I have a good friend who proudly proclaimed one day that he hasn't paid for a single race, mostly 5Ks, for the last 5 years. I was shocked. He might as well have said, "I've stolen groceries from the store for the last five years."
His bewilderment at my blank stare led me to believe that he had no idea why I would have a problem with this. He immediately began the long list of justification... "It's the same course I run every day, why should I pay for it?", "I'd like to pay for all of them, but it's not in the budget right now", " I don't even want the T-shirt", and my favorite of all, "What's the big deal?"
So let me get this out in the open and make it perfectly clear; whether you call it Race Crashing or Banditting, it is stealing and even more so, REALLY un-cool.
You've no doubt seen these Race Crashers, perhaps you are one. They pop up next to you near the first aid station and may look a little fidgety or don't have a race number. The smarter, less cocky of them cut off to the side just before the finish line. Others will collect finisher medals and eat the free post race recovery food or make their way to the massage tables. I'm sure you've heard it at the finish line yourself, "Oh no! I think I lost my race number back there somewhere." or "No, they didn't give me a timing chip. That's weird."
Don't be fooled Race Crashers, everyone knows what you're doing and we as a community don't like it. The only reason you get away with it is because we've all spent time in San Quentin and we know what happens to a snitch. However, that doesn't keep us from disliking you for it (even if we know you) or the bad race karma from following you. You triathlon Race Crashers think you're on to something don't you? Since some races have started skipping the race number for your bike all you need is a black marker. Locally, last season some (expletive) began posing as an athlete to steal a bike and still get in a good workout. Big difference between you and this guy? Maybe. But perhaps he just took a more expensive prize home. Another excuse is running with a friend for 'support' or to help with pacing. How much more supportive would you be if you liked them enough to actually enter the race?
And what about 'sticking it to the man'? These race directors make loads of money, right? They're living off the millions of dollars they took from you to pay for that t-shirt! The truth is most race directors are lucky to break even. After five years or so, IF their race has gained notoriety and IF another more popular race doesn't park itself on the same weekend or the weekend before and after, they might begin to see a profit. (That's IF they're not donating it all to a charity) Most race directors do it because they are members of the athletic community who really love providing a fun, safe, well-coordinated experience for their fellow athletes.
Here is a basic run-down of some fees that are incurred by a race director:
-Permit(s) Yes, they cost money and vary according to number of athletes. Fines can be incurred if the permit terms are violated.
-Police, or traffic control
-Course tape, markers, cones, signs, etc.
-Food and beverages at aid stations and finish line area
-Tents and other temporary buildings
-Finisher medals, shirts, other giveaways
-Assistants and other clerical help
Races are like any other product or service that we buy. Someone came up with the idea and put both the mental and physical wheels in motion to make that product available. Beyond things that cost real money is the massive amounts of time and energy by the entire race staff and their families. My question is this; if the idea and work on that race are so nominal that a person can feel like the race just isn't worth paying for, then why is that same person so intent on going through the effort of sneaking into a race at all? Why not just run, ride, or swim somewhere else? The answer: because races are fun and their very existence shows they have value. A common phrase in our home is, "I love race day!" I treasure the entire experience of racing, from marking it on the calendar, visualizing the course in training and even waking up and cramming oatmeal down my throat on race day. I love the cool morning pre-race warm up and it's corresponding playlist on my ipod. I love the chatter in transition and excitement building as we make our way to the lake side. I love the volunteers pushing me on during the bike and the way friends and families of other athletes cheer with enthusiasm for everyone that runs by. I love sprinting to the finish with my body screaming and I even love that first drink of cool water as I try choking down a fresh bagel while wiping the sweat from my eyes. It's exciting and motivating and it is worth every penny. I am so happy that there are people willing to put in the effort to make my race day and provide this experience. And to my friend who's races are not in the budget this year, let's go for a 5K. I'll race you to the stop sign.