Ask the Running Nerd: Racing as a ‘Bandit’

running bandti, race bandit, bandit a race

Photo by Billy Alexander/SXC

You’ve got questions. The Running Nerd will find the answers.


I have a few friends who are not sure about whether or not they want to get involved in the races, but were wondering if they could just come out for some of the walk/runs and do it with the crowd without registering? Is that a possibility to potentially get them interested in signing up for the next one?



Well, running a race without registering for it is called running as a “bandit,” and the Running Nerd, along with race directors all over America, strongly discourages it. Why? Bandits are in essence stealing an entry, especially for hard-to-get bibs like the ING New York City Marathon, where bandits face the threat of ban from future New York Road Runner races if caught. NYRR, the organizer of the marathon, even employs a volunteer team of “bandit catchers” near the finish.

USA Track and Field, the governing body of the sport, also does not look kindly on bandits.

“The term ‘thief’ would be more appropriate. These uncaring individuals cause numerous problems for race officials at the start, during and at the finish of a road race,” the USATF states in their “Road Racing Rules & Etiquette” guide.“They fail to realize that races are for runners, those willing to pay and that most events are also for a charity or non-profit organization. Many races have to pay for the use of city or county streets and therefore, race organizers have every right to dictate who can or cannot be on these streets.”

USATF does not mince words:

“Would these same individuals enter a theater or other public event without paying?”

Why not just convince your friends to sign up and give it a shot? Entry fees, or portions of them, often go to good causes if it’s a charity race. And if it’s not a charity race, well, fees go toward the cost of putting on the race itself: paying for permits—as the USATF points out—water stations, medals, T-shirts, post-race festivals, timing devices, road closures, and all those post-race bagels and bananas runners have come to love. If you run as a bandit and take some of that water or post-race snack, you’re officially stealing.

For large hard-to-get-into races like the ING New York City Marathon, why not run for charity rather than running as a bandit? You’ll pay the same entry fee as all the other runners and agree to raise a certain amount for your charity—typically $1,000 to $1,500 for half-marathons and $2,500 to $3,000 for marathons. I ran the 2007 ING New York City Marathon for charity and raised the required amount quickly and easily with a few well-phrased e-mails to friends and family. You’ll be surprised by how many people are happy to support you for supporting a good cause. Plus, you’ll be generating good karma instead of bad.

That’s not to say that folks don’t often hop onto the course for part of a race to get a friend or loved one through a tough spot. While officially looked down upon by race directors, USATF and NYRR, most runners, the Running Nerd included, would give this a pass. Who, during a marathon, wouldn’t love to have a friend run them through the wall from mile 20 to 23, for example? As long as the course isn’t crowded, the friend doesn’t take any aid or refreshments, and doesn’t cross the start or finish, this practice is often overlooked. And if you want a friend to pace you the entire race, why not offer to pay for their entry fee rather than encouraging them to bandit?

So go on. Convince your friends to sign up for their first race instead of running as bandits. With the sweaty sheen of accomplishment and a bagel—that they can be proud they paid for—in hand, the Running Nerd thinks they’ll be glad they did.

Happy Trails,

The Running Nerd

Do you have a question? I’ll find answer. Let my fingers to the walking, er running, for you. Contact me here: Contact Karla Bruning or post below.

Karla Bruning is a journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


04 2011

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    Fun blog. Keep up the good work.

    Runner’s World picked up on a blog entry I wrote about the best/worst bandit ever.

  2. 2

    So if I was to say, (theoretically) jump into a marathon at mile 4, run it to mile 16, not take any aid (I self-support on medium-length runs anyway) and was there to offer vocal support in the way of “you can do it’s” and “good work!’s” to struggling runners and first-timers, would that be stealing? Or would that constitute “free coaching” or “unofficial pacer”?

    I forgot to mention these 12 miles I’d be theoretically running follows my usual training run course, and at the time I’d be doing it just so happen to coincide with an actual marathon- so in effect wouldn’t they be stealing from me?

    Oh, it’s the Oakland Marathon, which nobody cares about (no elites will enter it because it’s one of the hillier races in the US).


    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      Bandito, as I said in the article, if you don’t take any aid, only run part of the course, and don’t cross the finish, I don’t have a problem with it:

      “Thats not to say that folks dont often hop onto the course for part of a race to get a friend or loved one through a tough spot. While officially looked down upon by race directors, USATF and NYRR, most runners, the Running Nerd included, would give this a pass. Who, during a marathon, wouldnt love to have a friend run them through the wall from mile 20 to 23, for example? As long as the course isnt crowded, the friend doesnt take any aid or refreshments, and doesnt cross the start or finish, this practice is often overlooked.”

      The issue of bandits really has more to do with people who want to run the entire race and not pay for it. That’s stealing. Hopping on for a few miles to give some encouragement–so long as you’re not in the way (I’ve run some VERY crowded courses where it could be a problem and empty courses where it’s not)–if fine with me and most runners I know. And no, they’re not stealing from you. You don’t own the streets! The city does. The city might be inconveniencing you, but they’re certainly not stealing from you :)

      Thanks for reading and for such a thoughtful response. Happy running!

  3. Tony B #

    Running a significant part of the course with out registration is STILL RUNNING BANDIT, regardless if you take aid or not.. Simple because if the race organizers had not gotten the proper permits and the police hadn’t closed off the road to traffic your sorry ass would have been road kill and not have been able to run on that stretch of road. Running a mile or two on a marathon to cheer someone along is one thing, but doing 9.95k of a 10k is another..