Dear Dumb Runner,
I was dumbfounded recently, when, after a spinning class, a woman started effusing about how EXCITED she is to be running the New York City Marathon. Here's the deal: she's using her BFF's bib. "It's sooooo hard to get into," she explained, "but my bestie knew how badly I wanted to do it, so she qualified and gave me her number." The general response in the room was "Oh, what a great friend." I bit my tongue. I know this woman was dumb for over-sharing, but was I dumb for not saying anything? Is there a smart way to be holier than thou?—Carol F., Colorado
It is not the "New York City Marathon," as you so cavalierly refer to it. It is the TCS New York City Marathon, and the people at Thomasville City Schools paid good money for that privilege. We must respect that.
Now on to your question.
I don't think it's being "holier than thou" to call out cheating when we see it. (And yeah, racing with someone else's bib number is cheating—especially at a big event like NYC.) Staying quiet amounts to tacit approval. It normalizes and helps to perpetuate bad behavior.
Is using a friend's bib the worst thing in the world? Of course not. But it's a shabby thing to do. It's unfair to other runners who truly earned their spots, not to mention those who failed to earn a spot and aren't running, and it can even be dangerous.
This doesn't mean you should make a big deal of it. You shouldn't. The trick is to make your objections heard without coming across as what etiquette experts call an "asshole."
First, try to keep your self-righteous indignation in check. No one likes a sanctimonious scold. Second, begin your conversation with a positive tone—e.g., "New York is a great race! Several friends of mine have run it"—before getting to the point. Third, approach the topic from the right perspective. Think less "you're doing something wrong" and more "that can be dangerous, and it's sort of unfair to other runners."
You can, and probably should, mention that speaking up like this isn't easy for you but that you felt compelled to do so.
Ideally this conversation will happen privately, one-on-one. Being reprimanded, even very politely, in front of others will only embarrass and humiliate.