Is borrowing (or selling) a race bib wrong?

This past weekend was the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, Texas.  Initial runner-up Kolin Styles was declared the winner of the 26.2-mile race when Scott Downard was disqualified because he crossed the finish line with another person’s number and failed to register for the race.(Read more here)

Source: Star-Telegram

Many of us have been in this situation before: You paid a good deal of money for entry into a race, but in the days leading up to the race, an obligation pops up, you get injured, you are sick, etc.

The race is sold out.  You have a friend who really wanted to run the race but didn’t register in time.  What do you do?

Do you illegally give them your bib?  Or do you accept it as a forfeited $ while both you and friend watch on the sidelines?

Many (if not most) races these days list the following terms and conditions when signing up for a race:

“Once you have entered a race, your entry fees are non-refundable, non-exhangeable, and non-transferable under any and all circumstances, including, but not limited to, cancellation of the event or of your participation.”                          – NYRR website

What does this really mean? If circumstances prevent you from participating in the event, you are out of the money you paid for entry, you are prevented from giving (or selling) your bib to another runner, postponing (deferring) until next year, or switching to a shorter/later race.

Two years ago, I filled my 2010 race calendar – the four big races I signed up for were the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, Syracuse 70.3 Half Ironman, Army Ten-Miler, and NYC Marathon.  The cost of these four races was almost $600.  Weeks after I paid for the races, I found out I was pregnant with my son.  I immediately went to all four websites hoping that there was a loophole to get me out of the races without losing money (even though I knew there wouldn’t be).  Three were non-refundable.  I was able to defer my guaranteed entry into one of the non-refundable races (NYC Marathon) until 2011 – however, I was NOT reimbursed the $175 (or so) I paid for the initial race entry.  Yes, you read that right.  I had to pay the entire race entry again in 2011. (Note: the Army Ten-Miler was the only one I did not lose money – see below)

Why do races make race entry non-refundable, non-exchangeable, and non-transferable?

I’m sure race directors have a long list of reasons why they put these conditions into place.  Allowing runners to transfer a bib to someone else likely creates more paperwork and headaches.  It could be that they only want those that are 100% dedicated to train for and run the race to sign up to prevent a large number of backouts.

Unfortunately, my gut tells me that a large part of it is due to the money they make off of no-shows and cancellations – especially in the cases of a race like the NYC Marathon where you can defer a year, but you lose the entry fee.  I cancelled 6 months in advance – so it wasn’t as though my shirt had been ordered or food was allocated for me at the finish line.

There are races that allow entrants to legally sell their race bibs to those wishing to gain entrance.  The Army Ten-Miler is a great example of this kind of race.  It’s a HUGE race – drawing almost 30,000 runners.  The race sells out FAST.  But the best part is that they have an online transfer program AND facilitate an online “seller’s board” in which you can post how many race entries you have and how much money you are selling them for.  My husband and I took advantage of this program – and were able to sell our bibs to another couple. It was quick, simple, and we all won!

What are your thoughts?  Are you completely against someone running with a borrowed (or purchased) bib?  Have you ever given (or sold) a friend your bib (or vice-versa)? 

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    23. Interesting article. Personally I’ve no qualms about running in someone else’s number and have done so. I know, as do they that any time recorder is invalid for both parties but that the taking part is what counts.
      Here in the UK recently, a road race was cancelled minutes before it was due to start, but the majority of the runners ran the course anyway. The organisers excuse / reason was that the suppliers of the roadside water bowsers had let them down at the last minute. NO refunds were given to the entrants, as the organisers stated that the infrastructure set up still had to be paid for. Seems like they got of lightly, kept their profits anyway, and Joe public bailed them out with their $40 / £25 entry fees.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-26920499

    24. I would like to see more of the race registry companies facilitate this. Make a donation required, but allow a legal transfer. Or just sell your entry back to the race… get 70% of your money back, for example. If you turn it into a revenue stream, everyone wins.
      James recently posted..Today is Application DayMy Profile

    25. This is very interesting, I know Little Rock Marathon allows transfers up until the expo closes and they attract thousands of runners. It can be done

    26. I don’t encourage transfers or refunds. I do allow them on case by case basis.
      I am RD for a 2000 entry community race.

      With transfer, the new runner MUST fill out a waiver because of liability issues and USATF Rules of Competition runners must be properly registered. There is also a safety issue involved. If a runner goes down and unable to communicate, often the only means of TD is the bib number. The timing company I use charges $3 per entry. The company treats the transfer as a new entry and the transfer costs the event $3. If a refund is given after the data is sent to the timing company, the data entry fee of $3 is incurred by the event. Fortunately I don’t have a lot of refund or transfer requests. I operate on a break even basis so every dollar is important.

