Boston Bandits

Below is a response to this post: . I figure the guy who wrote the above post touched on all of the arguments I’ve heard that are pro-bandit, and being anti-bandit myself, and knowing personally the woman who had her bib stolen, I wanted to respond. I’m not outraged what these people did. I was outraged at what happened last year. I’m just disappointed. And I’m slightly annoyed with all of the people weighing in from across the internet who have never run a race but definitely have an opinion on this matter, about which they know nothing. That being said, I’m genuinely interested in hearing more arguments for/against bandits, unlike the author of the turtleboy post, who has refused to approve my comment on his site so far (I tried to post this response earlier this morning and since then, other comments have been approved but not mine). So much for him wanting to hear more and “keep the conversation going.”


I want to start by saying that just because something is a tradition doesn’t make it an acceptable practice. Yes, bandits have been part of Boston for a long time, but that doesn’t make it ok. They use resources paid for by the registered runners and pose a potential problem for the medical staff charged with caring for them, should they need care. I don’t know anything about Gugala’s or Deadspin’s journalism skills or standards, so I’ll try to avoid touching on those subjects.

Saying that simply because no one was hurt or denied a medal (or other resources along the way), no offense really took place is completely missing the point. You’re right that the bandits did not directly take anything from anyone else, as there were enough medals and food and water for everyone. It’s not about the physical resource use. It’s about disrespect for the thousands of people who train their asses off on a yearly basis to qualify for Boston. And you know what? Some never get in. That’s life. It’s not fair. Yes, I’m almost positive that being former members of the BC xc/track team means that these bandits could have easily qualified. But they chose not to do so by the rules. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have the right to do it. The qualification/registration rules are in place for a reason. The bandits didn’t follow them. They didn’t run a qualifying race and didn’t register, so why is it ok for them to run?

“Newsflash Kara, these four people worked just as hard as you did to get into Boston too. They didn’t take away anything from you or your friends by running.”

The first sentence may or may not be true. You don’t know so don’t state it as fact. The bandits’ participation undermines the work that everyone else in the field did to get in to the race. You may tell me to get down off my soap box, but that’s what people are bothered by. Is anyone really hurt by these people showing up in her photos or getting a finisher’s medal and a cup of Gatorade along the way? No. (And if they are, they too are missing the point) It’s the spirit of the event that’s been violated. Everyone (well almost everyone – not these 4 or any other bandits) who gets to the start line at Boston trained and registered and paid, or raised money according to the rules. Thousands of people prove annually that it’s not that hard to do these things, so why should bandits get a pass? I’m speaking of all bandits, not just these 4, to be clear.

Was there room for them on the road? Sure. Could they have run on the sidewalk? Sure. But again, that’s completely beside the point. It’s about what the Boston Marathon (more so than other majors I dare say) means to the people running it. As I said before, a lot of people work really, really hard to qualify. Some will never. But that doesn’t make it all right for them to show up and run illegally. They’re subject to the same rules as everyone else and by choosing to ignore them, they’re undermining the whole principle of the event. Do you care if someone steals fruit from the grocery store you shop in? Probably not because it doesn’t affect you. But it does affect the store and its ability to operate. And ultimately, if enough people steal enough fruit, the store might go out of business. And then no one can buy or steal anymore and EVERYBODY loses because of a few who considered themselves above the rules.

Newsflash: all four of these people beat you after starting behind you. They deserved to be there. You’re a carpetbagger from North Carolina. This race belongs to them, not to you Dixie raiders like you.”

Newsflash: How do you know who they beat since their times aren’t in the results? (I know that their times aren’t in the results because there aren’t results for 4 people with bib #14285) That aside, they did not deserve to be there. AGAIN: they didn’t run a qualifying race. They didn’t pay the entry fee. They didn’t raise money for an approved charity. It’s not about simply being faster than Kara. In most cases, there is always someone faster than you and me. But just because they’re faster doesn’t mean they have a right to be in the race. They are subject to the same rules as everyone else.

