Q: Why do Race Directors care whether runners sell their bibs?
A: With the growth of social media and websites like Craigslist, unsanctioned transfers of race bibs have become the dirty little secret of the running community. It is not uncommon to see ads for popular races litter Facebook pages in the weeks leading up to race day as runners who failed to train or suffered an injury look to recoup registration fees.
Of course, both the runners selling the bibs and those buying them know that such transfers are unsanctioned and prohibited by races. But, some runners who do sell bibs cannot imagine why a race director cares. So, they do it anyway. Here are four main reasons race directors will not and cannot agree to such transfers:
Races are required to purchase insurance in order to rent out the venues and receive permits from local governments. If you do not have insurance, you cannot hold the race.
One of the most important parts of the insurance contract is that every runner must execute a waiver. Runners who buy bibs from other runners have not executed a waiver. This may not seem like a big deal to some runners. But, it is a huge deal to race organizers.
Do a quick Google search on the "Punkin Chunkin World Championship" to get an idea of why. This used to be one of our region's most unique and fun events but after a lawsuit in 2013, organizers have not been able to secure insurance for the event. As a result, the event has been cancelled two years in a row and it is not clear whether it will ever be held again.
In the event of an emergency, your bib number is one of the first identifying factors emergency personnel will check. Runners often have no ID on them when they run. If a runner has an emergency and cannot speak for his or her self, the EMS personnel might think the original registrant is the person injured. The bib number must be attached to the correct person and the emergency contact person must relay information for the person actually wearing the bib. Otherwise lives are at risk and families will receive erroneous emergency calls.
In 2014, unsanctioned bib transfers came into the spotlight when Gerardo Avila won the Marines 11.75 miler. The problem was, Gerardo was wearing Steven Henry's bib. Avila was disqualified and both were banned from future Marine Corps events. This issue of fairness is much more common than you imagine, particularly in age category awards.
I have seen several examples of improper age category wins. One year a 35 year old man won the 11-18 age category at one of my races. He sheepishly declined the award later. But, his actions denied a 14-year-old girl her moment in the spotlight and it was impossible to track down the right parties to switch medals. Others just take the awards and run. That is just not fair to runners who train very hard with the goal of placing in their age category.
Runners who register early for a race are usually looking for a good discount. In exchange for the large discount, runners take on the risk of not being able to compete. On the other hand, runners can register the week before the race, knowing that they are fit and ready to run, but they must pay the full entry price.
When a runner accepts that risk and then cannot run, it stings. It has happened to me. But, when they try to sell the bib illegally, a race is now competing with some of its own runners for sales. That is not a good situation for races to be in. If the practice grows, and revenue for races drops, registration fees will rise to make up for the drop. So, all runners will end up paying for the transgressions of the few.
The good news is that that there has been an uptick in races developing programs to allow sanctioned transfers of bibs. This is especially popular for races that sell out before race day. However, there will always be limitations to these programs and some runners will feel the temptation to transfer on their own. Hopefully now, it is clearer why race directors cannot turn a blind eye to these unsanctioned transfers.
Carl Ewald is the Race Director and chief innovator for the ODDyssey Half Marathon and Great American Brewery Runs. A Philadelphia resident, his runs are popular because they are designed by runners for runners and elevate the racing experience from just a race to a full event experience.
Read more from the On The Run blog »