Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Becoming a bandit!

Yeah, I can see myself as a bandit. Would I be the one with a white and black striped sweater with a mask and a bag saying 'Loot'? How about a 'Adam and the Ants' Dandy Highwayman'? Maybe a cowboy bandit with a stetson? Okay, it has to be the 'wild west' version because we all know, "Stetson's are cool! I wear a Stetson now!" ;)

My friend Jason from Barefoot Running University wrote an article about 'Banditing races'. For all those who are now wondering what becoming a criminal has to do with running races, let me explain; if you run a race without paying the entry fee, then you are a 'Race Bandit'.

It's frowned upon in most running circles, because Race Bandits take from the race, from the aid stations, getting in legitimate runners ways and in some circumstances may require first aid, taking away from those that are allowed to be there. They also may course trouble with race organisers because the may break licensing and/or invalidate insurance which is tied to the number of runners on the course.

However, the 'Bandit' Jason was describing wasn't attempting to take from the race, but give to it. They would start from the back of the field, help other runners, pick up litter, not take aid either from the water stations or medically. They also wouldn't cross the line. The would pull up just before the finish and just walk away.

A lot of people didn't understand why you would do this, when you could just volunteer, or even, enter the race and still do these things. I think the reason I could see the point behind 'volunteer banditing' was because I could see where Jason was coming from. It's all about personal validation and getting something back. Or in the case of Volunteer Banditing - Not.

I have been to many races and I appreciate the volunteers immensely. The race couldn't happen without them. However, when you look at the volunteers, what do you see?

You see those that generally want to help for nothing more than the shout out at the end and are able to post a picture of themselves on Facebook. You have the high-school kids who are helping out to gain extra credit for their CV or college application. You see other runners who will get a free entry for the next years race for volunteering. There are the friends or family of the race organisers, who are doing a favour. You have those that volunteer or work or the charity involved.

They are all admirable reasons, but they are still reasons. If you took all of those out of the equation, how many volunteers would you have that have just 'done it'. I wonder.

When you volunteer, you are placed in positions and you don't deviate. You have a specific role that is attached to you and you perform that role to hundreds or thousands of runners. You are a fleeting blur (although an appreciated one) in their race.

I think the point Jason was getting at, was that the 'Volunteer Bandits' would be the opposite of these principles. I likened the idea to the group 'Anoynomous'. Admittedly, some of the things this group does are frowned upon --but so is Banditing a race-- but there is a reason for their actions and they do it without recognition or benefit. They are attempting to change the way we act, the way we view our society and right social wrongs. They are there when you need them and then disappear. They chose who they help and when. You never know who they are, but they have tried to change circumstances, albeit in seemingly socially unacceptable ways.

This is how I see it. I have run races where I have run with no goal. I have tried to help other runners and tried to give more back instead of taking. However, at the end of the day I wasn't truly anonymous. I had a bib number; I could be traced. I ran the race and I received the cheers at the end. I took appreciation from the people I helped and I blogged about it, to the 'pats on the back' from my friends.

So in fairness, although I gave to the race with no intention of taking, I still received back more than I gave. I gained personal validation and appreciation.

If you bandit a race then you have NO number. If you don't finish the race, then you disappear without ever leaving a mark. I have to admit I have never bandited a race, but I am fairly sure you don't give your name to people on the course.You help but you are never traced. You don't blog about it, you don't post about it. As far as everyone is concerned you spent the morning in your PJ's, eating raisin toast and watching TV.

I like this idea. It challenges the concept that we should always 'get something in return' but in a way that challenges the idea that this can ONLY be done in acceptable ways. Sometimes we have to remember that to change the dynamics of society, we have to go outside of convention to do it.

I accept that this won't work in some cases. On an open course of a small race, then this idea would be easy. You usually have lots of other runners around, not related to the race and you can't prevent them from running the same route. On a closed course --especially if the race is large-- then this is harder. By banditing a race, you are invalidating the races insurances and permit - which are there for a reason. This then becomes taking away from the race - you are ensuring that next year the organisers won't be able to setup the race because they can't get insurance or permits again. At this point, if you want to be 'volunteer bandit', you may have to work within the rules a little. Register, enter the course, but don't wear your bib, or turn it around so the number isn't visable. Place the number on a shirt and cover it up with another one; something I have actually done. Follow the same principles: Enter at the back; don't run to win; help along the course; and then don't cross the line.

The idea is to challenge societies concept that you can only help if you gain something in return. You are challenging the notion that the good in society can only happen if its traceable and noted.

I know this idea seems stupid, infantile and probably unhelpful to most runners out there. People would say we are acting like six-year-olds. Yes, but  frankly that's me all over. However, we have to remember that if we want to change the world we sometimes have think outside of convention, and frankly when we think about it, how conventional is a  six-year-old?

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