Should You Bandit A Race?

Have you heard of banditing a race? Race bandits run races but do not pay the registration fee. It’s possible they may use race support (water, etc.), but some don’t since they didn’t “pay for it.”

There are lots of reasons someone may “bandit” a race.

  • Helping to pace a friend.
  • Using the race as a training run.
  • Perhaps the race is out of their budget.
  • Race is sold out, but they want to use it as a training run or run with a friend, etc.etc.

So What’s The Big Deal?


I honestly didn’t think much about race bandits until I started reading the controversial view points. It seems it’s like politics: everyone has an opinion, and you probably won’t change anyone’s mind about how they feel. Is it ethical? Unethical?

Below I will discuss the viewpoints I have found, and which one I tend to agree with.

It’s Bad-Never Do It

Plenty of runners are against race bandits, and believe you should never do this, no matter the circumstances. The point of a race may be to raise funds for a charity or organization, and you’re just deciding not to pay. I posted on a Facebook group and here’s what one runner had to say:

I’m opposed to Race bandits. With all the planning and costs that go into planning and executing a race and many of the race proceeds goes to a charity, I think its disrespectful to bandit a race.

Basically, if you plan on running it, you should pay for it. Or how about the fact that unknown runners on the course could be dangerous? Carey Pinkowski, the Chicago Marathon race director, pointed this out in a Runner’s World article.

He stressed that the risk to the race organizers was not one person drinking sugar water he didn’t pay for, but an unknown number of people on the course, cumulatively taking up space and resources, with no ID, no way to know their medical history, and no way to track them.

Each unregistered runner, Carey said, is an additional strain on resources, and each one on the course puts them closer to not being able to manage the event. “We forecast all our allotted resources, fluids, security, medical personnel, against a certain number of participants.”

Here’s a very sarcastic (and kinda funny) letter to bandits from Competitor. Last point that I’ve read a lot is, if one person does it, then nothing is stopping multiple people from doing it, and when does it stop?

It’s Fine-Who Cares

This is probably the least common opinion, but these people are okay with bandits. One may think, why do I need to pay 30-40 bucks for a 5K? Just for the t-shirt? I can make a donation of my choice to the organization, and run 3.1 miles if I want to! It’s not illegal to do so. If you don’t care what people think, then who cares? Plus, how much of the water or bananas and bagels get thrown out at the end anyway? Is it really a big deal if one person takes a cup of water?

I actually tried doing a Google search for “race bandit ok” and variations but couldn’t find much. If you feel this way, please leave me a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

It Depends On The Situation

I would say I fall in this camp. It really depends. If I need to do a long run this Sunday, and there happens to be a half-marathon in my town, I don’t see anything wrong with jumping in for a few miles BUT not taking any support (gels, water, etc.). I’m only going to be on the course for a few miles, and certainly don’t plan on crossing the finish. I’d never jump in a race and take a medal I did not deserve.

I’m also okay with people jumping into pace their friends. Dan jumped in for the last 3 miles of the NYC Marathon in 2011 and I really needed that. My mom and I ran 1 mile of a local 4 mile race because we were out on a run, and I wanted to run for a bit with a friend. Though we did make sure to stay on the sidewalk while they were on the roads.

Here’s an opinion posted on Google+:

I think it depends. If the organizer is raising money for, let’s say, the Make-a-Wish foundation, it’s wack to jump in for free. If it’s a race sponsored by a bank, insurance company, or for any personal financial gain, you can bandit it all day long.

I don’t foresee myself ever starting and finishing an entire race without paying, but I do think there are situations where it’s not as big of a deal…but that’s just me!

Also, did you know that the Boston Marathon (begrudgingly) lets race bandits start the race in dead last and run the course? Although this year they are really discouraging it, according to this article in Runner’s World:

Do you anticipate a greater than usual number of bandits for 2014? 

D.M.: We truly hope not. We really want to discourage unregistered participants this year more than ever given lack of space and the level of security that most likely will be present. This is the year to cheer on those who have earned the right to be here. Soon we will be announcing our plans for other race weekend events, which will give others an opportunity to participate.

T.G.: We will ask for everyone’s cooperation in not diminishing the experience for those who have properly entered–as well as not overburdening our support systems–by running unofficially. We anticipate a high degree of cooperation, just as we have received an immense degree of support from everyone in so many other areas in recent months.

What do you think about race bandits? 

Which viewpoint do you agree with the most and why?


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  1. I think if someone is running as a pacer (to pace you), it’s fine. I fall into the same category as you (it depends on the situation). This is a great post!

  2. I ran a half marathon bandit last fall. I was supposed to have done the full that day, but developed severe leg pain 16 weeks into my HMM training. I knew I couldn’t run all 26.2 miles, but I was darn sure going to try to do 13.1 after having trained for hours and hours. An MRI the following week revealed a severe fibular stress fracture. Am I proud I ran bandit? No, but for my mental well-being, I needed to complete the half.

    • Were you registered for the marathon? bc if so, I think this is totally fine because you already paid and were registered.

      • Yes, I was registered for the full. I decided it would be less of a blow psychologically to DNF the half, if I had to, rather than DNF my very first full. In hindsight it was dumb to have run the half while injured, but after logging so many miles in training, I just had to cross a Finish Line.

  3. I didn’t know there was a name for that haha. I had never actually thought about banditing a race. I don’t think I would because if everyone did that, races would be overly crowded, there wouldn’t be enough funds for future races, charities lose out, etc. HOWEVER, if I saw a friend struggling at the very end of their race (we’re talking last mile or 2), I might jump in for moral support and get their butt across the line.

