The Bandit and the Big Race
After two years of watching, tackling the Marathon
Topping out at about five feet, petite Zoe Shei looks like a very unlikely bandit. But that’s exactly what she’ll be on Marathon day.
Shei (COM’10) is running the 114th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 19, without having qualified or raised money for a charitable cause. She will be one of an estimated 2,000 bandits who make the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Copley Plaza without a bib number.
“I’d like to see it as the great event to end my senior year at BU,” says Shei, a public relations major and one of several BU Running Club members tackling the race.
The Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which organizes the marathon, publicly regards bandit running as something less than a great event. The BAA advises against unofficial running, arguing that bandits drain the limited resources provided for legitimate runners. But the number of bandit runners has been growing for decades, and race officials turn a blind eye to unofficial competitors, and spectators cheer everyone on, official number or not.
Shei isn’t worried about officials pulling her aside or refusing her drinks, medical care, or protection.
“In my two years of experience volunteering for the Boston Marathon, I have never seen anyone denied water or drinks,” she says. “Last year, I volunteered at the last mile mark, where people were helping all runners stretch.”
Boston is Shei’s first full marathon, but it’s hardly the first time she’s raced. The Long Island native ran track and cross country in middle and high school, and she took naturally to the grueling 3,000-meter event.
“I was just not into sprinting at all,” she remembers.
Shei also ran, officially, the New York Road Runners Half-Marathon Grand Prix Bronx on a muggy, 80-degree summer day, placing ninth overall among youth. And she ran bandit (escaping an $80 registration fee) with two BU friends the next summer in Nike’s New York City Half Marathon, where they weaved through Times Square and Central Park and looped down to Battery Park.
One of her most recent races was the Pretzel City Sports Half-Wit Half Marathon, set along a hilly, wood chip–covered trail in Reading, Pa. Race organizers occasionally post such inspirational signs as, “You’re going to face death.” Surviving that, she made a mental note to drop trail races.
Shei, who has wanted to run the marathon since she arrived at BU four years ago, has managed to wedge her training runs in between classes, résumé-writing, job-hunting, and other activities on the must-do-before-graduation list. One of the side benefits of her training, she says, is that her runs have brought her to many parts of Boston she might never have seen, from the Esplanade and the hills of Boston College to Dorchester and Jamaica Plain’s Arnold Arboretum.
Once, plodding along with a friend, she ran to Watertown by accident.
“That’s what’s great about running in Boston,” Shei says. “It’s so connected.”
She has few complaints about the training process (occasional hamstring tightness and knee pain aside), and she says she finds a connection between running and her spiritual life. Both give her a deep sense of peace, joy, and encouragement, while teaching her humility and perseverance through hard times.
All these lessons are necessary if she intends to conquer Boston, one of the toughest courses in the marathon world. She hopes to maintain a nine-minute-mile and finish under four hours.
She hasn’t told many people she plans to run on Monday, Shei says. For her, the marathon isn’t so much about being seen as about being part of the scene.
“There’s so much unity,” she says. “There is just so much pride in the city.”5 Comments