This is not legal advice and I'm not your lawyer.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:21 PM on February 26 [13 favorites]


I don't run, but I participate in a few large, popular biking events a year. I've seen a lot of unregistered people sneak onto the course with the rest of us (because the rides are beautiful but registration is sometimes expensive, or sometimes because they didn't know there was an event happening until they saw us ride by and thought, Hey, cool, I wanna ride too!), I've never seen anyone asked to leave unless they were being disruptive and endangering the rest of us (and this does happen, unfortunately). Usually what happens is they'll ride along with us unbothered, other than occasional nasty looks from other participants and the Marshalls, and will only get fussed at if they try to get food at the rest stops or have the audacity to ask an official SAG (Support-And-Gear) vehicle for help with a flat tire or a lift to the end.

I have friends involved in the organization of these events, and from them I know that the major concern (aside from unregistered people taking food etc. meant for paid participants, which is especially annoying for charity events) is liability. Registered riders have handed over emergency contact numbers and pertinent medical info, or at the very least have signed a waiver of liability, and unregistered riders obviously have not.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:26 PM on February 26 [2 favorites]


I don't see how the bandit is not taking legal and insurance services, for instance.

For the race the upside to extra people is PR. Your marathon looks popular. The downside is what happens if something goes wrong? Say a litigiously minded super competitive glassbowl is injured or wants to think they were injured because the marathon had random people on the course. That could be a big ugly mess pretty quickly.

What if registration closes for space? Anyone who didn't participate for that reason will not be happy about bandits having the opportunity.
A charity marathon may be subject to a lot of accounting that's complicated when race photos show significantly more folks than registration rolls.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:27 PM on February 26


yea I think this is less a legality issue than a moral one. speaking as a bike race promoter, my take was that bandits were a pain in the ass simply owing to bandwidth issues - they tend to do things like get in the way and create traffic or logistics issues that most actual racers have either been advised of via the race bible or are aware of owing to being more skilled competitors.

also from past running event experience, most volunteers at running events don't discern between "legit" and "bandit" runners; they hand out supplies to any mobile hominid within reach.

also also a lot of municipalities put a cap on entry #s for events to maintain some kind of manageability to the day. this is also why annoying things like "cutoff times" exist and so on.

not to mention that if a bandit on course gets injured somehow, it opens up an ENORMOUS and truly fucked-up can of worms liability wise for the promoter, as the bandit has not signed an event waiver and is not counted in the event insurance as an eligible beneficiary. Let's say you're running or riding bandit in $EVENT and get hit by a car on course and die (and before you give me the "but but closed course!" argument, trust me, no course, no matter how well controlled, is ever 100% safe from random vehicles getting onto it and the drivers then doing the most idiotic thing you could possibly dream up, in fact you can pretty much guarantee that this will happen at least once for any given event-day). Now your spouse or family sues the event promoter for negligence and it turns out you were not a legitimate competitor and didn't sign an event waiver. Now the prosecution has a field day claiming "inadequate controls" and what not (not that they wouldn't do this anyway) but the case is certainly a lot less watertight than if you had ACTUALLY signed a piece of paper acknowledging you were at risk. Or you have heatstroke or a heart attack or any number of things.

Now do you start to understand where I'm going with this?

Running and cycling events are staggeringly difficult and expensive to put on. If you've never been the event director for one, you truly would not understand the issues involved in safety, liability, cost, controls, logistics and staffing.

so it's not that you may or may not be "trespassing" in an entirely legal sense but from a standpoint of common courtesy, banditing large events is kind of a dick move.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:27 PM on February 26 [9 favorites]


I am guessing that the "bandit catchers" take advantage of most people's respect for authority / dislike of conflict. They can tell you to get off the course and most people will comply but if you refused they wouldn't have a lot of legal recourse.
posted by ghharr at 12:29 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, the other issue is permits. Most events get a permit from the city (or county or whatever) for a certain number of riders, and if they get caught exceeding that, they can get fined or even not invited back next year.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:31 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


In terms of "is it legal?" it wouldn't matter why the group got a permit to use public streets for a period of time: a race, a neighborhood party, or a public demonstration. The organizing group probably can't do anything to stop other members of the public from just showing up, other than exerting pressure, like saying "hey, you're not one of us, we're using this space right now." Or they can wait for the bandit to do something actually illegal, like public drunkenness, property damage, etc. and then complain to the cops.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:35 PM on February 26


a lot of people run marathons to be able to see their time in the paper the next day. It just seems like there wouldn't be much incentive... You can run 26.2 miles wherever you want any time. "the marathon" is more about officially doing it.
posted by mdn at 12:44 PM on February 26


Bentobox Humperdinck - the finishline cop I was working with out at the Carter Lake road race in Colorado last Saturday (and rightly so from my standpoint) interpreted his role slightly differently when we had a random incursion from a recreational rider on course. Said rider blatantly ignored the course marshal at an intersection and rode backwards onto the course directly into the finishline area (!!) which was fully closed for the entire width of the road, right as the pro / elite men were scheduled to make an appearance (and believe you me those guys will mow down anything in their paths). The cop gently, but firmly, escorted the guy through the barricades and out of harm's way. Nice cop, and he was unfailingly polite to everyone for 6+ hours' worth of dealing with irritable drivers and confused recreational cyclists and so on, but he was also being paid time and a half, so...

