Why Counterfeit Race Bibs are NOT a Victimless Crime

Throughout the running community, it’s been pretty well publicized at this point that some folks ran with counterfeit bibs at the Boston Marathon last week. The race had the highest demand in its 118-year history after last year’s bombings created a huge desire for runners to to return and reclaim the race.

Even in just the second year of qualifying standards tightening by five minutes across the board, and an increased field size, competition was so tough that not all qualifiers made it in. Charity entries, given to Boston-area charities as a major fundraising initiative, were greater in the number of availability, but demand was so high that commitments doubled from normal levels. In all, $27.5 million was raised by the charity participants!

But still, there were more runners who wanted to participate. Traditionally, the BAA, which puts on the race, allows bandits (runners who don’t pay the entry fee). In just about any race, that’s a taboo that goes heavily against running’s unwritten code of ethics. I’ve never done it and I never will. It’s just wrong. But Boston embraces it — it’s a tradition that local bandits, typically college students, start after the entire field has gone through the start line. Usually it’s a few thousand runners and it’s a tradition that’s embraced. The BAA even factors bandits into the on-course support it provides during the race.

Edit: Somebody sent me a DM on Twitter and reminded me that back in 2011 I ran a marathon with somebody else’s bib. Full disclosure, here’s what happened, I don’t mind you judging me. A few days before the race, a friend asked me to pace him and told me he had a bib from another friend of ours who was entered in the race and not running. He was slower than me and this took the place of my training run that weekend. Without a bib that was paid for, I absolutely would not have stepped foot on the course. And without somebody providing me with a legitimate bib, I would not have participated. I have no idea what the transfer policy was — I couldn’t get up to the expo anyways, so the bib was picked up for me. To me, it was different that truly banditing (sneaking onto the course without a bib) and it was WAY different than running with a counterfeit bib. But, I did run with somebody else’s bib. So if you choose to judge me as a past bandit, I understand. This doesn’t change my opinions at all about banditing or what happened with the counterfeit bibs in Boston.

However, this year, due to dramatically increased security, the BAA announced very clearly in advance that bandits were NOT permitted. It was made very clear before the race that security measures were going to be much tighter. Bandits were not welcomed or embraced this year.

In the days after the race, though, it was discovered that some people went beyond banditing, though — they bought or created counterfeit bibs.

Here’s the highest-profile of the phonies:

This is the founder of Foursquare and his wife. His bib is real. Hers isn't.
This is the founder of Foursquare and his wife. His bib is real. Hers isn’t.

That’s the founder of Foursquare and his wife. He’s legitimately in the race, she isn’t. What’s annoying about them is their sense of entitlement. His apology was this:

I don’t expect everyone to understand our strong need to run and and finish together — but after trying unsuccessfully to get a charity number and trying unsuccessfully to officially transfer a number from an injured-runner friend, we did what we could to make sure we could run together in hopes of finishing together.

Translates to Hey, rules be damned, I did what I wanted to because I wanted to. The smugness of it all annoys me, as does the fact that it’s a lie. If it was so important to him, like he says, he would have applied for a charity bid like everybody else who went the charity route. I did that and the most important questions were how much I could commit to raise and what my fundraising plan was. Pretty sure that if he said, “I’ll raise $20,000, I own a giant social media company, I have a following on Twitter of nearly 75,000 people and I can write a check because my net worth is deep in the eight-figure range,” he would have gotten a bib.

His unsuccessful attempt to get a charity bib probably started a couple of weeks before the race. There is absolutely NO WAY they couldn’t get a charity bib at the same time that everybody else applied. So he just did what he wanted to and had a counterfeit made. The sense of entitlement and living above the rules annoys me, especially when instead of truly apologizing, he justifies it with a well, I really, really wanted to … so there.

These four people in this next picture were the first to be outed when the person with the real 14285 bib noticed these images when she went to look at her race pictures.

This made the rounds on social media last week. All of these runners were running with a counterfeit bib.
This made the rounds on social media last week. All of these runners were running with a counterfeit bib.

This created a stir within the running community. Some people argued that it was a slap in the face to those who obtained their bib in the right way. Others said that in reality, the supplies were already purchased and these folks didn’t hurt anybody. Focus on your own life and don’t worry about others, they said, this was a victimless crime.

But this was NOT a victimless crime. Even with just a handful of folks very visibly identified as using counterfeit bibs, this is now a huge problem that MUST be dealt with, otherwise it’s going to create huge problems for the race in years to come.

The BAA has no choice but to implement methods to prevent counterfeit bibs starting with next year’s race. If it doesn’t do that, a huge black market will be created. The popularity of the race grows every year, and now it’s not a secret at all participants can get through security with a fake bib. Even though just a handful of runners have faced widespread shame on social media, the damage has been done.

