Marathon Officials Relying on Runners to Stop Black Market Bib Sales

With their hands tied making sure the event is safe for everyone involved, they trust the community will follow the rules.

boston marathon kenmore square

Kenmore Square on race day

It’s an issue that comes up nearly every year: as the demand to take part in the Boston Marathon increases, people are willing to shell out thousands of dollars at the last minute for marathon bibs on the “black market,” crossing their fingers that someone will be willing to part ways with their entry into one of the most celebrated road races in the world.

“I would be very appreciative if for some reason you cannot run this year’s marathon if you would consider letting me run in your place. I have saved some money and can donate up to $800 to the charity of your choice,” one person wrote in a Craigslist ad posted on April 2. And there are more than a dozen other posts just like it.

But in the wake of last year’s tragedy, the Boston Athletic Association has more pressing matters on their hands, and chasing down vigilante bib-sellers isn’t sitting at the top of their list anymore. “We will rely on the integrity of people running in the race [not to sell their bibs],” said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. “We place a very heavy emphasis on showing our respect for the people who honor us and qualify for this race.”

Grilk said he’s aware that sales happen year-to-year, but the BAA is focused on making sure the 2014 race is safe and successful. He said he couldn’t quantify how often black market bib transactions were taking place, but this year, the association isn’t putting as many resources into looking for unqualified runners hoping to hop in the race at the last minute.

In 2013, Boston Athletic Association officials told Boston that they perused the Internet and sometimes asked people either buying or selling numbers not to do so, citing safety and security concerns. “We have people that monitor those [Craigslist and eBay] … and we try and basically keep track of those people attempting to sell their number,” said Marc Davis, communications manager for the BAA.

In 2014, Grilk said the association is more focused on “if we have water and Gatorade available to the runners, and that we can take care of them at the finish line.”

Those things matter, he said. “We don’t go chasing after people. Our focus is on the people who are behaving and coming here to run the race, rather than charging off at the margins looking for people who misbehave. Most people don’t; the people who run are a very honorable group of people.”

Based on the significance of the 2014 race, securing a bib has been hard. Early on, reports indicated that although additional slots were added because of increased interest, and to give those who were stopped before the finish line last year another shot to run, available bibs were acquired by runners rather quickly. Advertisements offering up bib numbers to strangers on sites like Craigslist have been minimal, but the requests to buy them remains high.

On a message board, one runner who missed qualifying for this year’s race (by just over a minute) was willing to throw down $3,000 to a charity of a bib-owner’s choice in exchange for a chance to participate in the marathon. “Want to go back and run!!,” the person wrote. And on Craigslist, the “wanted” submissions seem to be coming in almost daily. “I’ve trained very hard all winter and have had a few bib numbers fall through. If you have a number and can’t run I will take your bib,” one person wrote on Craigslist.

Grilk said that while there isn’t much the BAA can do to stop people from exchanging bibs, all runners will still be subject to the same security checks as everyone else come race day. “If you are to hand your race number to someone else, they would still have to admit to the same security checks as anyone else, so there would be no violation of the security policy,” Grilk said.

Regardless, he remains confident that runners will use their best judgment. “There is a sense of honor and respect [with our runners]. Right now, I’m worried about a great many other things,” he said.