Next weekend I am heading to Chicago to visit my best friend. While I’m there, I will be cheering her, another friend, and my sister on as they run in the Chicago Half Marathon on April 7th. (Before you call me lazy, I’d like to disclose that I have an ongoing knee injury that comes from running and has yet to be solved).
This event got me thinking about how marathons come into play on social media. Marathoners often post about their accomplishment of participating in a marathon, some even posting pictures of their bibs showing the number they will be wearing to show their excitement or so that their friends can to track them. After a quick google search on marathon social media, I came across the trend of bib counterfeiting.
Bib counterfeiting occurs when participants in marathons post photos of their bibs on social media such as Instagram or Facebook, allowing others to be able to almost exactly duplicate the bib for their own use. Social media enables bib copiers because without being able to see those photos, the copiers would otherwise not know what the bibs look like for that particular marathon. Although it seems trivial, this issue has actually become more widespread, so much so that the New York Road Runners have created a campaign called “Respect the Run” that educates runners on the code of conduct and rules of the race, as the ever-evolving technological world has affected even something as simple as running. The campaign features fun cartoons that quickly communicate the risks that runners should be aware of, such as this one:
In addition to this anti-bib bandit campaign, there is a whole website dedicated to marathon-related crimes, called marathoninvestigation.com. It was created by a business analyst in Ohio named Derek Murphy, who became interested in the creative ways marathon cheaters were able to game the system. These are the types of articles he posted after the Boston Marathon in 2016:
As you can see, bib bandits have become very commonplace. When marathoners finish the race, they can punch their bib number into the marathon website to search for photos taken of them during the race. Obviously, when they do this only to find pictures of strangers, they will not be happy. This website helps to find and scrutinize the culprits of bib copying.
Now I know you may be thinking, what’s the big deal? Bib counterfeiting seems like a victimless crime. However, there is an increasing pressure for the organizations that put on the marathons to implement measures to prevent people with counterfeit bibs from entering the race. These security measures obviously will be costly, and that cost will likely end up getting passed on to the people who pay to run. In addition to that, extensive check-in procedures will slow the process on the day of the race significantly, which will surely not bode well with the runners. If marathon organizations choose not to spend money preventing people from running with fake bibs, then they will be forced to accept fewer runners into the marathon in order to accommodate for the thousands of non-registered people who could possibly enter the race. Not only will this impact the qualified runners that won’t get to run, but also the charities that benefit from the charity runners.
To attempt to cut down on bib counterfeiting, marathon organizations have begun sending out bibs only a few days before the race to cut down the window of time that they could be copied. I have never run in a marathon myself, so I don’t know too much about this, but I think it could also help to make runners aware of the bib copying problem and discourage them from posting any pictures of them online before the race. They could just include a not with their bibs says “hey, please wait until after the race to post pictures including your bib.” I think that if people knew about the problem, and knew that posting a photo could cause someone to steal their bib number, they wouldn’t post anything online. I mean, no one wants to punch in their bib number online only to find photos of random people who copied their bib.
So, if you are running a marathon anytime soon, or any race for that matter, now you know of the dangers of bib bandits. Social media has given us a more modest outlet to brag about ourselves, so if you must post about being about to run 13 to 26 miles, maybe wait until after the race.