If the BAA chooses to announce its plan to deter counterfeits, it will have to something pretty comprehensive that begins at the transportation lines at Boston Common four hours before the start of the race. Almost certainly it’s going to have to involve something new and computerized at the bus line that involves scanning bibs or checking for timing strips on the back of bibs. Either way, it’s going to slow the process and cost money. If planners expect it will slow the process significantly, they’ll have to increase the number of buses they rent. Security will have to be increased again in Hopkinton where runners approach the starting corrals. This will also require something new and computerized, not to mention an increase in staff.

The costs for this will be passed on to legitimate entrants. If it costs $500,000 for software, staff and equipment, that’s $20 extra on the race fee for everybody right off the top. I got that number estimating 1,000 hand-held devices at $250 each, plus $100,000 for software development and 1,000 six-hour shifts at $25/hour. I’m not figuring anything for buses, but you can see how quickly you cost each participant $20.

That’s just a rough idea of a way that cracking down on counterfeit bibs could be done, but there’s no question it would take a considerable amount of money, not to mention slowing down the race-day process for legitimate participants. Absolutely not a victimless crime, and definitely not something that’s not costing anybody any money.

If the BAA does NOT come up with a comprehensive plan to deter and stop counterfeit bibs, the black market will have a year to get ready and the BAA will have to estimate how many people will be running with counterfeit bibs. Bandits have typically been about 2,000-3,000 total. If the BAA expects that many counterfeiters on the course (I’d consider that reasonable), they’ll have to increase the amount of supplies they purchase, to pay for them, and those costs will obviously be passed on to legitimate participants.

In a worst-case scenario, if they have to account for a significant number of phonies in the permit and insurance process, they might have to reduce the number of accepted entries. Say they can accommodate 27,000 participants but they know they’re going to get 3,000 rogue runners because they choose not to spend a fortune policing it. They’d have to reduce the number of participants they accept. If that comes from the group of runners who qualified based on time, then fewer would be getting in and runners who should be accepted would be left out.

If the number of charity runners is trimmed to provide cushion for counterfeits, it’s charities that will lose. More than $27M was raised this year for dozens of very worthy causes.

How the BAA approaches this is above my pay grade. There are different options that they’ll weigh. I have no idea what they’ll do. The only thing I know is that they won’t do nothing. They have to do something. And whatever that something is, it’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s probably going to create significant inconveniences for legitimate entrants. It could well cost deserving runners a chance to participate in the race. It’s very reasonable to expect that it will cost charities money. And I’d be shocked if costs don’t get passed on to runners.

These runners using phony bibs who thought they weren’t costing anybody anything? They couldn’t have been more wrong.

What do you think? Am I off my rocker? Is this a legitimate problem?[subscribe2]

Back To The Unthinkable: The Hamsterwhizzle!

The last time I ran on a treadmill was September 27, 2012. While some runners have streaks and take pride in keeping those streaks going, I’ve been taking pride in not running on the treadmill. I’ve done a little too much of not running at all, but back in 2012, when I was living in Colorado, I told myself that if I was going to go to the gym to work out, then I was going to ride the bike. If I wanted to run, I had trails all around me and fresh air and I needed to get outside and have my me time.

Well that streak is going to come to an end pretty soon. It’s not because of the winter we’re having here in Pennsylvania — I’ve run outside here in temps that are sub-zero with wind chill. I think I ran outside last summer when it was hot (I say I think because it’s been so darn long since it’s even been warm that I don’t really remember it ever being hot … but I’m sure it was).

The real problem we’re having here is that with my wife Tiffany’s schedule of taking care of the kids and the house and me and pretty much everything, she doesn’t have the time to break away to go to the gym. Not only that, but we had a sweet deal with 24 Hour Fitness in California and Colorado ($29/person annual membership) and here I think it’s $30/month a person for the gym. That’s more than 12 times as much.

So, I’m taking the discretionary part of my last bonus and buying her a treadmill for the basement. She said that would make it a lot easier for her to exercise, and that, in turn, would make her a lot happier. For everything she’s been through in the past two years supporting the family and taking care of our severely autistic son Jack, I think it’s the least I can do for her. Actually, it’s pretty much the most I can do for her (dang kids, keep eating every day and there’s no money). But I know it will help her find happiness every day, so I’m going to buy it. No hesitation. She deserves to be happy. As I type this, I can hear her upstairs dealing with another one of Jack’s meltdowns — it’s 9:30 p.m. and he still won’t go to sleep. This is every night, so I think she deserves whatever it takes to make her happy.

Only treadmill picture I could find. This was taken before selfie was a word.
Only treadmill picture I could find. This was taken before selfie was a word. And that’s not some poor woman who got caught in the background of this pic. Well actually, it is. But it’s the missus.