I get that police are not infalliable and vary widely in their interpretations of both rules and enforcement styles, but in my rather extensive experience with them as an event director, local police enforcement works with both the municipality involved and the promoter to ensure that the event proceeds as permitted and planned. Your local law enforcement, obvs., may vary.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:49 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Are there really that many bandits at most marathons?

Bandits are very, very rare at the events I frequent.

Typically, there are a few dozen to a few hundred participants and you can still register day of the event. There's a 10k run that costs $15 and you get a t-shirt. There's a half marathon that costs $25 and provides a long sleeve t-shirt plus finisher's medal. Or a century that costs $30 and each person gets a ticket for hot lunch (at sponsoring restaurant - start/finish line), a wicking shirt, socks, and an insulated bottle. I mean, who is going to bandit events like these?

One time I did a larger half-marathon that cost $100, and that's when I saw a dozen or so bandits. I think it is a financial thing -- either the bandits are broke or that they are doing some kind of a protest about high registration costs. And at the huge mega-events, it might also be a scarcity thing where registration was sold out. The only thing that sells out around here are sprint triathlons that cap at three hundred participants.
posted by 99percentfake at 12:51 PM on February 26


I can not conceive of a sound legal basis to deny people access to run on the public roads. Even though they are paying for the ability to close down public streets, that does not turn those streets into private property and give them some kind of magical trespass power. Even the "theft of services" stuff is really a stretch, because most statutes would require deception or force. If you ran into the chute and claimed a medal and food after an official asked you not to do so, that would build a case, but if you simply elected to join in a group of other people running on a public street without taking anything that belonged to the race officials I suspect it would be exceedingly difficult to charge you with any actual crime.

In my experience, bandit catchers rely on shame and guilt to get people to comply. I've never seen a bandit argue for his "right" to run on the streets when confronted by a course official. However, you could probably make the same case for someone who wanted to do jumping jacks or jog on a public basketball court or baseball diamond during a game -- as a practical matter, I'd bet the police would find some reason to threaten to arrest you if you refused to stop interfering in the face of requests from the organizers to knock it off.

Just to add another nuance to the always contentious bandit discussion, there is another kind of bandit common in the running community. For many races, you can not get a refund if you are unable to participate due to injury or illness. In that case, many people have been known to offer their race bib to friends to use in their absence. This is also technically against the terms and conditions of the race organizers and occasionally leads to drama. In a locally famous case I know of, a woman gave her bib to a friend who was much younger and faster and not female. The substitue runner's time was sufficient to be awarded a cash prize for the fastest female age 40-45. When he confessed that he was on a "borrowed" bib, the race officials disqualified the original entrant from participating in future races and there was a lot of angst and drama in our little community of runners. Fortunately, I'm slow enough that I'd never win a prize in pretty much age group, so I could borrow a bib with impunity.
posted by Lame_username at 12:53 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I'm mainly talking about large city 42km marathons that cost like $150 and sell out.
posted by crawltopslow at 1:37 PM on February 26


lonefrontranger, I think you and I agree. The cop didn't issue the guy a citation, or arrest him, because the guy was not doing anything legally wrong by being there. It sounds like there was a safety issue, and the cop was doing the race equivalent of directing traffic around a wreck (the normal traffic is allowed to be there but needs to go where directed for safety reasons).
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:42 PM on February 26


I have been a bandit at quite a few events especially when I was a poor college student, more like 10ks and half marathons, including big, sold-out events, but never marathons. I always ran off the course a half mile before the chute, but the starts are always so chaotic that I've never felt bad about starting with the group.

I usually wore a sweatshirt to cover up my (lack of a) number.

