The Boston Marathon's Black Market

boston marathon runnersBoston Marathon runners (Photo via Christopher S. Penn/Flickr)

With a month to go before the 116th running of the Boston marathon, the seasonal black market is beginning to pick up. As just about everyone knows, bib numbers for qualifying runners get snapped up hella quick, and the only option left for late-to-the-gamers is to rely on the kindness of strangers pony up mightly for your chance to officially run the race.

Exhibit A: Boston’s Craigslist, where potential buyers peddle their qualifications and promise to do your name and number right, such as this one:

I am looking to buy a bib number for the upcoming Boston Marathon 2012. I have run 2 marathons before, both under 3:40. I am a healthy, local 22 year old female who really wants to run Boston in April 2012. If for some unfortunate reason you are unable to run, I would be honored to run for you (and make you proud)! If at all interested, please email! I would greatly appreciate it!

Exhibit B: The very next listing, where dealers push their remaining numbers for increasingly fabulous prices. To wit, the Town of Wellesley:

The Town of Wellesley has 4 invitational entries remaining for the 2012 Boston Marathon. Runners must commit to raise a minimum of $4,000 to benefit either Friends of Wellesley METCO, Inc. ( or Wellesley “A Better Chance” (www.wellesleyabc.or)

I’ve been watching this all week, and the last round went for a promise to raise $3,000, which is pretty much tantamount to paying $3,000, no questions asked. That posting has been removed already, so either the Boston Athletic Association is policing it, or some runner figured that $3,000 was small potatoes for a chance to run Boston.

And keep in mind there’s still more than a month to go before the starting gun on Marathon Monday, which falls on April 16 this year. I suspect the prices will go up as those with bibs realize the value of what they’re holding, and those with dreams realize what it’s worth to them. That’s simple supply and demand, the underground economics of the Boston Marathon.

  • Dave

    The sale of invitational entries is not a black market. It is sanctioned by the BAA and is a fantastic way to contribute to a great cause. The minimum donation is set by the BAA – in 2012 it is $4,000.

    Transfer of entries by other means (like craigslist) is not sanctioned though, though I’m sure the BAA finds it hard to police this.

    • Charlie

      Sale of bibs happens in every sell-out race. After the Broad Street Run in Philly sold out in a few hours, bibs were for sale on Craigslist for 3-4 times the original cost. It’s like concert tickets. Scalpers will buy the bibs and sell them for a substantial profit because people will pay the price. Not sure how the races can stop this and race organizers don’t have an incentive to stop the secondary market since they already have been paid.

  • Yo Momma Runs

    Some races I have been to check your ID. Wouldn’t that help prevent bib transfers on the black market? Seems like a pretty simple solution.

  • Sandy

    Nearly every race I’ve been to lately checks photo IDs at bib pick-up, but that would not prevent transfer after pick-up and before race time. They should allow for legal transfer as Marine Corps Marathon did (not sure if they still do) back in 2003. I was injured and could not run MCM. I contacted them and they put me in touch with a guy from their official waiting list. He paid me the entry fee. They registered him instead and he got the number. Great system for both of us from my perspective. I’d like to see that in more races.