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Where do we draw the line?

Carolyn Green | Thursday, September 20, 2012

Like most other sports, running has its share of scandal and controversy. For instance, a quick Internet search of the phrase “bandit running” produces over 15 million results, with hundreds of opinionated blogs debating the ethics of running a race as a “bandit.”
For those who have never heard the term, or for those who have more important things to do than read the USA Track and Field “Road Racing Rules and Etiquette” guide, bandit running may be defined as participating in a race without registering for it. According to said USATF guide, “The term ‘thief’ would be more appropriate. These uncaring individuals cause numerous problems for race officials at the start, during and at the finish of a road race.”
Runners’ opinions of bandits vary. Some race directors bemoan the extra, unaccounted-for numbers of runners on already crowded city streets, and the draining of resources by unregistered runners who take a swig of Gatorade or swipe a bagel from the finisher’s table.
However, other races, the Boston Marathon included, allow and even acknowledge bandits. Despite not receiving a medal, official time, certificate or t-shirt, thousands of people run the Boston Marathon unregistered. They may have planned to run the race all year, and then missed the qualifying time by two seconds, or they may jump in to run the last 6.2 miles with a son or daughter. Since the 1970s, a dedicated group of runners and artists has “bandited” the Boston Marathon. They run in the back of the pack, and call themselves the “Red Snakes,” because, as director Gary Tucker says, “They’re hard to kill, and very passionate.”
Runners sure are a passionate bunch, which may be why they get so fired up about the latest polemical topic in their sport. Most recently, the Chicago Marathon has been a subject of conversation for its decision to ban Lance Armstrong from running the marathon this October.  According to race officials, Armstrong had never formally registered for the race, but would have run as a member of Livestrong’s charity team, part of a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Just a few weeks ago, Lance Armstrong surrendered in his fight against charges that he had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. In a statement, Armstrong said, “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’  For me, that time is now.” According to Armstrong, “this nonsense” had simply taken too much of a toll on his family and his efforts for his cancer foundation.
According to the World Anti-Doping Code, Armstrong’s decision will strip him of his seven Tour de France titles, his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics, and all other titles, awards and money won since August 1998. Furthermore, and of significance to the Chicago Marathon, Armstrong will also be barred for life from competing, coaching or having any official role with any sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code.              
Brett Cavanaugh, a Notre Dame senior, runner and fan of Lance Armstrong since childhood, says, “While I do not support the use of performance-enhancing drugs, I find it unfortunate that Lance will not be allowed to race in Chicago. He was hoping to run to raise money for his foundation. There will be close to 40,000 finishers in Chicago, some of whom are using PEDs. While top finishers will take a drug test after the race, people like you or I do not have to.”
The Chicago Marathon abides strictly by USATF code. Besides increasing the reputation of the race around the world, USATF sanctions guarantee that race results and records are nationally recognized. These rules and regulations remain the same for all runners, elite or amateur, bandit or non-bandit, performance-enhanced or drug-free.
Regardless of one’s opinions of performance enhancing drugs, and the charges against Lance Armstrong, the Chicago Marathon’s refusal to allow Armstrong to run in this year’s race is an undeniable blow against an already broken man.  
Carolyn Green is the student director of the Holy Half Marathon. She can be reached at [email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.