Marathon Organizers Ban Runner for … Running

A 56-year-old Wisconsin woman who ran in May's Madison Marathon without registering or paying a fee has been "permanently banned" from the event by race organizers. In the parlance of the sport, Ramona Villarreal was a "bandit," according to Isthmus, Madison's weekly newspaper. And as a result, marathon officials intend to take a tougher stance against freeloading runners in the future, using volunteers to identify bandits so they can be ejected. "We have to keep this secure for registered participants," said Rita Kelliher, president of Madison Festivals Inc., which sponsored the marathon.

Villarreal - who has competed in Ironman competitions and an estimated 10 Madison Marathons - apparently tried to register onsite but was told that the 5,100 slots for the half-marathon filled up earlier that day. So Villarreal told Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders that she offered to register for the full 26.2-mile event and only run half, but she was refused. (The fee at that time was $105 for the full race and $85 for half.) That's when the runner took it upon herself to enter the race anyway, not interfering with other participants and drinking water or refreshments supplied only by family members - not marathon organizers.

Villarreal claimed she saw several other runners that day without numbered bibs and assumed they also didn't register, although Kelliher told Lueders that some registered runners lacked bibs. Villarreal was caught only because Kelliher recognized her two months later while looking at photos from the marathon. She claimed that Villarreal's presence posed liability concerns, saying that Villarreal "could have keeled over, and we wouldn't have any identifying information."

As AB's Paul Steinbach life-saving precautions in extreme heat and participants bent on taking performance-enhancing drugs. But they've also been cracking down on allegedly renegade runners lately. The top two female finishers in last October's Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee, for example, were disqualified for listening to an iPod and taking a water bottle from a friend outside an official aid station. More understandable was the disqualification in June of 69-year-old Anthony Gaskell from April's London Marathon after event organizers learned her took a 10-mile shortcut while walking to the finish line.

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