I’m not going to touch your Deadspin-related comments since I don’t know anything about journalism. But herein lies a point – don’t go preaching about something you don’t know anything about. Have you ever put on a race? Do you know any race directors? Did you bother to call and ask them why bandits are a problem? It doesn’t seem like it. Before you defend the bandits, you should try to see both sides of the argument.

“Also apparently a “bastard” according to this: Bobbi Gibb, Katherine Switzer, Sara Mae Berman, and any woman who ran the race pre 1971.”

I’ll readily admit that in breaking the gender barrier 40+ years ago, banditting was the way to go. But that’s not the case today. The people today aren’t doing it to break through the gender barrier, they’re doing it because they couldn’t didn’t get into the race properly. Too bad. Life isn’t fair. We don’t all get what we want.

“They didn’t sign up because they were not aware of this disease until a couple months ago – long after the deadline had passed for signing up for the race.”

That’s very unfortunate. I commend these kids for raising money for charity. I don’t think they they’re bad people for doing what they did. Great people make bad choices all the time. We’re humans. We make mistakes. Their cause sounds like a one that could certainly use more money, but Boston has rules. And while you may not like the charities the race chooses to approve, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re on the approved list for some reason or another (I’m not pretending to know how that approval process works, nor am I defending the charities’ executive pay structure). These bandits didn’t follow those rules either. The right thing to do would have been to donate the money to charity anyways, and then work to get the charity on the approved list for next year. Simply saying “Oh, they were raising money for charity so it’s ok” doesn’t make it ok. Yes, it’s a shame they found out too late. But if the cause means a lot to them, couldn’t they have just asked for money without tying it to the marathon? I recognize doing so makes it more likely that people will donate, but if you care enough about a charity, you can get people to donate by other means.

“Or how about the fact that Jon Gugala completely missed the story about Dennis Crowley, who ran as a registered runner alongside his bandit wife? They ran last year together, but since she didn’t finish because of the bombings so she didn’t have a qualifying time for this year, and banditting was her only option.” 

I don’t know about missing the story, but if Dennis’ wife didn’t get to finish because of the bombings, then she should have received an entry into this year’s race, like everyone else in the same situation. But I believe Theo Mo has already pointed the reality of the situation out in the comments (his wife was banditting in 2013 as well and that’s why she didn’t receive an entry for 2014).

“Oh yea and guess what? They pay city and state taxes which went to the police, fire and other public services available that day. So they paid for the marathon simply by living here. Out of towners like you should probably pay more than Massachusetts residents.”

“Those people paid for those services whether or not these four people showed up though. They didn’t increase the cost of services, nor did they make the services less available to anyone else.”

You’re right; we registered runners did pay for those services regardless of who else showed up through our race fees. And the bandits didn’t pay for them. Luckily, the bandits didn’t have to use them otherwise they might have taken services away from registered runners. Again, you’re right. It didn’t actually happen. But just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it’s ok. It’s clear you’ve never even looked into the logistics of putting on a race. But, if even just you’d spoken to a race director about the problems bandits pose, potential medical liability being one of the biggest, you’d realize this isn’t a valid line of reasoning. Furthermore, tax dollars don’t pay for race day. Municipal authorities have to be hired specifically for closing streets and other duties (this is because they’re not benefitting society as a whole since they’re being used by a specific group). And they’re paid more for those extra duties on race day. It’s not all covered by taxes. A lot of it is paid for by race fees. So the bandits were not, in fact, paying for the services they used. And out of towners like me do pay more than Massachusetts residents. I pay for my hotel in Boston. I pay for food in Boston. Tens of thousands of people (runners, friends and families) do the same. It may not be a direct relationship, but the tourism money that comes into the city of Boston because of this race is a huge benefit to many people. But if that’s not enough and you really want to charge us more through raising the out-of-state race fee, do it. We’ll still come run the goddamn race because that’s not the point. It’s being a part of something with such history and tradition as the Boston Marathon.

“People don’t line the Marathon route to root for a bunch of carpetbaggers from North Carolina. They do it to support their friends, family, and other locals who are trying to prove that they can do something amazing for little or no reward. If it weren’t for the fact that a bunch of 20 somethings from BC could jump into this race we would begin to question why we go so out of our way to accommodate this race.”

