SUMMARY: If you can’t run in a race you’ve entered and the organisers won’t allow an official name swap or refund, officially you should not pass on your entry to someone else as it will affect statistics, prize giving and insurance. If you decide to ignore this, then at least make sure you give your place to someone who will run at a pace slow enough for them to not place in the top 10 of their age category or gender, e.g. if you are a female over 50, don’t give away your place to a 20-something-year-old runner who can do a 10K in under 40 minutes. Someone who has worked hard to get a prize will miss out – it does happen and is very frustrating for those on the receiving end as well as the organisers. If found out, both you and the original entrant may be banned from future races.

Most of us have been there before, you’ve booked on to a race, training is going well and then just before race day, whether it’s down to illness, injury, or otherwise, decide to pull out.

What next?

Full body castThere doesn’t appear to be any rules on what race organisers have to do when this happens. Some will allow you to transfer over the place to another runner via a quick email to the organisers or a form on race day and others will allow you to defer the place to the following year (London Marathon you still have to pay again the following year!). However, it seems a large majority don’t allow you to swap the name of the entry. It seems that this flexibility correlates with the size of the race; the bigger the race, the less chance there will be of being able to give away or sell your place.

Why are organisers so restrictive?

Having helped to organise many races now, I know first hand how frustrating it is to deal with people pulling out of the race. In the few days leading up to the race when you’re trying to get everything ready for race day, printing lists for registration, preparing spreadsheets for the results and a whole host of other tasks, the last thing you want is scores of runners contacting you by text, email, social media or in person, asking for you to swap their entry to their mate. It is a time consuming job and, as the size of the field grows, the larger this task becomes.

As well as the administrative burden, there’s also a financial impact. There seems to be a rule-of-thumb that around 10% of those that enter a race, won’t turn up on race day. This obviously varies depending on the event, but it has held true on most races I’ve helped to organise. As races go from year to year, organisers will be able to predict quite well how many will pull out of the race and they’ll be able to use this to allow more entrants, generating more income. This may be either for:

  • Earning more profit for the organisers (probably)
  • Raising more money to be donated to charities (possibly)
  • Helps organisers keep a lower entry fee (unlikely)

Now for a bit of maths to put it in context…

A race with 3000 entrants at £20 each will raise £60k. If they lose 10% of runners on the day, there will be 2700 running and 300 spare medals at the end! So they allow 10% more entries, which will raise an extra £6k and no wastage on medals! You can see why they’d do that!

If a race allowed all of those 10% to swap their entry to someone else, then it scuppers their plans and they won’t have a clear idea of how many will be running on the day. So, by restricting runners it reduces their admin overheads and maximises income.

What are the consequences of someone running under your entry?

PodiumIt seems innocent enough, you think: “Well I’ve paid for the entry, someone may as well get to enjoy the race and get the medal you’ve already paid for!” However, giving your number to someone has some consequences that can be quite serious that you should bear in mind:

  • If a medical emergency occured, there could be potential mix-ups. The organisers may get in touch with your emergency contact, leading to panic and/or confusion. They may use your medical notes entered at the time of entry, which could have disastrous consequences.
  • Any insurance may be void should anything happen to the replacement runner.
  • The person running under your entry may be a fast runner and end up winning a prize for your age group or gender, meaning the actual winner will miss out on their receiving or being presented with their hard earned prize.
  • The results will be inaccurate, especially the finish positions based on gender/age category.
  • The performance will show up on your Power of 10 profile and may affect your Run Britain Ranking.
  • The performance may affect the rankings on Power of 10 for the original entrant’s age/gender category.

Granted, if you give your number to a runner that is unlikely to affect the top 10 results in your category and doesn’t have any medical issues on race day, then the swap will likely go unnoticed and not cause any major issues.

However, there have been a few incidents that have come to light that have affected the club or its members:

  • At the Droitwich Half Marathon a few years back, the first and second female finishers were actually male BPJ runners that had taken numbers off female runners. One let the organisers know straight after they crossed the finish line, however, one didn’t. This caused problems with prize-giving and the committee received a complaint from the organisers.
  • At the Worcester 10K this year, one of the male veteran category prizes should have gone to one of our runners, who trained hard, ran an exceptional time and deserved to receive the prize. After finding out in the results that they came 2nd in their category, looked a little further and realised the winner was actually a runner around half their age. They were eventually awarded the prize after the original entrant contacted the organisers to apologise and the results were amended accordingly. However it took the shine off what should have been a happy moment.

When someone gives away their number, they don’t expect anything like these situations to occur, they just want someone to enjoy the race when they are unable to. However, all these issues should be considered before giving away or selling your number.

So, what’s the official club policy?

The official club policy is for runners to adhere to the rules. If a race organiser says you can’t give your number to someone else, then don’t.

If you don’t like the rule, then by all means, contact the organisers and let them know your frustrations. If enough people complained, then maybe more organisers might look at their policies on swapping numbers in the future. Perhaps only enter races that do allow this flexibility. It is usually smaller races, organised by local clubs and charities, with proceeds going to good causes, rather than businesses that organise races for profit.

However, if you still want to give away your number and not let the entry go to waste, we do not condone it, but please, please, please, at least adhere to the following advice:

  • Do not give your number to someone that is likely to run a time that is likely to result in a top 10 finish for your age category or gender. Preferably give the place away to someone in the same category as yourself or at least the same gender. Find out what time the replacement runner is likely to run. If you are an MV60 runner, do not give your entry to a MV35 runner that can run a 37min 10K, if you are an FV60 runner, a 50min 10K might affect the prizes and rankings.
  • Ensure that the replacement runner fills in the emergency contact and medical details on the back of the race number. If you specified emergency contact details when you entered, let that person know what is going on to avoid confusion.