Before dawn some five or six years ago, I shut the door to my Orlando-area non-Disney golf resort vacation destination villa, and set off on my usual Sunday long run. Having no intention of using the resort's three-quarter mile "fitness trail", I headed for the front gate, and began a search for a long, quiet road to run on.
As luck would have it, the first road I turned on was a well-lit, freshly paved, five mile, four-lane road that led to... well, absolutely nothing. The housing market crash had left in its wake a number of central Florida mega-developments with spacious roads, medians, street lamps and curb cuts, and absolutely no homes. This abandoned road was obviously intended to be the spine of one such development.
But as the sun started to rise, I could see that this road hadn't been completely abandoned: Every half mile there appeared a spray-painted line next to a number ending in .0 or .5. As I hopped over the orange fluorescent graffiti every four minutes or so, I smiled. The runners had found it.
When the coming apocalypse arrives, only the roaches and runners will survive. Give any local running group a map of your area, and I'm quite certain they could point out the location of every accessible source of water, every place (whether indoor or outdoor) where it's safe to go to the bathroom, every path where traffic is light, and every bridge that can be traversed on foot. I often run with a group in an urban area before dawn, and even the homeless people are shocked by where we will go for water and bathroom stops.
(And there's no keeping us out. We can figure out bathroom codes, we can hop fences, we can prop gates open. If Neil Armstrong had left a port-a-potty on the moon, I guarantee you a running group would meet up every Saturday morning near the Sea of Tranquility.)
I provide this background so that you can imagine what a runner sees when a road race director empties a road before sunrise, puts out portalets and stacks tables full of water. I mean, organizing a road race is basically waving a red flag in front of me, daring me to charge in with no regard to consequences or casualties. And charge in I will.
Yes, I have bandited races. In most instances, it was unplanned. I was out on a weekend run, I saw some traffic cones, the crowd came by, and I hopped in. In a few cases, I conveniently arranged for a similar opportunity to arise. Some races are run on public running and biking paths, you know, so if one just happened to be on said path, about a half mile past the starting line, one might see people run quickly by, tempting one to fall into the pack for a few minutes, or a few miles, or a few water stops, or a few steps from the finish line. It happens.
But I can hear you screaming. "Those runners paid to run in that race! The race director spent a lot of time and money to get those permits! And police officers aren't free, you know!" This is all true, and I appreciate their efforts in this regard. But consider this from my point of view:
- Golf course operators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs, and their golfers pay upwards of $100 for the right to walk the grounds for a few hours. I will run on their cart paths, drink from their water coolers, and poop in their bathroom.
- Hoteliers employ a staff of hundreds to keep the common areas and lobbies in immaculate shape, and their guests pay hundreds of dollars to use their facilities each night. I will run on their jogging path, grab a water bottle in their gym, and poop in their bathroom.
- Community development districts float multimillion dollar bonds to construct beautiful roads and wide sidewalks, and their residents pay overmarket prices and higher taxes to live behind their gates. I will wave to their guard, run on their roads, drink from their community center water fountain, and poop in their bathroom.
- Restaurants install signs saying that their restrooms are for customers only. I will look at their menu, point at their scones, act like I'm looking for my wallet, and poop in their bathroom.
- Homeowners pay good money for rehab and improvements, and their contractors pay good money to rent portalets so they can use the bathroom. I will poop in their bathroom.
So when you think about it, banditing a race isn't really all that different or worse than the things I do for a good run every week. Obviously, it's well within the race organizer's rights to chase me off the course, but honestly, that's just the adult equivalent of being sent to your room with a TV and an iPad. It's hard to run off a guy who's there to run.
All this being said, it's important not to conflate the crime of banditing with much worse violations (both of the law and the runner's code). Running on an open 10K road course for part of your long run is banditing; taking the medal at the end is theft. Tucking into the pack of a marathon with your usual running outfit on is banditing; photocopying a bib and falsely portraying yourself as a paying participant is fraud. Taking a cup from one of the water stops is banditing; wearing one of those fuel belts with the little bottles of Gatorade in them is an unforgivable crime against nature. (That last one is a little counterintuitive, but just trust me.)
So there you have it: a rational and apologetic defense of banditing from a confessed perpetrator. Whether you agree or not, go down in the comments and tell me one thing: the code to your gate.