So you’re saying that the reason Boston accommodates the marathon every year is because a bunch of 20 somethings from BC can jump in? Yes, that’s exactly it. It’s not the fact that this race is the oldest marathon in America. Or that it has more tradition and holds more prestige than any other race in the world. Or that it’s a measuring stick for all marathoners. “Have you run Boston?” has to be the most asked question of a runner as soon as someone finds out you run. And yes, people line the route to root for their friends, but they also line the route to cheer for the 30,000+ people who have trained for months and even years to run this race. For the most part, spectators don’t know who is local and who isn’t. And you know what? They don’t care. If they did, they wouldn’t have cheered for Meb or any of the other leaders as they went by. But the crowds don’t pick and choose. They cheer for everyone because EVERYONE is trying to prove that they can do something amazing for little or no reward. As a runner, I’ve had some of my highest highs come on the Boston course from the crowds. The crowds are like nothing I’ve ever experienced. They are uplifting and energizing and give you goose bumps with every roar. They couldn’t care less if the person they’re cheering for is from Boston or Addis Ababa. They only care that everyone is doing something amazing for little or no reward. So much of the meaning of this race is tied up in the spirit of it. It’s not about the medals, although the importance that people place on these is most likely due to the fact that they serve as a reminder of all of the training that went into that race and the memories from said race. It’s not to show off, it’s a personal reminder of the work you did. Those thousands hours of solitary training that most put in all come to a head on Patriot’s Day. It’s a triumph of the human spirit and everyone wants to share in it for good reason. I’ve bared my soul for this race, because at 20 miles, I’ve got nothing left. I’ve ridden the crowds from there to the finish, just as Meb did on Monday. And while everyone should have a chance to experience that (no matter how deserving), it STILL doesn’t make running as a bandit ok.

About afvarner

Runner. Donuts. Sneakerhead. Not necessarily in that order. Nike Trail Elite. Picky Bars. Gu. Vicory Sportdesign.
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12 Responses to Boston Bandits

  1. Ian Sharman says:

    Alex, the lesson here is that there’s a lot of poorly thought out debate online (who would have imagined!). Most of the comments you highlight show such little understanding of races, Boston or even basic economics that they don’t seem worthy of dignifying with a response.

    • afvarner says:

      Haha yes, you’re quite right that is the biggest issue at hand here. And you’re right, they don’t really warrant a response, but since I know Kara I decided to opine. I did try to not call people morons or idiots as the turtleboy author did and that in and of itself about sums up the level of writing he or she is at.

  2. lawrunner says:

    Thank you for righting this. I was so upset when I saw that someone called Kara “an attention seeking whore” for alerting BAA to the bib stealing that I haven’t been able to think about anything else. What also bothers me is the fact that if one of them had been hurt, the officials would have thought it was Kara and that could’ve have been disastrous either for Kara or for the bib-stealer. It just makes me sick that people think that this is ok.

  3. vinny56 says:

    You need to get some fucking perspective. You’re trying to fashion an argument about why this is wrong and who these kids hurt and the best you can do is “they violated the spirit of Boston.” Please, there are real problems in the world. Get some fucking perspective. Chill out, maybe you need to go for a run or something.

    • afvarner says:

      Hi Vinny,

      Thanks for your $0.02. You know what? You’re right. There are larger problems in the world, and these kids didn’t actually hurt anyone with their actions, but that doesn’t make what they did acceptable. Also, I’m not addressing those larger problems. I’m talking about what they did within the scope of the Boston Marathon. If you want something more concrete to wrap your hands around, then argue against this point: they used resources paid for by others without asking permission. They illegally entered the race and ran it as if they had earned a spot, which they didn’t. I’m not saying they couldn’t, but they didn’t this year. They should not have been on the course.