  4. I don’t have the heart to do that… but I have friends that do!!!

  5. Interesting! I can’t say I’m for it, and I definitely wouldn’t do it, on the other hand can you stop someone from running where they want because there’s a race going on? I do see a problem with them taking food/drink/anything else offered (than the rest of us did pay for), other than that, I think they have the right to run there.

    • Very good points! Once my mom and I went to Central Park and there was a race going on that we had no idea about. We had to run, so we just went with the flow. Of course we didn’t take any aid or anything like that.

  6. While I understand why someone might bandit a race, I’m not really a fan of bandits. (Most) everone else paid for the race and to be timed in it. If more and more bandits crowd into the race, it spoils it for the people who did sign up.

  7. I’d never heard of race bandits before! It love learning new stuff. I don’t think it’s very correct though to sneak into a race, other people are paying for.

  8. I am not a runner, but you asked for opinions, and here’s mine. If you didn’t pay for the race, you shouldn’t be running in it. If the race is full and you jump in anyway you could potentially be putting other people in danger. I assume the race organizers know how many people the course can safely hold. I can see someone jumping in to encourage you for part of the race, but I don’t think it’s okay to jack the whole race.

    Stopping by from #SITSblogging!

  9. I personally would not. You do make a good point by stating you would not take any water, gel packets, medal, etc. For me, I have hosted a couple of races and recall the amount of time and work that it took in race preparation—I would have it hovering over me the entire run. I just could never do it. I went to do a 10K and my wife who came to cheer decided to jump in last minute. She had just started running and did a 5K a few weeks prior. She was feeling so motivated after seeing everyone there and they did not have any more registrations available for the race and many runners and walkers were jumping in. But, again personally, if it was me and they had no available registrations left, I would not have done it. To each their own. GREAT TOPIC and POST! :)

    • Thank you for your comment! I love writing posts with some controversy ;) I do understand the viewpoint of the race director, and it being a pain if random people jump in who are not registered. Idk what to think anymore!

  10. I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing this, at all. I am gearing up to start training for my first 5k and I think that if you want to run the race, you should pay for the fee. I do think, however, that if someone wanted to run a little bit of it to help pace, that would be okay. When my son was two, he ran across the finish line with my husband (his dad) during his first marathon. They race hosts were so sweet that they even gave him a medal.

  11. dishofdailylife says:

    I’m not a big fan of race banditing. I know people that do it, and although I am not going to say anything to them, I think it’s kind of lame, for the reasons race directors stated above. However if someone is just jumping in to pace, I think that’s a little different than actually running the whole race and I don’t have a problem with that. The funniest bandit story I’ve seen…I was at a race to watch my husband.Back in those days, he was winning a lot of races. My mother in law and I were standing near the finish and someone turned the corner and we were looking to see if it was him. And it was a naked man with a ski cap over his head! He had jumped out of the woods and into the race, crossed the finish line and the cops went chasing after him. It was pretty hysterical!

  12. Wow … this is interesting. I did not know there was a term for this. I know I have talked to my wife about people jumping in on a run without paying.

    On one hand, while it is a course and has been prepped and has support, etc … in general, I have seen that routes are on public ways … which does mean that everyone has access, whether they pay for the event or not? (I might be wrong … just me thinking this…)

    On the other hand, it does seem kinda uncool to crash a party and not pay your fair share when everyone else pays theirs.

    On yet another hand … what about people that really can’t afford to pay. If it helps people move … its a good thing right?

    And on still another hand … (and yes, I know I now have 4 hands … ack!) … people can run that route another time as well …

    Hmmm … I am really not sure what my position is on this … very interesting post!

  13. I’ve had a few friends that have done this….truth be told…I am probably going to do this for a big 10 miler coming up at the beginning of May in Philly (there was a lottery – I didn’t get in). I am not doing it to race….rather, I am going to do it to help pace my friend. Just so you know: this race allows nearly 40K people to run it (and yes, I didn’t get in). My friend asked me if I could run with her for fun….I haven’t decided yet but I do love running this race so I was incredibly bummed that I didn’t get in to it. That being said….I don’t know that I’m taking away from anyone or anything that is running…especially since there are more than 40K people running it.

    The next question is, would I do it for a smaller race (less people or shorter distance)? Definitely not. But I’ve seen and known people to do it to help rather than hurt. More often than not, bigger races have a lot of resources left over and end up donating the food/water anyway….In reality…yes, the person ran the race but the time doesn’t count toward anything but their own gain. They can’t use it when signing up for another race as a reference so….I guess so me, I don’t really mind it….

  14. I think if it’s for a few miles..maybe. The main two issues for me are: safety and fairness. I have been to races that I paid for and by the time that I got to the water station, there was none for me. Not fair! I feel like if I pay for it, why should someone else run it for free? I’m not rolling in the dough, so I pick and choose the races I want to run carefully. I understand that there are costs and tons of time that go into organizing races–it’s not just about the charity (yes, you can donate to the charity, but it doesn’t take away from all of the other factors of organizing a race). I think we need to respect those who are putting on the race AND running the race.

    I agree with the idea of “if one person does it, what’s to stop everyone else from doing it?” Doing something wrong with the justification of “I’m just one person” is never a good thing, right? For example, stealing one small pack of gum doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s still stealing. Or throwing one piece of garbage on the ground is still littering even if it’s only one piece. All of the little things (or people jumping into a race) add up to make a real problem.

    I can see if someone joins in to help pace for a few miles (like at the end of a race), but to run the whole thing is wrong, unfair and unsafe in my opinion.
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