I checked five races today.  I found 6 men in womens category top three.

It seems that every running group I’m in on facebook has posts asking for race bibs.  I removed myself from a lot of them because I struggle not to speak my mind, I disagree with it quite strongly and there’s a really good Runner’s World article that explains why better than I ever can (And it’s great to see some running clubs sharing it with their members).

I like facts though.  I know first hand that bib swaps cause issues for runners and race directors (I’ve had friends miss out on winning prizes because a man in a women’s bib finished ahead of them and I’ve also heard first hand accounts of race organisers who have had to watch finish line videos many many times to make sure all the men and women are in the right category) but I like numbers.  When I got stuck on the chair today I decided to check a few races to see how big an issue it actually is.

I decided to only check the results of the top three women in every age category.  If Joe Bloggs makes a woman place 67th instead of 66th then it’s hard to argue that it’s had an impact but I think most people will agree that being deprived a top three position for your age group is a big deal, even if there isn’t any prizes.  I checked each runner against their race photos and made sure the bib number matched. Any runner that was obviously male was highlighted.

So far I’ve checked 5 races.  Out of the 5 there was only one race where the top three females in each category were female.  I found six men.  Three of them had gender neutral names so it could just be a typo when entering or an admin error.  The other three were clearly bib swaps, one of them even crossed out the name.  Each of these three men (who all coincidently did a lot of photo posing whilst they were running) took a top three position from a woman behind them and I’ve only checked 5 races.  I believe that there was also a few women much younger than the age category that they were in too but it’s a lot harder to judge than gender.  One of the races also had 10 women with no photos so there could be more.

The biggest argument I always hear for bib swapping is that races don’t allow transfers (Which is moot anyway because you agreed to the T&C’s when you entered) but one of the races I checked actually does allow transfers and there was still a man running with a woman’s bib.  He weren’t 55 either.  Perhaps he wouldn’t be fist pumping the camera if he knew that somewhere behind him is a lady who should have been in the top three of her age category but wasn’t.

I plan to send all the ones I found to the relevant race directors but I’m not sure what if any action they can do now.  It goes beyond the race too, I spoke to someone recently who had to go through race photos to prove that she was the 1st V60 lady at her race otherwise she’s lose out on both the prize for that race and the points it would give her for the local Grand Prix.  I doubt the young lady in this case knew the impact of her actions or how much time it took to correct it.

Bib swapping is going to happen, it’s pretty impossible to stop, but unless you make sure that the person you are getting your bib off is the same gender and age category as you how do you know that you’re not screwing up the results for someone else (EDIT: I should add that races often have different age categories)? How would you feel if your top three position was taken away by someone else? (You also need to check that the person who’s bib you have also doesn’t have any medical conditions or allergies too and fill in the back of your bib).