      As for chilling out, I’m pretty chill. I do feel strongly about this issue, however. Bandits are a problem at races. For the most part, their actions are harmless, but again, just because something doesn’t hurt someone one doesn’t make it ok. They can and do affect other runners and the race organizers. If you read the other two pieces I linked to, I would hope that you saw that I was less derogatory and harsh then either author. I think those two articles are at the extremes and I wanted to say my piece and have it land somewhere more towards the middle. Not everyone will agree with my side, as you clearly don’t, but that’s the beauty of the wonderful forum that is the interwebs.

      Oh, and I went for a run this morning. It was great. I hope you find time to do the same today.


  4. kkuja says:

    After reading this I think afvarner wrote fairly objecttively, although his own opinion was fairly easy to notice.

    I just began to think: what are the real reasons people go rogue? And is there something race organizers could do differently to remove the need to go rogue? What’s the bottle neck which makes people break the rules, or is is there even one? My first thougt is there may be a market for a bit modded version of Boston marathon, to which the rogue runners could get into. I don’t know why they are running rogue. If it’s just for thrill of breaking the rules, then its sad.

    Anyway, I don’t have strong fealing for or against bandit runners. Where I live, there are practically none of those.

  5. Kristy says:

    Hi afvarner,

    I just wanted to say thanks for being genuinely interested in both sides of this story. I appreciated hearing what you have to say and as someone who knows Boston marathon bandit runners personally and is one of these 20 somethings from BC you mention I thought I might weigh in. I’m sorry that Kara and other runners like her feel cheated and taken advantage of by those who used their numbers to run the marathon. I understand the consequences of bandit runners and that many of those who qualify feel like it undercuts the hard work they put into entering and I get that. But I would just like Kara and those who are fighting so vigorously to expose and punish those who borrowed her number to know how proud some of us are of our bandit runners. The Boston Marathon is one of the most special parts of life at Boston College. We are honored to be at the most crucial 21 mile mark of the marathon where we are able to encourage the runners, like you and Kara, who feel exhausted after 20 hard miles and just need an extra push to get them to the finish. For anyone that has run Boston, they might know this to be the most special and most exhilarating part of their run. And just like you say, we don’t pick and choose. We support everyone who is trying to do something amazing for little or no reward. This includes the bandits. I can’t speak for every bandit that runs, but most of those I know have run to raise enormous donations to different charities, a major one being the Campus School for children with physical and mental disabilities, right here on our campus. The others I know have run for family and friends that they have lost in their time at BC. It has been incredibly inspirational for a lot of us on campus to see ordinary students do something truly incredible like the Marathon. Because the truth is that we have a profound respect for this marathon that you run. And we are so proud to stand at the 21st mile to encourage you, Kara, and all the thousands of others who have come to run through our city. We are there to cheer for you but we are also there to cheer for our bandits. I truly hope you all enjoyed the indescribable spirit of support we offered you.

    Last year, as you know, there were bombings at the finish line five miles from our school. Many of our friends were near the finish and we felt a fear and concern not only for them, but for all who had come to run and were met with an act of violence. Less than a week later we were put on a mandatory lock-in to our homes and dorms while the Boston police searched the miles near our campus for those who were responsible for the bombings. More fear and concern. When the police found the one responsible, we found out that he was a student at university in Massachusetts, just like ours. We wondered about the students in his classes and if their professors had also asked them before starting each class after the marathon if everyone was okay. Throughout this past year, support was shown for Boston from all around the world and it was greatly appreciated by all. This April, for us and many in Boston, the marathon was not only a day of celebration of human strength but a day of remembrance for those affected by the violence last year and of the support shown on that day and henceforth. There was an extra level of strength behind the mile 21 wall of cheers and encouragement as we were so proud of all those who ran, including our bandits. I hope Kara felt that extra strength.

    I am not encouraging the act of bandit running, I’m not saying that is should be allowed, or that Kara should not be irritated by those who used her number, but I am just asking that she and those who have contributed to the almost harassment of those bandit runners to know a little about the story behind it. You are right to say that this is about the special spirt of the Boston Marathon, but in my opinion the bandit runners did not violate that spirit but contributed to it. In the aftermath of this year’s marathon, instead of stories of success and strength, all that I have seen is the around the world coverage of the “hunt for the awful runners who stole Kara’s number.” I’m sorry if she feels that she has been wronged, but I am saddened by the focus she has given to that day and the focus that has been taken away from what that day was supposed to be about.