I've never been asked to leave a course.
posted by Llamadog-dad at 4:14 PM on February 26


Lame_username: I've heard of bib swaps happening in running events, and yes they are generally frowned upon, mainly for liability / event waiver / insurance reasons I've pointed out above. Sure you can think nothing bad will ever happen / you'll never sue, but if something Very Bad does happen, can you, with 100% confidence, say that your family won't, especially if they're facing crushing medical debt and/or loss of their main income provider? Yes these are outliers, but they do happen.

strictly as a cautionary tale, USA Cycling (and USAT also I believe) takes a zero tolerance stance on identity swaps (aka bib swaps) for various reasons (because incredibly, suspended / banned dopers racing under someone else's identity became an issue in years past) and owing to both this and other varieties of cheats (age group cheating particularly in juniors' events, category skimming, etc.) they are super persnickety about you being exactly who you say you are. Hence upon discovery of identity swapping they will immediately revoke the racing licenses of both parties in question, effectively banning them from further competition under those federations.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:17 PM on February 26


oh and to be completely honest from my perspective, any promoter of an event who refuses to offer a refund or entry transfer upon legitimate proof of inability to compete for injury/medical reasons are a species of event promoters I frankly do not comprehend and never wish to emulate.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:28 PM on February 26


[Just stick to answering the question please?]
posted by jessamyn at 4:34 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


This article in the Boston Herald says they're banning a lot of things, for security reasons.

Anyone running without an official issued-that-day bib will be pulled off the course.

For runners:
• No backpacks, or handbags of any size
• No glass containers, and no container larger than 1 liter.
• no bulky costumes or masks that cover the face, and no proprs.
• no strollers.
• no suitcases & rolling bags.
• no CamelBak-style hydration systems.
• no weight vests or any sort of vest with pockets, except lightweight running vests.
• no signs or flags larger than 11 inches by 17 inches.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:00 PM on February 26


The one near to me goes through part of the Whidbey Naval Air Station. I bet there is no way those folks will let you pass without a number, legal or not.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:59 PM on February 26


To answer your question, no it's not illegal, Boston withstanding perhaps because of last year.
posted by smoke at 1:06 AM on February 27


Others have pretty much said it already.

1. There are huge legal issues if you get hurt during the run.
2. You are still using the expensive resources of the race without paying for them, including the cost of all those police and closed roads and permits associated with the race. Those cops aren't working the intersections because they like watching sweaty people on a Saturday morning and they don't come cheap!
3. You are stealing the experience from the other runners as well as the event coordinators. There is a reason that there is a limited number of people in a race. Too many people means bad experience for the customer. The Boston Marathon was like this some years. My dad (a paying customer who actually passed the strict time qualification of that era took over 25 minutes to get to the START LINE after the race has begun thanks to all the cheats. And, if you have a collision with another runner who is a paying customer, what will be your excuse?
4. Who is to blame for whatever steps a bandit catcher goes to in trying to get you out of the race? Are you really willing to get injured and then blame yourself for it?
5. What is stopping you from doing the race course on another day...if you are so sure you won't be using the resources available on the race day?
6. How selfish are you to think that you can just join in a racing event without paying for all the work that made it possible?

Here is an idea....plan further ahead, get friends to sponsor you or try a cheaper marathon. Or do it on your own some other day and just know you are going to have to deal with your own support and some traffic lights.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:18 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Surely it's illegal to disrupt the race, though, right? Like, even pre-bombing, if I went out onto Boylston Street during the Boston Marathon and sat on the finish line, and I didn't move when asked, someone would come out and haul me off the street soon enough. The fact that it's a public thoroughfare on most days doesn't make much difference (and as far as that goes, I'm pretty sure I'd get hauled off the street if I tried this today, if I didn't get hit by a car first). You can close down a street for a concert and demand that anyone going onto the street has a ticket. The use of streets changes at different times and on different days, and what's appropriate and legal at some times is inappropriate and illegal at other times.

It's true that any individual bandit isn't disruptive the way I would be if I were sitting down in the middle of the road, but at a really popular race like Boston, if everyone who wanted to run it did, it would be so crowded as to be un-runnable.
posted by mskyle at 7:03 AM on February 27


And as far as I know there are often friends of people who are "pacers" who don't register, but hop in to run part of the race with their friend, to offer support, and maybe offer food/water. This seems more common in ultra-marathons, but seems to also happen in marathons. I wonder where they fall in the spectrum of bandits in the eyes of the race directors and bandit catchers.
posted by crawltopslow at 7:09 AM on February 27


Pacers are (usually) specifically indicated and an allowed part of ultramarathons and support for them is built into the infrastructure. At the ultramarathon that I provided support for, they were an expected and accomodated and specifically legislated part of the event. There are specific rules for them, they often carry signs or other indicators. Unofficial pacers have been banned from some marathons which doesn't really touch on the legal aspect but one of the sanctions is that if you have an "illegal" pacer, your race results might be disqualified which makes it less simple to just sneak on and pretend to be someone's pacer.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on February 27


« Older We have a friend in Central Ci...   |  We're flying in and out of Nar... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments