#7 "The Über Race Bandit"
The Mythology Of Race Bandits...
On every message board for runners I've ever frequented, a thread discussing the ethics of being a race bandit pops up at least a few times a year. The discussion can get quite heated. These people who run (e.g. the Boston Marathon) without paying the registration fee are accused of the crime of stealing a foot race. They're lambasted as amoral viruses that, unless eradicated, will ultimately ruin the party for the Paid-In-Full.
"If we let one person bandit, then everyone will bandit, it will be anarchy!"
The Boston Marathon has a long tradition of bandits, and it has yet to go out of business and dissolve due to the number of bandits outnumbering the Paid-In-Full. I've yet to even see a bandit at a race that I've run. When I'm running hard, I barely notice the scenery, let alone whether or not someone is wearing the proper race number or not. It's almost as if bandits exist in a mythical, symbolic realm.
On a symbolic level, bandits are a reminder to not let this organized racing thing get too out of control. They're a dash of sandlot into what is essentially the Little League of running. Bandits don't care about official numbers and showing up in the all-important race results (that must be posted quickly or the race director catches hell on ImperfectMarathonGuide.com). They show us that racing isn't about medals, badges and self-image, but about the pure sport and fun of it. The ones at the Boston Marathon who dress up in costumes are a reminder not to take myself or running too seriously, which I have a tendency to do. It's playtime, not a funeral march.
Race prices are rising on the same trajectory as Broadway shows, and soon these big city marathons and half marathons will be activities for the "Haves." Being a member of that exclusive self-limiting club of human beings called "The Cheap," I find myself leaning more in the direction of bare-bones races without all the unnecessary frills (the things people complain about on The ImperfectMarathonGuide.com when they're not provided or executed properly by the race director); ones where one feels the simple nakedness of the bandit. You race from point A to point B because you love the motion, passing people, and accomplishing a distance or duration, and could care less about whether or not there are bananas, mile markers, instant race results, or a t-shirt.
Bandits are our outlaws, but unlike the Bonnie & Clydes of the world, they don't seek notoriety. Sure, some seek attention with crazy attire, but most are invisible. They're like the Big Foots of the amateur race world. There are sightings, but they disappear from the scene quickly, taking nothing but the clothes on their bodies, leaving the pavement behind. The integrity and future of the race is left intact.
Perhaps, we should get Draconian on these "thieves"; arrest them and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, putting them in public stocks near the finish line so the Paid-In-Full can spit race gel on them and pummel them with banana peels. Get eye-for-an-eye on the scum and chop their feet off for pilfering race space. Throw them to the orcas.
Or we can choose to let them be, enjoy their mythological aspects, and avoid thinking of them as running for Team Mephistopheles.
I can dream.
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Crusted Salt comics by Jimmy Brunelle