Monday, July 19, 2010

Didn't pay for this race? Then you're a weasel.

Thanks to Peter Asciutto -- the owner of Vac & Dash in Albemarle -- for contributing this op-ed column:

In communities across the country, there are many free events that running stores and running clubs organize for you participate in.

In Albemarle, Vac & Dash and the Uwharrie Running Club organize a laundry list of no-charge events, which are designed to help promote the sport of running and to get a good workout in with a group of like-minded folks.

Races are another matter. As race organizers and race directors, we are responsible for a variety of costs, including paying for T-shirts, awards, food, water, parade permits, insurance, race bibs, safety pins, signage, paint to mark courses, printing of brochures, mailing of brochures, timing fee, advertising and public safety officials.

We expect that everyone who runs our races will pay for them. But it's often not the case.

Therefore, Vac & Dash, the Salisbury Rowan Runners, Uwharrie Running Club and Tour de Kale committee recently adopted a "No Weasel (Bandit) Running, No Bib Swapping Policy." The policy states:

"In an effort to have a race accurately timed and give everyone a fair shot at winning awards, we ask that you do not run in a race organized or timed by Vac & Dash, Salisbury Rowan Runners, the Uwharrie Running Club & Tour de Kale committee unless you are properly registered. This means no bib swapping/transferring or running as a weasel/bandit. (Weasel/bandit running means not registering or paying for the race and purposely running in all or part of the race.) If a runner is being paced by a non-registered runner, the runner is subject to disqualification from the race. Thank you in advance for honoring this request."
The policy addresses two issues: Bib swapping/transferring, and weasel/bandit running. Let me discuss the bib swapping/transfer issue first.

Many times people pre-register for a race, then something comes up, causing them to become a no-show. They then give their race bib to another, so their money doesn't go to waste. People that do this, do so without meaning to cause harm. They figure the race slot was paid for, so what's the big deal? I do want to make the point again, folks that give their race bib to another do so innocently, not realizing the problems it causes.

The immediate problem bib swapping/transferring causes it that it corrupts the database. If a medical emergency would occur, race organizers would not be able to properly identify a runner wearing the wrong race bib or have the proper contact information. Secondly, it can mess up the awards. I've announced the name of many age group award winners who weren't even at the race. Not only is it embarrassing for the person who wasn't at the race, it means that the runner who should have gotten the award gets short changed.

The other issue -- weasel running -- is a completely different issue.

First off, I'm calling it weasel running from here on out and not bandit running because I think the word "bandit" has too cool a sound to it, almost like it's referring to some sort of rebel pulling one over on "the establishment." The establishment, in this case, is volunteers putting on races to raise money for charities. So calling the offending runner a "weasel" seems like a more appropriate term.

Weasel running has been around since I started running in the '70s. I always thought is was pretty sleazy for a person to jump into a race without paying for it, but other than that, didn't think much of it.

Over the last few years, as I've helped with race management, timing races, etc., I've witnessed the negative effects weasels have on races. Recently, I've had conversations and communications with weasels, and have read articles, blogs, forums and posts written by weasels and those who support them. Their justifications for jumping into races have not influenced me to change my opinion on the matter. Below are my answers to some of the weasels' comments and questions.

"It's a public road, you can't prevent us from using it."

Running is free. You can do it pretty much anywhere, including public roads. However, that does not give you the right to purposely show up at a scheduled race and run for free when others have paid to participate. If you want to play catch with your buddy, you can do so for free at most public ball fields. However, would you go in the outfield and play catch during a softball tournament? Same with public tennis courts. You can play for free, but would you go out and practice your serve when the high school team has the courts reserved for a match? In Albemarle, we are required to get a parade permit to use the roads for a race. In China Grove and Denton, they close the streets for the race.

"I'm not hurting anyone or taking away from their experience by running as a bandit [weasel]."

So you're saying it's OK to sneak into a movie, remain quiet, leave before the ending and justify your actions by saying that you are not taking anything away from the paying customers movie experience? You may not be hurting the paying customers, but you are stealing from the theater owners. When you weasel into a race, you are stealing from the race directors, volunteers and charities that put on the races. You are getting some sort of value by participating in an event that requires an entry fee.

"Races cost too much, so I pay for some and not for others."

My response to this one may sound cold, but in real life, if money is an issue, then pick the races you really want to run and enter them properly. If you can't afford it, don't participate. Most 5Ks are $15-$20. Marathons are $50-$100. It's no different than deciding if you want to eat in or go out for dinner. Finances are finances.

