Written by Joe Connelly
One given to producing road races is that you are going to have some participants who do the race without registering for the race. At RunVermont our policy is simple: if you aren’t registered you are not welcome in the race. You will be pulled off the course if an official sees you running without a bib. Primarily this is a respect issue; unregistered runners take away from the positive experience registered runners can have, but there are also several other important reasons why running without registering is problematic. We’ve outlined them below.
No runner takes place in an event expecting to have a medical emergency. However, every year at KBVCM we transport 5-10 runners to the hospital for medical emergencies. Given an event of this size, 8000+ runners and 25,000+ spectators, this sort of thing is inevitable. If you are a registered runner, we have basic biographical info in our registration system for you; name, age, where you are from, your medical emergency contacts. If you have filled out the back of the bib, which we encourage everyone to do, our medical responders have additional information that can save your life. If you are an unregistered runner all those basic details are a mystery and that greatly impacts our ability to help you. Please donlt assume that just because you are a seasoned runner, or just participating in one leg of the relay that you’re immune to this concern. Anyone can have a medical emergency at any time.
When you register for a race you sign the race’s waiver. This waiver doesn’t give the race organizer carte blanche from acts of gross negligence, but it does provide the race organizers, sponsors, and volunteers a level of protection should something go wrong. When runners are in a race who have not signed that waiver, that basic protection does not exist. There have been a number of instances where races have been sued by an unregistered runner who was injured while competing in the event.
Race Supplies and Services:
Water, Gatorade, Cups, Gel, Food, Medical Staff…Races plan for how much supplies their runners will consume. Some unregistered runners say that they don’t take anything of this nature from a race, but standing watch at an aid station during a race often suggests otherwise.
Then of course there are the services a race producer needs to take care of regardless if there are any unregistered runners in an event or not: Course Measurement and Marking, Traffic Control (Police and Course Monitors), etc. None of this is a free service that an unregistered runner would have had access to if they were running the same place any other day.
Many race courses have a finite capacity on how many runners can safely or efficiently pass through certain parts of the course. If you have run KBVCM or seen pictures of the race, you will know that miles 4-8 on the Beltline and miles 13-15 from Oakledge Park to downtown on the bikepath can be very crowded especially in the peak density times (8:30/mile-10:45/mile pace). Races plan to be able to move a certain number of runners through the tightest areas at peak density. Add unregistered runners into the mix and you’re looking at a course bulging at the seams. This is unfair to registered runners as it can interfere with their ability to run the race in the manner they choose.
Finish Line Procedures:
Many races have gone to chip timing and for them while an unregistered runner may cause problems, it won’t be with the timing system. But not all races use chip timing; in fact, the vast majority of races still record results the old fashioned way. If a race is using bib numbers to record finishers, runners without bibs are a major choke point in efficiently processing finishers.
Ducking out after the finish line doesn’t solve the problem. One of the ways race results can be verified as accurate is if the front of the chute and the back of the chute have the same number of finishers recorded. If you ran without a number and ducked out of the chute, every runner who came in after you is going to have the wrong finish time until the timing people sort out the problems.
Integrity of Results:
This is more of an issue with a runner who is using the bib assigned to another runner. This is a big runner to runner respect issue, and I’ll give you an example from a race we produced a few years ago. In reviewing the results for that race just prior to sending them to the press for publication, we noticed that the person listed as our female winner was not the woman we had seen cross the finish line first. It turned out a woman had given her bib to a man, and that man finished about a minute in front of our actual women’s winner. Fortunately we caught it before the local paper published the results.
As a Race Director, when you’re announcing the winners and handing out awards you want to recognize those who earned the awards. So many times, especially in the age groups, you’ll surprise someone when you announce they won. That is one of the most fun things about directing races. When unauthorized bib transfers occur it can really take away from honoring someone who deserves to be recognized for their achievement.
But what about all those runners who didn’t pick up their bib?
If a race sells 1000 bibs and only 950 runners show up, you might think that there will be a lot of extra supplies available due to those 50 entrants who didn’t show up. For experienced races, it doesn’t work that way. In a lot of cases a race will determine over time what percentage of their entrants can be expected to not show up. For that 1000 runner race, maybe their course can only handle 950 actual runners but demand exceeds 1000 runners. That race will know that they can sell up to 1000 and still expect to provide a good experience for their registered runners. They could just cut off at 950, but why not make another 50 runners happy if you can?
