Marathon Cheating: Social Media Bib Bandits

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:

Right_Rail_344x217_01@2x

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:

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.59.56 PM

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.

Happy running!

https://www.wired.com/story/inside-the-weird-world-of-social-media-marathon-cheating/

http://www.operationjack.org/why-counterfeit-race-bibs-are-not-a-victimless-crime/

9 comments

  1. Katherine, really interesting post! I had no idea any of this was going on despite the fact that many of my family members and friends are active in the racing community. To me, that highlights much of the issue — the lack of awareness. I think, as you mentioned, this would be a great method of prevention, whether it be through the racing organizations or independent running groups.

    To a certain extent, I wonder how much technology platforms hold themselves responsible currently. For example, if someone is illegally selling a counterfeited bib on eBay, what is the site doing about it? What can they do about it?

    On a different note, I would be interested to hear about the different consequences. At a first glance, it obviously is wrong, but it seems like more or less a victimless crime. Though, a couple of articles on Google highlighted it wasn’t, particularly for the runners themselves.

  2. I never thought about the consequences that posting your bib number online could have. Sometimes it seems that the things you shouldn’t post are so obvious, such as credit card information or your address and phone number. However, it really is getting to the point that we have to consider how any of our information, even what may seem trivial, can be used for the wrong purpose. I wonder what the marathon organizers are doing if they catch someone. I imagine it must be hard to catch someone on the spot and be sure that they are cheating just from looking at their number but if they know it is a problem, they must be brainstorming repercussions as well. I think this problem seems so new but it surely seems they need some standards on behavior and possible consequences. In a way, it is a form of identity theft to be taking someone else’s information without their permission. I agree with you though, the organizers should definitely be more direct and honest with the runners to discourage them from posting their bibs online. It is important for people to know what they are at risk of.

  3. Interesting post, Katherine, especially as we approach the Boston Marathon in April. I’m sure for the individuals who log in to find photos of others in their place, this is quite disheartening. After running a half marathon once myself, however, I must say I would have preferred to see a photo of someone else…they were not flattering! This seems like a difficult problem to address, but I agree with you and my fellow commenters that increasing awareness is key. It’s a shame that runners would have to worry about someone stealing their bib for an event like this, but it is the reality. In the future, I wonder if the bib will be phased out for some sort of digital tracker (to avoid issues such as this and for efficiency purposes). For many runners, the bib is a souvenir, something they hold on to for years following the race. It seems, however, that more and more of our world is transitioning to the digital format, and marathon bibs may become obsolete one day.

  4. That’s a very interesting post. I am not into running marathons so I am not surprised I have never heard about the problem. However, I do have friends who run races and they have never heard about it before. I agree with you that the main issue seems to be the lack of awareness among the runners. It is a relatively new problem and no big damage/scandal has happened yet so that makes sense there hasn’t been much publicity yet. But marathon organisers should increase their efforts to build awareness among the runners because as you said it can discourage the runners who qualified for the race and hurt the organisation.

  5. Katherine, this was a great blog! I used to work for a charity that held Boston Marathon bibs – and they were the most high demand item I’ve ever worked with.

    To some who says its a victim-less crime, a counterpoint. The victims are the amazing, passionate, determined runners who cannot run a marathon because of size limits, and therefore wait…and wait…and wait, until their number gets called, until they make the qualifying time, or until they can raise thousands of dollars to participate in a charity program. It’s really hard, and those who play by the rules often wait years. We had 135 bibs, and even before the bombings I was turning away a hundreds applications – let alone after the bombings when applications FLOODED my office.

    A classic case of nice guys finish last – they in fact don’t finish at all! And the social media poaching is a new issue, one we had to quickly counter by telling our runners to avoid posting photos of their bibs to social media sites to avoid someone grabbing the image and printing their own bib!

  6. I was irritated when I read this article but was also relieved to a certain extent. At first I thought you were going to say that runners who had paid and registered were denied entrance into a race because of their social media posts. That would be awful, but the actual situation is still bad.

    This isn’t just an issue with big name marathons (although I’m sure the attempts to enter the fairly exclusive Boston Marathon probably number higher than other races). Actually, in these big races, maybe the “stealing the course” is more difficult, because you have to design and print an actual bib. I know in my Turkey Trot at home, I’ve heard people say they are just going to run without a bib, because ‘the course is on public roads,’ and they somehow don’t need to pay. It is unfortunate that charities use so much money to put on these events, and people just don’t care.

  7. As you guys probably know, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a dream of many. Will some people cheat for a big accomplishment? Yes, as evidenced by this article. I had heard about many instances about counterfeiting bibs and new this was an issue. It is a very low and shameful act in the run community because people work so hard to get into the Boston marathon. (speaking specifically about this race). I do think less people would post bib numbers for races like the boston marathon (Because these are higher educated runners) if they knew the chance of their bib being copied. Although, showing your bib is a classic showing of your hard work.

  8. Nice post. There was actually a pretty big story a few years back, when the founder of FourSquare was caught using a counterfeit bib. Made him really look bad. Nice post!

    1. Yes, I saw that! It kind of seems like everyone tries to defend themselves when it comes to their reasons for counterfeiting a bib, but I still think they should be held accountable.

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