"I'm not crossing the finish line, so it doesn't impact the results and awards." "It's a chip-timed race, so I can now cross the finish line, since I don't have a chip, I won't impact the results" "I don't drink the water, take an award or T-shirt."

Doesn't matter. Jumping in the race as a weasel changes the dynamics of the race for those that paid to participate. There are also plenty of examples of how weasels have impacted how others have raced.

At the Bunny Run 5K a few years back, a weasel ran off course. The runner following him sped up, ran off course, and chased the weasel down to let him know he was off course. At the Run the Valley 1/2 Marathon last year, a weasel was one of the front runners, then pulled off course just before the end. The runners that finished in second and fourth place said they would have raced differently if they had known what position they were in coming back to Badin. The guy that finished in second had thought he was in third and the guy finishing fourth thought he was in fifth. In both cases, the Weasel changed the dynamics of the race.

It's not just the front of the pack where weasels get in the way. If you did not register for a race, you become an obstacle that a paid runner has to dodge and run around at some point in the race. I know many runners who started with 40-minute 5Ks and have worked hard to get down to below 30 minutes. They don't need weasels in their way either.

"What's wrong with pacing a friend?"

If you pay to participate, then you are part of the race and can pace anyone you want. Jumping in a race to pace a friend for part or all of a race gives your friend an unfair advantage over others. If it were a basketball game, would you be allowed as a spectator to come out of the stands and shoot free throws for your buddy? By eliminating the pacer who did not pay to participate, we are keeping the playing field level for all participants.

According to reports, anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 weasels jump into the Boston Marathon and Chicago Marathon per year. On many blogs and forums, these weasels say, "We don't take any water, and since it's chip-timed and we are not wearing a chip, it doesn't effect the results." When I read those comments, I laugh. They want me to believe they're being ethical about all of this. Makes you wonder how the few thousand weasels contributed the disaster at the Chicago Marathon in 2007, when officials had to stop the race due to running out of water at aid stations. Medical personnel also were tapped out as they treated hundreds of runners for dehydration.

As race organizers, we want to promote the good health, competition and fellowship that the sport of running brings. Hopefully, establishing and publishing this new policy will help the races roll along smoothly.

Peter Asciutto can be reached at


Anonymous said...

No dog in this hunt, since I don't run in races, but I think the no-bib-swapping rule is only ethical if you allow refunds to runners that back out.

As far as weasels go, the only way to control that is to hire security. A lot of the arguments in this article are apples-to-oranges and you just aren't going to win an argument with people that think it's OK to do that.

Anonymous said...

Serious question. What make amateur runners more upset. Weasels or the public not coming out to cheer for them to run. I know how upset a bunch of people profiled in this blog were when they won some 10k and all of Charlotte didn't show up at 8am on a winter morning to cheer them on

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 3:17, this argument will never be won.

I wonder if Mr. Asciutto is worried about backlash at such a negative article. I'm a little turned off by it myself and likely wouldn't run his races because of the bitter vibe.

Anonymous said...

I agree with his points...However, I believe that ALL races should offer a no t shirt option for people who are on a tight budget (many these days). I also harken back to the old days when very few races were for profit and virtually no one put on a race as a profession. The volunteer base of races kept the fees way lower than now. Many marathons are at 100.00 and up now!

Anonymous said...

The races all benefit good causes. Pay for the races you do. If you can't make it at the last minute, don't give your bib to someone else. End of discussion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 3:17 and anon 3:54. The argument will never be won for either side and who cares really. I'm a very surprised this type of article would even be print worthy of the Charlotte Observer. Since Mr. Ascuitto seems to know some of these bandits (weasels), maybe he would be able to find one of them to write an article in response. I know after reading this one I would like to hear from the other side. I've already wasted several minutes of my life to read this article to begin with, probably wouldn't hurt to read another pointless article sometime.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Mr. Ascuitto on every point he made in his article!

As a runner and a teacher, I just assume that everyone will choose to be ethical and moral in all that they do. I'm certainly not at the front of the race- so it doesn't throw off my time, pace, or place in the race but I do expect everyone to pay to participate just as everyone else has. Fair is fair. I don't allow my third graders to pass other children in line, cheat, lie, or steal so why is it okay for "adults" to do what 8 year olds can't?