She misses the days when she went to the gym and was very fit. I, um, don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way she looks right now. But I know how she feels (I’m struggling to regain my fitness, too) and I want her to find that happiness she used to get when she exercised. This is what she says will help her get that, so this is what she’ll get.

And of course, if it’s going to be sitting there in the basement, I’m … going to … run on it. Uggghhh. My #notreadmill streak is going to come to an end after getting past 500 days. But it will be good for me and help me add things into my training. I’ll admit it, I did like progressive treadmill runs, and I did like the treadmill for recovery runs, and they’re good for hills. I don’t want to admit I’m excited about running on it, but I’ll admit it — I’m excited about it. I’m kind of thinking that it’s going to help me tune up in some areas I need to tune up (the speed stuff will force me to improve my turnover, because there’s no slacking off when the belt is moving). Hopefully this gets me going again.

But more important, hopefully this gets her going again. I can’t stress how tough she’s had it, and she really needs a positive outlet. So hamsterwhizzle it is for her. And me too, I guess.[subscribe2]

106-time marathoner, but scared of 8 miles

It’s not like me to write a blog about running lately. Running has taken a back seat in my life because of autism and while it used to be a big part of me, it’s kind of an afterthought now. When I went to sleep last night, I had run 13 miles in the previous 15 days. That’s about how (in)consistent I’ve been for most of the past year.

While I’ve realized I’m willing to prioritize with my son autistic son Jack and his needs, I’ve also realized that I need to find a way to make me happy, too. I like to run, although not in the way that I’m an old-school, hard-core runner. I’ve never really viewed myself as a runner — I view myself as more of a guy who likes to run. But it’s something I’ve had some success at. I’ve run fast and I’ve run far and I’ve been able to do some unusual things, starting with the 61 marathons I ran in 2010 to fight autism, plus quite a few Boston qualifiers and other things I never thought I’d do when I was younger.

I ran a 50-miler on a whim in May, even though I was out of shape. I won a timed race in 2010, running 54 miles in heat and humidity less than a week after running 45 miles in a different timed race. I’ve run marathons on back-to-back days a good 20 or so times. But there I was yesterday morning, a 106-time marathoner, scared to run 8 miles on a flat surface at ideal temps in the high 40s. I had planned on about a dozen miles, then talked myself down to 10 and then eight, and a mile into the run, I turned back.

Part of that was stress, but I was also intimidated as heck. Something about it scares me. The fact that I’m intimidated to run 8 frustrates the heck out of me when I realize what I’ve lost. It’s frustrating and I don’t even want to get out of bed and run because I know my runs will be lousy. I think that’s the worst thing to me. I used to be good at it, and I’ve totally lost that. For the first time in my life, I was good at some kind of sport. I’m a competitive person and I really enjoyed that.

To go out and train hard in the mornings and notice that I was running well and to do well at races, that gave me a lot of confidence and I really enjoyed that. Now, I’m very happy about the gains I’ve made for my family that really matter, namely getting us relocated from California (with a one-year detour in Colorado) to a great situation for all of us in Pennsylvania. But still, I miss the guy I used to be, the guy who enjoyed getting up and starting his day running through the cool air watching the sun come up, who wasn’t afraid to go collect his thoughts for 8, 10 or 15 miles.


Me and Jack ... I'll never get tired of this image.
Me and Jack … I’ll never get tired of this picture.

But now, I sit in bed, intimidated about the prospect of lacing up my shoes, then kicking myself all day long for taking another step backwards with another day wasted.

So yesterday, I finally came up with a plan. I mapped out the next 18 weeks. I used to run 100 miles a week frequently, and 80+ regularly, but I trained for my first marathon at about 40. So I came up with a schedule that’s going to start at 40 or so. Seven miles, nine miles, eight miles on weekdays. 14 for my long run on the weekend. None of those intimidate me and I’ll do them and be happy that I did them. I’m going to gradually increase and get up to about 70 a week in 18 weeks. And I’m going to take two days off a week and not burn myself out.

The biggest thing is to tell myself that I’m not going to be any good at it tomorrow. If I can deal with that, then I can just knock out some miles and work towards the next day. One day at a time and I’m going to be myself again by spring.

So I’m gonna learn how to do this running thing again. That should make me happy. I’m long overdue for some happy parts in my life so I’m sure this will be good for me.

Side running notes:

1. Check out Operation Jack 2.0 … I’m trying to get people to fight autism one race at a time and I want to pay for a race entry fee for you … let me know if you’re interested! I keep saying I’m going to post a list of initial participants soon and I really am. Tomorrow?

2. Check out the Operation Jack Marathon. Great race, great cause, great price, great name (I’m biased, I admit it). But check it out!

