Why We Need to Ask Why People Bandit
Earlier today, I was perusing twitter, and I caught a link to an article in Runners World entitled Why Banditing Is Wrong. If you have any familiarity with running, you’ve undoubtedly heard of these vile bandits who show up on race day without a number, contaminate the port-o-potty’s meant for registered runners with their unsavory body functions, enslave volunteers at aid stations until they are adequately fed and ready to assault the next aid station, or even keep one of those highly regarded and hard to earn finishers medals. It’s true, these monsters exist, sucking up valuable resources and making everyone have a miserable time.
I have never bandited a race before – though I thought really hard about it once – and I have some friends that have bandited races, and there’s a couple of things in common, both missed by the RW article. Most bandits I know are aware of what they are doing. They are aware they are putting an extra stress on a race in terms of food, facilities, awards, etc, and guess what, they don’t use them. If the race is long enough they need fuel of some sort, they bring their own. Port-o-potty? How about port-o-tree. And most bandits I know will pull up before the finish and not even cross it, let alone keep one of those medals that end up becoming child’s toys, put in the rubbish bin before the days up, or scavenged from the corral floor.
Now I’m sure there are bandits who are less scrupulous and actually take advantage of races and what they offer beyond adrenaline, but I feel it’s a minority, and I think some of the points (most) brought up by RW lead to one thing: money. Fifteen years ago, I remember signing up for 5ks for $15 or less. Try to find a $15 5k now. Forget it; they don’t exist. I know, inflation has been rough, which is why the cost of your average 5k is around 66% more than it was 15 years ago (it’s also why my salary has gone up 66% too…). For me, the reason I almost bandited a race was the cost. I could not justify forking over $25 to run 3.1 miles. (That’s $8.06/mile – think about that in terms of gas money…).
The cost of races has increased, and sure, so have the perks, but seriously race directors, give us the option. I have plenty of tech-tees with huge screen printed logos ready to chaff my nipples right off. I don’t need anymore crappy finishers medals covered with lead paint cluttering my house and making my kids sick. I’m okay without the great big schwag bag full of junk. And can we just forget expensive timing? The folks who are looking to compete for front of the pack places are on the front of the starting line. What’s wrong with a simple watch timer? Why does everyone need to know their “official chip time?” You can get your own $10 watch at Wal-Mart and get your own “chip time” when you cross the line if it’s that important. (Are we that self-important we need to have our exact 5k time documented in the local paper so we can gloat at work?)
But really, the biggest issue with the cost of races for me comes down to transparency. Most races out there are for some non-profit organization looking to raise money, and maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t trust them. They need to cover their ‘costs’ but really, how much are their costs? It’s tax season, I think we all know how to fluff numbers a little bit… I want to know that $40 of my $60 fee goes to said charity, not just ‘proceeds’ from the race.
So before RD’ers get out there and whinge on about bandits sucking up resources and costing money, let us ask why they bandit in the first place. Let us take running back to what it should be: sweat and good times. Keep the glitzy glam crap for little league baseball and beauty pageants and I’ll gladly donate to your cause, on my terms.