    27. Pingback: Refunds & Bib Exchanges – A Runners Right? | RunSignUp

    28. That is a big old’ can of worms you’ve opened IMO. I strongly feel that in this day of technology, transferring a bib to someone else shouldn’t be a problem. That said, this means people could buy up ALL of the race spots and sell them for a profit (scalping race bibs!) and then transferring them which will lead to less $ for the race itself. Also the race could get in a position where people pay and buy other people’s bibs yet don’t end up with race entry… From a legal perspective I actually side with the race directors, though it’s unfortunate that shady individuals looking to profit would put race directors in this position. It would be awesome if races could refund your money, less say 25%, with maybe a months notice.
      Janice- The Fitness Cheerleader recently posted..Motivation Monday: A Dream Doesn’t Become Reality Through MagicMy Profile

    29. I think the ability to sell your bib is a great idea if executed correctly and within a certain amount of time before the race. I had to defer my NYC Tri entry for 2 years: the first because of injury and the second because of pregnancy.

      I also signed up for my first 70.3 and found out about a month later that I was pregnant, contacted the RD (who is actually a local in my city) and they wouldn’t allow a deferal… so I trained for it (at a very slow, conversational pace but got the distances in) and 6 months pregnant I completed the whole swim and stopped half way on the bike because my son was in a position that I couldn’t coerce him out of and I didn’t want to risk it becuase I didn’t know what could happen.

      Anyways, I see both side of this argument but I really feel like pregnancy should be an exception of some sort. Just roll over our registration to next year and re-sell our spot. They were given about 5 months notice on my end and they weren’t sold out at that point. This topic really frustrates me because I’ve experienced it the same as you & that 70.3 was my only DNF I’ve ever had and I beat myself up about it (yes, I realize I was pregnant but still hard to swallow).

      Great blog post!!!

    30. Great timing on this. My friend has a bib for the Los Angeles Marathon. I think it was $150. Anyway, she has come down with a dry cough that is totally ruining it for her to run the marathon. And we talked about this issue. Glad to read the comments and see both sides.

      Even though I am not a runner. I think if you can run knowing you will not be credited in anything if you placed…then it would be okay. That’s a lot of money to be ‘wasted’ from being sick when someone else can benefit.
      Christine @ Oatmeal Bowl recently posted..Red Chard Gruyère GratinMy Profile

      • I agree with you…you pay a lot of $ for a bib…other than the liability reasons behind letting a friend borrow it, I don’t see what the big deal is!

    31. As someone who ran the Cowtown, I think that this whole issue is being blown out of proportion. Cowtown is a non-transfer, non-deferable race, and the man fessed up as soon as he crossed the finish line. The whole Cowtown weekend is a really great experience and a very well-organized race, and it seems like this runner wanted to respect that.
      However, I am also against simply passing your bib off to someone else because it opens up the opportunity to get someone else to qualify for a major race for you (Boston, New York, etc.). Plenty of runners train like crazy to get to those races each year, and having someone do the legwork (no pun intended) for you is just not fair.

    32. Oh, the race bib dilemma! I know bib selling/switching happens all the time and frankly, I’d rather see THAT than someone truly “banditing” the course and running without a bib that was paid for by someone.

      The way I see it, stuff can go wrong & you may not be able to run a race you registered for…and if you can help someone else out by letting them use your bib, so be it!

      What I DO think is wrong is buying a bib with the sole intention of selling it right from the start, whether for a profit or not. And I also think it’s wrong to use someone else’s bib if there is a chance of you actually placing, whether overall or in age groups.

      I should say I work in the insurance industry, so I totally see the liability issues that come with bib swapping and that has to have a lot to do with why many races don’t allow it.
      Theresa @ActiveEggplant recently posted..Princess Half Marathon RecapMy Profile

    33. Great post lady!!! I am in this situation now with the NJ Marathon. First I transferred to the half now I can’t do the half. So I want Aarn to take the number. They won’t transfer so I can defer which is great but he would like to run the half and it was expensive like $95. I don’t see such the big deal. let them pay a fee or something so they make more money if you really want but it is just unnecessary for two people to go raceless. oh well, hopefully nj will workout in some way…
      Stephanie recently posted..Trigger Happy!My Profile

    34. well i used to be a race director, so i can see the frustration behind both the athlete and the directors. Its more for legal issues that the BIB needs to be properly worn. But then again, i have raced a relay under someone else’s name. I know, eek!!

