Chicago Marathon Security restrictions prohibit friends running along

In past years Chicago Marathon participants could have someone join them along the race course and run a few miles for encouragement and fellowship. As long as the “spectator” didn’t start with the runner or attempt to run through the finish line, a blind eye was turned toward these runner helpers (I call them Gunners although that is not an official term.) Not to be confused with Bandits — people who run a race without officially signing up (and paying the entry fee) — these Gunners can be instrumental in someone’s marathon success.

One year that I ran the marathon I had a friend meet me at Mile 20. I don’t remember for certain but I think he used a bib from a previous year (like no one has thought of that right?) and he ran me in those last 6 miles. My gunner was awesome in that he was extremely positive and would not let me quit or slow down, thus making sure I got a new PR for the race.

Unfortunately, for safety and security, spectators will not be allowed to join a runner on the course as it winds through 29 Chicago neighborhoods. Undercover officers will be in the crowd and video surveillance will be used Source. I specifically emailed the following question to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Q&A inbox:

Question: Is it possible for someone to run with someone along a portion of the race course? Say from Mile 20-25?
Response from BoA Chicago Marathon: Definitely not. There will be spotters this year looking to runners without the event issued bib.

I understand why it has to be this way , I — like many runners — just don’t like it. The risk-to-reward-ratio is entirely out of whack. Preventing someone from joining their friend on a 26 mile race course in order to thwart a potential terrorist is like locking one door while leaving all the windows of your house open to stop a thief; There are so many more options available to bad guys.

Time for a Marathon Bib Transfer Program

Several of my friends registered for the Chicago Marathon and now for various reasons, cannot participate. Some are injured or ill, some are undertrained, some have physically relocated. When I ran my first marathon in 1998, you could wait to sign up until the month before the race to determine if you were really to run. By then you would have completed at least one 20 mile run and if you felt it wasn’t going to happen you were not out race fees. A few years later, the race started closing earlier and earlier. Today you have to register while there is still snow on the ground and hope you can get in.

Basically there is a big commitment of time, energy and resources for a person to train for a marathon, and it stinks if Life comes along and throws a wrench into your monkey that prevents you from running it. The Chicago Marathon’s official stance is that you cannot trade or transfer your bib and there is no deferral option. The dubious reason given is for insurance purposes. Apparently if something happens to you while you’re running under someone else’s name, you wouldn’t be covered by the insurance policy and I suppose technically the waiver “you” signed wouldn’t apply.

It’s an unfortunate situation especially since the entry fee is almost $200 these days. Which means people are gonna do it anyway. The risk of getting caught is low and the desire to recover at least some of your money usually outweighs any moral dilemmas.

The Powers-That-Be at the Chicago Marathon should really just accept it and come up with a system to transfer or defer your entry. They could charge a modest fee and impose a limit such as must be done at least 30 days before the marathon and limited to 500 people. I’m certain the technology exists since the New York Marathon use to let you defer and other races allow you to switch from one event to another.

However, just like the Cubs will probably never have to worry about attendance, the Chicago Marathon will never have to appease the average runner as long as it keeps attracting the elite world record changers. It’s a shame because the Chicago Marathon is an otherwise World Class event that falls short in this one “user-friendly” area. A- Cary Pinkowski.


And with all the concern for security, this supports my point. The spotters may be able to pick out someone jumping in from the crowd but they are never going to be able to tell if someone is an original registered participant or someone who bought a bib on Craigslist last minute. Which makes all the more case for implementing a bib Transfer System. Today, the risk of getting caught is low and the reward — injured participant getting their money back and person who missed registration getting to run the race — is high.

If there were a nominal fee for transferring your Bib, I think most people would pay it if it meant 1) registered participants who couldn’t run get most of their money back and 2) people who didn’t get to register get a chance to run Chicago. And if you let them defer for a year, that’s even fewer potential bandits.

It’s obviously too late to implement this year, but the Powers-That-Be at the Chicago Marathon should consider this for future marathons.
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