That’s all I got. Are you scared of running eight miles like I am? Are you chasing any running goals or trying to regain something you lost?

Have a great Tuesday![subscribe2]

Travis Barker Woke Me Up On Friday

I love what music does to my mind. Lots of songs bring me back in time and take me down Memory Lane. I have a series of songs I listen to every day on my way to work to get me in a good, positive mood to start my day. Lots of songs make me think of friends I have all over the country and I’ll drop them a text to say hi when I hear a song on the radio that makes me think of them.

But then there’s the songs that get me fired up. I have my pre-race playlist. I don’t know if I’m a pavlovian dog and they trigger me or if I really like the songs, but I don’t run a marathon without hearing Zombie Nation or Lose Yourself, amongst others.

On Friday, I was on a plane, and a song came on my iPhone that triggered something in me. It was a song I didn’t even know was on there. I don’t know if my wife Tiffany downloaded it at one point or if I added it years ago and don’t remember. Whatever the case, I’m glad I heard it. It woke me up. It was some version by Travis Barker of the hip-hop song Soulja Boy. I’ve heard the normal version of that song, but never this one. It had guitars and drums that gave it that Linkin Park/Limp Bizkit kind of edge. And like I said, it woke me up. [Read more…]

Six Days Until My Favorite Race: The Operation Jack Marathon!

Life has been killing me lately. I won’t even bother getting into all the details, but this has been — by far — the most difficult year of my life and I’m aging in dog years right now. I haven’t blogged in two weeks and I don’t suspect I’ll blog for another week. So I want to talk a little about the 3rd Annual Operation Jack Marathon, which is very near and dear to me and will take place next Wednesday, December 26.

Real quick, if you’ve never been here and don’t know what Operation Jack is or who Jack is, you really, really need to click here. He’s my 9-year-old son who’s severely autistic and drives me to try to change the world, one person at a time.

The Operation Jack Marathon is the primary event benefitting the Operation Jack Autism Foundation. That’s my foundation I created in honor of my son and I use it primarily as a way to raise money for Train 4 Autism. The first thing I did to raise money was running 61 marathons back in 2010.

Everything that year brought in about $90,000. At this point, I don’t do a ton because this year has been so difficult on me, but I raised somewhere around $4-5K to fight cancer through the San Francisco Marathon last year and I put on a small race in October 2011 to raise money to benefit the families of mortally wounded soldiers.

So far, the gross through my foundation and the Operation Jack Marathon is approaching $170K. I love doing this. But while I was able to devote every spare second I had to the cause two years ago, life has really prevented that this year. It’s been the exact opposite. I’m hoping to get back into the swing of doing good things again next year.

Anyways, technically, I’m writing this blog for anybody who wants to read it. But really, I’m writing this for a select group of people (in alphabetical order by last name so as not to play favorites): Tim Bomba, Ben Fesagaiga, Matt Popilek, Molly Rearick, Jake Rome, Chris Rosien and Steve Walters. Tim, Molly, Jake and Chris have done a ton of work for the main race down in LA. Matt came out of nowhere to put on a race to benefit the cause in Kansas City. Steve is putting on a race to benefit Operation Jack in Portland, Oregon for the fourth time and has always been a huge supporter.

To all seven of you: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m grasping for words to explain what it means to me to see everything come together. I feel so blessed to have an ability that gives me an opportunity to fight autism. I hate autism but I love fighting it and you all help me do that and I really appreciate that. A lot.

To my LA Five, you guys are awesome. We’re on the same blue team and I’m proud to be a member of that team. Ben, I’ll be forever grateful that you created Train 4 Autism and gave me a vehicle to try to change the world. All five of you, I know I’ve been difficult to deal with this year (not that I wasn’t difficult in years past!) and I’m thankful that you have moved forward with an amazing event despite me. I created Operation Jack in part as my way of coping with Jack’s autism and channeling all the bad that Jack goes through into something good. Your hard work has let me keep that flame burning and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, OJ is pretty much my fourth child. So thank you. Can’t wait to see you guys on Wednesday.

Everybody else, depending on where you are, there are ways for you to participate and support a great cause and get the coolest medal ever.

Southern California: Operation Jack Marathon, get yourself out there! I’ll see you there!

Oregon: Operation Jack KC Half In The Snow, get yourself out there! Next year, I’m gonna make it out there. This year, I took too long to buy airline tickets.

Kansas City: Operation Jack KC Half In The Snow, get yourself out there! I’ll see you there!

Maine: Maine Satellite Run, get yourself out there! I won’t see you there. But they have a ton of free giveaways!

Everywhere Else: Satellite Run! Shirt, medal and you’re helping a great cause!

Ok, that’s it. Have a great weekend and a Merry Christmas and I hope you end up with one of our super-cool medals![subscribe2]