The follow up to this is, “Why not just allow transfers?” At VCM we allow deferrals. You get hurt, something comes up, whatever, no questions asked we will allow you to defer a race entry from one year to the next as long as you notify us by the deferral deadline. You have to pay about half price next year. Even as a not-for-profit business we have certain fixed costs that we need to cover to stay in business. We do require that deferrals be requested by about 3 weeks prior to the race. This allows us to set our database and get your bibs in place. With over 5000 bib numbers in play we need time to get things right. We used to allow transfers, but it became too difficult to track those changes so we had to determine which would be more manageable for our staff while still providing good customer service. Keep in mind, almost all our staff is either part-time or volunteer. We are still one of only a few races that allow deferrals at all. Many more take a hard and fast rule: no transfers, no refunds.
Your Race Entry Fees are Too Expensive!
I can’t think of any races I know that won’t work with you if you cannot afford the entry fee. It will take some work on your part, but options are out there that can get you into nearly all races for a reduced cost or even free. For VCM, we have our Miles For A Mission program through which entrants can raise money for a charitable cause they believe in. These charities include the bib with your fundraising commitment. Another option is volunteering for a race. For our Half Marathon Unplugged in April a number of people contacted us after registration closed looking to get in. Often times it’s easy for a race organizer to trade an entry for some of the runner’s volunteer time.
And remember, many races have an early entry fee that is considerably less than the cost as you get closer to the race. If lower entry fees are important to you, commit early to a race and save some money.
I Wanted to Register, But Your Race Sold Out
Some races are tougher to get into than others, for example, the Western States 100 Miler, the Hawaii Ironman, etc. but nearly all races have some spots available even after they are “sold out”. Specific to KBVCM, we hear all the time “I couldn’t register you sold out”. Fact is, we did not sell out this year (close!) and in the last 10 years we’ve sold out about 5 times. This is perception vs reality, if you think a race is sold out get in touch with the Race Director and make sure – and if they are ask if there is another way you can get into the race. You may have to do fundraising or volunteer, but if you really want in there are often options.
The Streets are for Public Use
Sometimes it will be noted by those who wish to participate in an event but not enter the event that as taxpayers we have the right to use the streets and paths in any way we want. This is not strictly true; there are frequent instances of public spaces being permitted for private (or semi-private, restricted) use. Try to drive down Williston Rd in Williston on the morning of July 4th, and you will encounter their parade. Most races who use public roadways acquire a similar permit that allows them sole or significant use of the roadways during a specified period.
I’m Just Jumping in the Race for a Workout, I’m Not Racing:
I always tell the college runners I coach, know the difference between “racing” and “being in a race”. The thing is, you may be able to distinguish the difference, but your competition doesn’t know what you are doing.
USATF rules require that competitors not be paced or receive assistance from people who are not entered in their event. These rules apply to anyone entered in a race conducted under USATF rules. Application of those rules most often occurs only at the top end of our sport. For that reason it’s important that if you are a faster runner (you be the judge of that!) you know what the rules of our sport, and of any individual race are. This is something I equate to the rules of golf; if you are out playing with your buddies and spray one into the woods they might give you a Mulligan. If you are playing a tournament under USGA rules and hit the same tee shot, it will cost you.
Back to the point at hand, if you jump in a race without a bib and are running competitively all those near you trying to compete for awards or prize money are going to wonder what your status is. You can do serious damage to another competitor’s race strategy if you are unregistered and they spend energy chasing you down or trying to run with you, when their real competition might have been behind them.
I’m Just Going to Run With My Buddy the Last 3-5-10-half:
Resist this temptation. Ego check-Your buddy will be fine without you. There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of runners in the race with them, they’re not going to get lonely. There may have been times in training where your buddy told you they needed your help to finish the run, but on race day it all changes.
After the 2012 KeyBank Vermont City Marathon, we asked for the help of our community to identify two bandits. Our goal was simple one: we wanted to identify those runners so that we could reach out and educate them as to why what they did was problematic.
We have no expectation that what we write or what any other Race Director has to say on this matter will make a big dent in the actions of those who run in a race without registering, but the more we can get the word out the more hope we have that the next race will be better than the last one. We hope you’ll take to heart our reasons why this is not allowed and help spread the word that unregistered runners are not welcome at our events.