Hi, everyone! Today I want to offer some practical advice on a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: running etiquette. Sometimes, when we’re out on a run or focused on our race, it can be easy to put on the blinders and forget about everything except ourselves and our pace. However, running is a community and therefore involves social interaction, and how we act towards others matters. So today, I want to offer some tips on how to practice good etiquette for running and racing.
There’s an adage in hiking and camping that should hold true for running, cycling, and any other outdoor sport as well: leave no trace. Yet so many runners will mindlessly drop their Honey Stinger wrappers, empty water bottles, and even Kleenex to the side of their running route.
God didn’t give us beautiful trees, green grass, and rolling hills so we could use them as our own immediately-available trashcan. Littering your gel or chomp wrappers is just plain disrespectful to the environment, any maintenance people, and other athletes out on your running paths. It genuinely angers me when I see litter along the urban trails I run in Seattle. Most running shorts contain pockets, so just stash your wrapper in there when you’re done. If your shorts don’t have pockets and you’re not wearing a fuel belt, then just hold onto it until you find a trashcan. Yes, it is a small inconvenience, but it shows a lot of respect for the earth and for others.
This also applies to races. Most races will have clean up crews, but that does not mean you should make their job harder. Again, this is about courtesy and respect. You won’t miss your goal if you use a tiny bit of energy to put your gel wrapper back into your pocket. While it is more acceptable to toss your paper cup from an aid station, do so near the aid station and out of the path, so no one trips on it and the volunteers can easily retrieve it.
And if you’re trail running: please for the love of running do not litter while trail running. You’re not just sharing those trails with people; you’re sharing them with animals. Stash it and trash it later.
If you think I’m exaggerating and getting upset over nothing, I picked up the litter in the below photos over just the last 2 miles of a 10 mile run. After I took the photo, I also found a beer can and another candy bar wrapper. And this is in Seattle, one of the least littered places I’ve lived.
Smile and Greet Other Runners
St. Therese of Lisieux wisely stated, “A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.” It takes about one second and approximately 0.0005 calories of effort (arbitrary and made-up statistic, but you get the point) to smile at another runner, walker, or cyclist, even when you’re giving your all in a hard workout. You’re sharing the trail with them, so it’s common courtesy to greet them. The other person may ignore you, but your act of kindness still may have made a difference in their day. Other people will smile and greet you back. You never know the how much impact kindness can have on a person, but it’s never a negative impact. So smile, say hi, and be kind to those whom you see out on your run.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Chances are, whether you’re out for your daily run or running a race, you’re not the only person getting in their miles. Move over to the right if someone wants to pass you, or, if you are the one doing the pass, speak clearly to give the other runner a heads-up that you are passing on their left.
If you’re running with your dog, please keep him or her on a leash. You all know I love dogs, but most dogs can get very friendly and do not comprehend personal boundaries. Not everyone will appreciate your four-legged running buddy jumping on them. Charlie always runs and hikes on a leash so we can control him, because he wants to be everyone’s friend. (He also wants to race every cyclist that passes us on the urban trails, but that’s another story.)
When you line up for a race, be mindful of where you place yourself in the corral. Faster runners should line up in front and slower runners near the back. I’m not saying this to give preference to faster runners; it’s simply creates a better race experience for both groups. Faster runners won’t get slowed down and have to dodge slower runners, while slower runs won’t experience faster runs crowding in on them. If you’re running with a group of friends, don’t form a solid line that prevents other runners from passing.
And (this shouldn’t be need to be said, but it bears stating), be mindful of when you blow snot rockets. There’s no shame it doing it, and we all know we do it. Just don’t blow your snot rocket right when you’re passing another runner or in a crowded pack. The same goes for if you need to spit. That’s disgusting even for those of us whose favorite pastimes includes getting remarkably drenched in sweat.
Want to know more about race day etiquette? Read this post from Run to the Finish!
Think about how tiring a race can be: you get up early, stand outside in the dark and cold, and then run for anywhere from 3.1 to 26.2 miles. While volunteers are not doing the running part, they are still up early, standing outside for hours in sometimes inclement weather, and working their hardest to make the race easier for you. While you can go home once you cross the finish line, the volunteers stay there until every single runner has finished or the course has officially closed. Race volunteers work hard and deserve our gratitude!
So next time you’re at a race, be kind and gracious to the volunteers. Thank them, smile at them, and try to avoid giving them an exasperated or angry glare when you ask for water and they hand you Gatorade (yes, I admit that I did that once, and later I felt awful about it). If you see a volunteer after the race, personally go up and thank them for their time and service.
Treat spectators with kindness as well! I always tell Ryan that his job of spectating, take photos, and carrying my stuff around is much more work than my running, especially at a race such as the Valparaiso Half Marathon where it was 30 degrees and windy. Seriously, I can’t express my gratitude enough for what he does to support me during a race. Smile and wave at spectators and thank them – they came out of the kindness of their hearts, so return that kindness to them!
For the sake of brevity, I didn’t mention other issues of etiquette that should be common sense, such as not hogging the road or trail when running in a group, yielding to drivers, and not going to the bathroom in someone’s bushes. For a thorough overview of running etiquette, check out this guide from the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).
At the end of the day, it’s not hard to practice courtesy and good etiquette for running and racing. It barely takes any effort and, even if it were to slow you down it would be worth it to show respect and kindness to others. Not everyone is perfect all of the time, but every little effort matters!
Questions of the Day:
What would you add to this list?
Have you ever had an awful experience of poor racing or running etiquette?