    • afvarner says:

      Hey Kristy, I appreciate that the students at BC are proud of your bandit runners. Covering 26.2 miles on foot is quite an accomplishment, and believe me when I say I’ve fed off your crowd in a big way both times I’ve completed the Boston Marathon. The experience would not be the same without your support and that of all the others along the route.

      I understand that many of your bandits are running for charity, but that doesn’t answer my question as to why they either don’t do it for an approved charity or get their charity approved. Have BC students tried to get the Campus School approved by the BAA for the marathon? If it’s a cause that many choose to champion year after year, it seems like it would be a good idea to get it approved to that students can run for it legally. Obviously the events of last year played a large role in the decision of these individuals to bandit, but if this article is correct , then it would seem that those who have influence over most of the bandits made the (IMO correct) decision to not bandit this year. I applaud them for that, as I’m sure it was a very difficult decision, and clearly one that was not without dissidents.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from Kara since this whole issue went viral and she herself said that it has reached far beyond what she ever thought possible. Many people on both sides are reacting far too rashly, with threats and other inappropriate actions that far exceed what might be warranted by these circumstances. Her intention, as best I understand, was simply to bring to light the fact that these people had obtained fake bibs against the rules and run with them. She did not intend for them to be vilified and I know she feels bad about the way things have progressed. Maybe she lacked some foresight in regards to the way the internet handles things, but that’s beyond our control now. Also, I’m pretty sure your BC bandits (along with all of the others that the BAA has tolerated until this year) have run without bibs at all in the past . I don’t condone being a bandit in any form, but running without a bib (which is what most bandits do) at least shows that you are not part of the official race and opens you up to be pulled from the course much more easily. No one is going to pick out a fake bib among 36,000 bibs, but someone without a bib stands out rather readily. These 4 went above and beyond your typical bandit actions by obtaining fake bibs and masquerading as qualified and registered runners.

      In any case, thank you for shedding some light on the other side of this in a very rational manner, but I’m afraid I still don’t understand how the bandits contributed to the spirit of the event. They did not qualify or register for the race as everyone else did. They knowingly (or if they didn’t know, then they must be some of the most naive people out there) ran with fake bibs that were obtained against BAA rules. That to me does not contribute to the spirit of the event. It takes away from it because everyone else earned their spot to be there and they did not. Boston is, for many, a culmination of months and years of training, often with a specific goal in mind: get to Boston. I too was very shaken by the events of last year as I ran the marathon and was in the city during the immediate aftermath, so I understand the added dimension on this year in particular. But if it really meant that much to them, they had more than ample time to get into the race the right way. As I said before, I’m still open to hearing the other side, but everyone has their own reasons for running, be it family and friends as you mentioned, personal accomplishment, or a myriad of others. I don’t think that any are necessarily more important or worthy than the others, so to try to justify a bandit via his or her reasons rings hollow. I’m sure many people had equally compelling reasons to come back this year (see the wheelchair couple that was injured in the blasts last year and returned to finish together this year). Most of them went about getting into the marathon the correct way. And I’m sure that there were many left on the outside looking in despite having great reasons as well. But did they take that as an opportunity to bandit the race? No. They likely cheered and did everything they could to support the runners from the sidelines, be it in Boston or at home. So I don’t see how bandits contributed to the spirit of the event. Couldn’t they contribute from the sidelines and give us runners the incredible support that gets us through the race until they themselves are able to qualify along with everyone else?

  6. Dude I don’t know what your talking about. Your long winded comment is still on my blog. I don’t manually approve comments. They automatically go up. There’s a lot of comments on there. Look again.

    • afvarner says:

      You’re right. I assumed it hadn’t been approved, as I have to manually approve comments here. I’ll reply to your second comment shortly.

  7. I’ve banditted Boston for charity twice. I did it because I knew that 100% of the money I raised was going to directly to kids in need. The Red Cross sees 39 cents of every 1.00 raised go to actual charity. One could argue that doing the race bandit helps people in need significantly helps people in need more than any BAA charity does.
    I ran Boston last year and was about 100 feet away from the second bomb that exploded. I’ll never forget it. I wanted to bandit it this year to show what my version of Boston Strong is. Unfortunately I suffered an injury and it wasn’t possible. Ya see, I’m just your average below 35 male runner who can only run a marathon in the 3:30 range. I realize that since you’re a better runner than I am you feel like you’ve earned the right more than I have.
    You haven’t though.
    Ya see, you’re not from here. I am. Born and raised. Boston is my home, it’s part of me. So for a carpetbagger like you to come on here and lecture me about who can and cannot run for MY city, on the anniversary when MY people were attacked, is so condescending it hurts. You embody everything that is wrong with distance runners, and the snobbish, exclusionary attitudes they have towards others who aren’t as good as them.

    • afvarner says:

      TurtleBoy, Thanks for replying. Let me be the first person to say thank you for raising money for charity. I guess the biggest question I have is why is doing the race as a bandit necessary for the charity? Can’t you just donate the money? Do the people who are donating to you know you’re not actually registered in the race? You’re right that maybe Red Cross isn’t the best example, but surely there are other charities that are better at getting the money directly to those in need. By my count, there are 28 charities (other than the Red Cross) on the BAA website that are approved. Surely one of those does better than 39 cents of every dollar, which I agree is appalling for a charity. One could also argue that $0.39 is better than $0.00 but that’s a different discussion entirely. And again, to your point that maybe being a bandit helps people more than running the race itself, then why do you even need to run in the race?

      I’m glad to hear you were not injured last year (sincerely, not a joking matter in the slightest). I can’t even imagine what it was like to be that close to the carnage. And while I appreciate your intentions in wanting to bandit again this year, but I still don’t understand how wanting to show your version of Boston Strong makes it all right to bandit the race. Maybe I’ll never get it… and since I have a hunch that’s the case, I’ll just have to remain in the dark.

      But for you to try to tell me that I think I deserve to be there more simply because I’m faster absolutely wrong. And if you got that sense from my writing, I’m sorry. It was not my intention. I realize every day that I am lucky to not have to worry about qualifying for Boston. And if you don’t think I recognize that, you’re dead wrong. It is the “average runner” who keeps the sport alive. They are the lifeblood of the sport, for they (and you it appears) truly run because they love it, and sometimes they do it for a cause (all the more noble). They get very little recognition for their efforts and the fact that they keep coming back, run after run day after day is a true testament to their love of the sport. I, too, run because I love it. But if you think that I don’t think that the vast majority of the people filling the corrals at Hopkinton don’t deserve to be there just as much as I do, you’re wrong. Without average runners, it would be impossible to sustain even 1 race in a given area, and certainly not one the scope of the Boston Marathon.

      I’m not trying to lecture you on who should run and my apologies again if it came off that way. I simply think that everyone who qualifies and registers via the appropriate processes should get to run. If you don’t, or can’t qualify, then you shouldn’t be able to run. I tried to get into the New York Marathon this year. Guess what? I didn’t get in. So you know what I’m going to do? Watch it from home. Or, if I could afford it, I’d be tempted to go spectate because it’s another amazing spectacle, like Boston (not equal to though, IMO). But I sure as hell won’t bandit it. I don’t think any bandit should run any race in any city.

      You’re right – I don’t know what it’s like to be from Boston, and I can’t imagine the anguish/anger/flood of emotions that you and everyone went through in the immediate aftermath. I also did not see the healing that occurred, which must have been amazing. It was very evident on race day this year that this was truly a triumph for the city and I was happy just to be able to witness it, and take part in it. It was remarkable how welcoming the citizens were, as if they wanted to show off a brand new city that had finally healed the wounds of 2013. But I take issue with you saying that I embody everything that is wrong with distance runners, and I hope maybe you’ll reconsider given what I’ve said above. If not, oh well. It’s been an interesting debate to say the least.

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