      • Lindsay, thanks for the insight from a RD perspective…I can’t imagine what sort of headache it is to have to deal with the name changes on each bib. I just feel like for the larger races (NYC, MCM, Chicago), they should be able to offer something that allows you to defer/cancel at no cost (or lose of $). I’m sure there would be a huge line of people willing to be on a waiting list and then when someone cancels, someone else is accepted…Maybe one day when I become president of NYRR and RD for the NYC Marathon =)
        nycrunningmama recently posted..Is borrowing (or selling) a race bib wrong?My Profile

    35. i’m not against it, in general. although in the case of the cowtown marathon, i think they did the right thing. i’ve never used someone else’s bib (or given mine to someone else) but if it’s a race i want to do and it’s sold out, sure i’d take someone’s bib. seems silly to let it go to waste.
      Kristy recently posted..Boston Prep and Week 8 RecapMy Profile

    36. This is an interesting topic. I have fallen into all of the above categories at some time in my running career. I admit I have sold a race bib once when I was pregnant and unable to compete. (Local race was sold out.) I have also borrowed a race bib for another half that was sold out. In that case it was my husbands bib and technically I’m the one who registered him so I didn’t feel too bad about that. “He” did set his half PR! 😉 When you’ve been running long enough there will always be races that you miss out for some reason whether it’s due to injury, sickness, pregnancy or something else. I have missed several races for those reasons but by far the most notable was when I missed Boston last spring due to an injury. There was no deferring or money back. My friends were able to pick up my shirt for me- it is now the most expensive running shirt I own… Borrowing/ selling bibs CAN be a risky thing if the person wearing the bib has the potential to win in any age group category. That’s usually the only time I have a problem with it.

      Best advice- Register EARLY!! 1.) To ensure you get in, 2.) It’s usually cheaper. Sure, something may come up but that is life. You live and learn.
      Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..Determining My Marathon Race PaceMy Profile

    37. I think that this is a tricky subject. However, I lean more on the side of let people transfer/sell. As someone that has been unable to make it into many races (because they are either sold out or I didn’t get into the lottery), it’s slightly annoying/angering to think that there ARE actually bibs available but no one is allowed to take advantage of them. I’m not there to win, just to run. And the no-transfer policy prohibits people from doing just that.
      Daphne @ Candy Coated Runner recently posted..Ready for Spring!My Profile

    38. My husband and I have had this issue come up many times and have unfortunately lost a lot of money due to things of this nature. I’ve sort of chalked it up to a risk we take when we register far in advance. My pregnancy has caused a few missed races – most recently the Seaside Half-marathon. I asked if I could be transferred to the 5k, but they said it was full. The thing that blew my mind was that the races start at the same time, so I’d be out there anyway. My plan is just to turn around with the 5k runners and I will still get my finishing award (which is a NICE Vera Bradley bag), but it did seem kind of silly to me. Still… I have no idea what should be done. I do wish there were more races like the Army 10 Miler…
      Jane recently posted..The Spirit-filled RunMy Profile

    39. I completely get why race directors don’t want to get into the hassle of transferring numbers, but always appreciate when they offer it. Annapolis 10-miler and Cherry Blossom 10-miler both offer it and people around here use that option heavily. I think if there’s a non-transferrance policy, we should probably all stick to it, at least if we’re truly racing the race and have the potential to place. If just going to run it easy and not nab a prize from someone else who really is registered, then maybe not such a big deal. Interesting dilemma, for sure.
      misszippy1 recently posted..Three for ThursdayMy Profile

    40. Great questions! I offered my race spot to friends once but no one was able to do it, and later I realized you’re not supposed to… in the Austin half two weeks ago, the announcer was yelling out names as we crossed and not too far behind, I heard him saying “here comes Megan! Wow, he sure doesn’t look like a Megan, does he?” and those around me all smirked at each other knowingly… it definitely happens, although most races don’t allow it. I think you’re right- races like that extra money from no-shows, plus it would be a huge administrative headache for them to track all the switching around details.
      Laura recently posted..Red Lentil Cakes, WIAW, and the Vegan ChallengeMy Profile

    41. I just don’t understand how someone could run a race and WIN on someone else’s bib and not think there would be a problem. There’s a fine line between getting sick and letting your friend run a race in your place – if the friend is a comparable running skill, age group, etc – and buying a big to win a race you didn’t sign up for.
      I’m not going to say all bib swapping is wrong – though I’m too much of a rule follower to really ever be able to participate in it without getting major heart burn – but people need to sign up for a race before registration closes if they’re training to win it.
      Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted..A Different RouteMy Profile

    42. think it has to be through the race/race director otherwise you will have entrepeneurs buying up popular race bibs then selling them on ebay for inflated prices. it may be yet another headache for RD but think that is a fair way handle the issue