TO: 3:17 Runners shouldn't be allowed refunds if they choose to back out! I have missed MANY races due to sickness or CHOOSING another obligation- but I chose to sign up for the race and donate to a cause or charity, therefore, they will still get the money even though I DECIDED NOT TO RUN. Also... you need MONEY to hire security to keep the WEASELS out who are NOT CONTRIBUTING MONEY TO THE RACE!

I agree with 5:13 about the T-shirt option. That would save people money of course. Something to look further into. I have seen some races offer this option- makes sense.

It's all a matter of perspective on the argument and the expectations you have for others. I expect everyone to do the right thing. If you want to run in a race- THEN PAY! If you want to run with your friends, or pretend to win a race- make a date with a group and go for it on your own time!

I will gladly run more races that Mr. Ascuitto hosts! I know that everything will be ORDERLY, FAIR, and FUN!

Anonymous said...

I'd be ok with races not benefitting a charity and thus a lower race fee. Half the time I don't even know what the charity is for a race anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole bib swapping thing should be may disagree for the reasons you listed but with technology today those should not be valid reasons. A register person should be able to change who is running on the bib themselves (on the website they registered on) to reflect the actual runner or have a place on race day to change who is racing with the number. Bottom line is it can be done. I agree with not having a refund but if I pay for a race I should be allowed to let someone else race in my place if I am unable to go.

Anonymous said...

seriously? this has been given this much thought? How many people are actually "weasel-ing" a race? 1%? 10%? 50%? I'd say it's close to 1%. Is it really that big of a deal? Do weasels really screw up that many races? I don't agree with it, but some people are just jerks. It's a fact of life. As for bib-swapping, come on. From the standpoint of the race database, in this day and age, it can't be that difficult to swap a bib. You bring up the runner's record, type over the name, age, etc. with the new runner and save it. Heck, publicize that bib swapping is okay and charge a $5 "handling fee". I have to laugh when I think that this is considered that big of a deal.

Anonymous said...

bib swapping - allow it as long as the person doesn't wear the chip to get an official time (thus screwing up records) and isn't going to be a top 10 finisher.

bandit running for pacing a friend - seriously?! i understand not pacing someone in award contention but if I'm helping a good friend finish their first marathon under 5hrs by running 6 miles with them at the end then how am I hurting things? I'm not going to pay $100+ to help them and wouldn't be taking any aid so whats the harm really?

bandit running in general - I personally can see times/cicrumstances when it is fine and times when I wouldn't be cool with it.

one example is if I have a 15 mile training run coming up... maybe i'll hop in with a local marathon at mile 5 (with the mid/back of the pack) and drop at 20 or something (without taking any aid). or maybe i'm actually out for a training run and didn't know theres a race... i'm not going to reroute my normal run if some of it happens along the race course.

there are many other reasons for both sides.

Seldon T. Scranton said...

If we're going to make hard and fast stands and un-nuanced on "theft", then taking money and not offering a refund, and disallowing bib swaps is theft.

There's absolutely no reason you couldn't set up a database of people who beg off for one reason or another, compare that to numbers in the race, and issue refunds where applicable (almost all pre-regos come in online, it should be just as easy to refund the money to their credit cards)

I'd feel a lot worse about cowboying races if the charities would open their books and show us exactly where the money goes. NYRR (I'm from NYC) based out of a palace of a brownstone on Central Park East, and charge up to $40 for extremely over crowded 5k's. the number of bibs they sell should lower the price.

Don't play the stealing from charity card. Not every race is for charity, nor should it be. As a serious runner, I feel that the heavyset goons pushing giant strollers in crazy costumes "For Daddy, miss you much!" clogging up races cheapen the sport. No one makes excuses for people uninterested in the actual sport participating in said sport in any other event, mainly because people have the sense to stay out of it.

Anonymous said...

Peter Ascuitto is a dumbass!

Anonymous said...

I get the whole mucking up the database thing for bib swappers, but the point is that once someone pays for something, it's really their right to do with it what they wish. If you're not going to offer refunds, then the person who paid for their spot should have the right to give their spot to someone else. Get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to those who do pay, banditing is wrong. BUT, if we pay for a bib weeks, or months, in advance, life happens and you should be able to swap it without a hassle. It's unfair to expect someone to eat the cost after they registered early to take advantage of the lower cost AND the side effect of helping the race director plan numbers.