Cowtown LogoConsider this an open letter to Matt Nestor of the Columbia Tribune and all of the other people that think that banditing a race is okay.

The news is starting to get a little old at this point and common sense says it shouldn’t even be addressed, but Matt finished his recent article about Scott Downard being disqualified from the Cowtown Marathon after running with somebody else’s bib by mentioning that the win was reassigned to Kolin Styles and saying, “But we all know who the real winner is.”

Well yes, we do know who the real winner is. The real winner is Kolin Styles.

If Scott Downard had jumped in a car and skipped 5 miles of the course before hopping out and finishing first, would you still consider him the winner? If he started an hour before the official start and crossed the finish line first, then would you consider him the winner? If he hopped on a plane to London, managed to get by security, and then finished before everybody else in the Olympic Marathon, would you consider him the winner?

My guess is that you would not. And if you wouldn’t consider him a winner, then why would you consider him a winner if he cheats by running in a race while pretending to be somebody else?

Let’s look at other sports. Football is popular. If somebody crosses into the endzone with the football, but had to grab somebody by the face mask to get by, or had to go out of bounds first and then run back in, should they score a touchdown? Because as I seem to recall, they will usually down the ball and the touchdown won’t count.

Bandits are a real headache for race organizers. They use resources that aren’t intended for them, they threaten race cancellation for permit violations, and they screw up results when they use somebody else’s bib number.

A race that I put on recently had a few bandits. That meant that runners who should have gotten awards didn’t know about them and left without them. After spending 2 weeks after the race sorting out the mess, if they wanted their award they then had to go out of their way to pick up their award. Had we not ordered 27 more awards then we actually expected to give out, then 25 people would never have even won their prize because other’s had stolen them.

At Cowtown, the situation was figured out relatively quickly and Scott admitted that he cheated. But he also stole Kolin’s opportunity to break the tape. That’s a good feeling, to finish a race and realize you’ve won. Finding out after the fact is better than never realizing it, but it still doesn’t have the same impact.

Bandits also pose a safety hazard in case something happens on the course. Sure, everybody thinks that they are invincible, but accidents happen. Most runners don’t have any identification when they race other than their bib number. If Scott had gotten hit by a car or had a seizure, then he could have had inappropriate medical attention applied to him by emergency responders. Getting a phone call telling you that a spouse or father or child has been killed or hospitalized is never pleasant, so why would you want to risk giving that call to somebody else’s loved ones?

Following the rules isn’t very difficult. If you break the rules, then you don’t deserve a place in the results. Somebody fast enough to run a 2:31:40 marathon has probably been running and racing for long enough to know that, especially since it should be common sense even to somebody running their first race.

If he had felt the need to run the race under somebody else’s name, he should have at least had the decency to not cross the finish line or to DQ himself after he won rather than waiting for the race organizers to figure out that he was an imposter. Even better would have been to not run, or to contact the race director and ask for a bib.

It may come as a shock, but most race organizers are more than happy to offer comped bibs to runners that have a chance to win a race and provide some good competition up front.

My stance on bandits may be a bit extreme, but I consider a minimum 1 year ban from the race more than justified for somebody that intentionally cheats. Glorifying those runners through your position in your local media does a disservice to your community and portrays the wrong message to the non-runners and kids that might read your article.