A kid running on a trailA few months ago, my wife ran in a trail race where a woman fell and dislocated her finger. She had to be driven to the hospital while the race director filled out an insurance form for the park with the information on her registration.

Thankfully, she was okay in the end, but had she hit her head than there could have been a very real possibility that nobody would have known who she was had she not been a part of the race. Many runners are not in the habit of carrying identification when they run.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about race bandits and offered up a general opinion about why you should never bandit a race. This evening, Tom came by and left a comment, which read as follows:

I am planning on bandit-ing an upcoming marathon. I would certainly pay if I had the money – gladly – but I don’t.

Maybe I’m a thief. But at least I’m an honest, responsible one.

Awhile ago I got arrested for ’stealing rides on trains’ – they called it Theft Of Services. Looked to me like that train was going somewhere whether or not I was on it.

On the other hand I recently registered the car I just bought and paid all my taxes on it – I think I was the only person in the title office who hadn’t happened to come by their car as a ‘gift.’

I know bandit-ing is stealing. The same way waiters steal when they take tips under the table. The same way you steal from someone by paying them an unfair wage. The same way, if there’s going to be a middle class, there has to be a lower one.

Evidently some theft is ok in this world, but other theft isn’t.

I’m going to live my life by looking at my actions and asking, honestly, who they hurt, who they help, and, in the end, how the world will be different for my having been here. To me, that’s being responsible – imagining my actions, multiplied 7-billion-fold. That’s why I paid my taxes. That’s why I would pay for this run if I could. That’s why I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was going to hurt anyone.

But to me it looks like that course is going to be there whether I run it or not.

Now, Tom recognizes that he is a thief, and probably even does a better job at it than somebody that illegally downloads software or music off of the internet. However, he doesn’t see the harm that he is doing, so he assumes that there is no harm.

Let’s tie Tom’s theory that there’s no harm in banditing a race and let me tell you the rest of the story about the trail race that my wife ran.

In that same race, there was a gentleman up front who bandited the race. He failed to read the trail markings and jumped over a big sign with an arrow pointing left, continuing straight down the wrong trail. The next few runners followed him.

At the end of the race, he apologized for banditing to the race director, and he claimed that he had the same reason as Tom for not registering; he didn’t have the money. (I did notice that he had the money to drive across the state to run, however.)

I know the race director pretty well, and he probably would have let the bandit run the race without paying or could have come to some sort of arrangement had he asked before the race. What would have happened if instead of the woman who dislocated her finger, the bandit had fallen down the mountain?

There would not have been time or resources to revive him and find out who he was before sending him to the hospital. The park would not have been able to fill out their insurance forms, and my friend would have lost his club insurance and would not be able to put on future races.

Had there been more people registered for the race, or a few more bandits, then the race may have been larger than the permit would have allowed and again would have involved no more races at that park or excess damage to the trail.

Banditing a race is theft, and it is dangerous. Banditing a race is unethical. If you can’t afford to run the race, or you don’t happen to like the race beneficiary, or for whatever other reason you do not feel like paying for the race, then go run on your own. There are ample opportunities as a runner to find great places to go out for a run; there’s no reason that you need to bandit a race.

(Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger)