It’s a crowded course out there. Follow these rules of the road to keep the peace while pounding the pavement
With more Americans running than ever before, it can get crowded out there on the running paths. And toeing the line in a race means sharing the road with as many as 50,000 other sweaty people. We asked for your biggest pet peeves, and you answered. “Running with thousands of others requires tolerance and consideration,” said Jill Bent of Austin, Texas via Facebook. These 15 rules of the road address the biggest blunders that drive runners to madness. We’re all probably guilty of at least one (runfie, anyone?). But when it comes to running and racing etiquette, it seems the Golden Rule applies. Take heed the next time you lace up your shoes.
Without question, runners jumping corrals is the most reviled etiquette breach out there. Do everyone a favor—yourself included—and start in your assigned corral. That goes for slower and faster folks. If the race doesn’t have corrals, line up according to speed. “Know where to place yourself and be honest!” says Kelly Hewitt, a runner from Ontario, via Twitter.
If you run 7-minute miles or faster, feel free to line up front. If you’re running 9- to 11-minute miles—the pace range for America’s median finish times from 5k to the marathon, according to Running USA—line up in the middle. Walkers should queue at the very back. Everyone else should seed themselves around those three spots.
If you’re a late-to-the-start speedster, be considerate as you weave your way through slower folks. Don’t let your tardiness be an excuse to pass on the right. “I stay all the way to the right unless I'm passing someone, so be respectful of me too,” says Bernie Weiss via Facebook.
Every marathoner dreads hitting the wall—that moment when your body runs out of steam. But there’s another kind of dreaded wall—the wall of runners three, four, or even five wide. “I'm all for conversation, but please don't form a fence,” says Pittsburgh-based runner and crime fiction novelist J.J. Hensley via Twitter. A running or walking fence is a nuisance on the course, trail, or path, making it very hard for other runners to navigate, especially when its crowded. Run in pairs at most. If you’re with a large group, buddy up or form a column. It will be much easier for others to maneuver.
Stopping suddenly in the middle of a stream of runners—whether you’re in a race, on a busy trail, or crowded recreation path—is a great way to get run over. “I've ‘run’ over quite a few people that way,” says Massachusetts-based blogger Danielle Nardi via Facebook. If you need to take a walk break, snap a selfie, or retie a shoelace, move to the right side of the course or path before you stop.
“Please feel free to take walk breaks, but let others know when you're stopping,” says Michigander Lottie Ferguson via Facebook. Glance over your shoulder to make sure you’re not cutting anyone off, and raise a hand to signal that you’re about to slow down.
And please don’t overtake someone only to stop right in front of them. “Whyyyy?!” asks Yvette Raymond, via Facebook, of this pernicious practice. The same goes for the water station. Don’t grab a cup and stop. Keep moving until you can pull to the side.
The running selfie, also known as a “runfie,” has been popping up more and more in social media. But taking pictures while you run can be dangerous. Save the selfie for the side of the road, not mid-course where you could drop your phone and cause a pileup.
“Last race, a lady dropped her phone and halted to a stop right in front of me! I literally had to jump over her and her phone to save myself from a huge crash,” says Lindsey VanDuzen via Facebook. The Hong Kong Marathon even launched a campaign against the practice in 2013 after a selfie-snapping runner dropped her phone and caused a cascade of fallen runners behind her.
Like a car going 45 miles per hour in the left lane on the highway, no one likes a traffic block. As on the interstate, run in the middle or right side of the course and leave the left for faster folks to pass. “No matter how fast someone is, there is always someone faster,” says Sara Espinoza via Facebook. A blocked left side of the course or path leads to another one of runners’ pet peeves: passing on the right. Don’t do it. If you can’t get around to the left, call out, “On your left!” If the runner you’re trying to pass can’t hear you or is ignoring you, tap them gently on the back. Weaving indiscriminantly around slower runners will only tire you out and cause more traffic.
Running is a messy business. We know you’ve got stuff to get rid of— water cups, banana peels, spit, and the occasional snot rocket. If you’ve got something to expel from your hands or body, move to the side of the course, look over your should to make sure you won’t hit anyone, then do your thing. “Spit to the side, please!” says Willa Tam via Facebook.
Would you want a cup of water splashed in your face or loogie hocked onto your shoe? We didn’t think so. While fluids are merely gross, cups, bottles, and fruit peels can be downright dangerous. We don’t want anyone to slip on a banana peel!
We get it: you train with music and you want your favorite playlist with you on race day. And many races allow runners to wear earbuds, even if they discourage it. But when you can’t hear what’s going on around you—guides alerting you to blind, wheelchair, or other racers who need you to give way; traffic on open courses and roads; another passing runner calling out “on your left”; or course officials notifying you to an emergency—you put yourself and other runners in danger. That goes for busy roads, parks, trails, and tracks in training too. “I've almost crashed into a few runners with headphones since they didn't hear people's footsteps,” said New York runner Vera Kuipers via Facebook. If headphones are a must, keep the volume low enough to hear someone talking next to you. Even better, run with just one earbud in. Better yet, trust your training and leave the music at home. You just might enjoy a quiet training run or lively race day atmosphere.
During a big race on closed roads volunteers will likely sweep up after you at water stations and elsewhere along the course. But don’t be a littler bug during training runs, in parks, on nature trails, or at small, sparsely staffed races. Many smaller events are run on open roads through quiet neighborhoods without the resources to mop every step along the way. And that beautiful park you train in should stay beautiful. Littering merely engenders bad will toward the running community. Stash your wrappers in a pocket or belt until you can dispose of them properly. And while you’re at it, thank those volunteers. If you’re out of breath, a smile, nod, or wave goes a long way.
You’re nearing the finish line of a race when suddenly you see the photographer on the other side of the course. Do you dart in front of another runner to grab your shot? That’s a big no-no. Instead of the impulsive dive for the camera, slow your pace and wait your turn if someone is about to reach the photographer right in front of you. If the camera is on the other side of the course, either shrug your shoulders and tell yourself better luck next time, or wait to cross the course only if it’s safe to do so.
You finish in the front of the pack, grab your medal, and then run the course in the opposite direction cheering on runners. While the thought is nice, consider removing your bib and medal before you do. Better yet, stick around the finish or pick one spot to cheer on mid-packers and back-of-the-packers (you can leave your bib and medal on). Many runners find faster folks lapping them demoralizing. “Just stay at the finish line, please. I don't need to see that you're already done WAY ahead of me,” says Susan Falconer Horn via Facebook from Saint Ignace, Michigan. If you’re training for an ultra and need to squeeze in some extra miles, don’t do it along the course.
You might love early ‘90s hip-hop. We certainly do! But not everyone wants to listen to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch mid-run. “More and more I am hearing people with actual speakers at races, so you get to share their music,” says Tory Klementsen of Marysville, Washington, via Facebook. “How rude!” If you must have music, wear earbuds with the music on low.
And is the middle of a 10k really the best time to have a loud, breathy conversation on your cell phone? Just like blasting music from a boom box, blasting your own voice for a 30-minute chat can annoy the other runners around you. Please, empty your pocket of change and jangly keys, and turn down to a whisper your run-walk timer that beeps every 30 seconds. “Not everyone wants to hear your music, pace or distance. Turn it down or wear headphones,” says Lottie Ferguson from Mount Morris, Michigan via Facebook. Your fellow runners will appreciate it.
They say it takes all kinds to make a world. Well, it takes all kinds of runners to make a running community too. You might be a speedster, but that doesn’t mean the slower among us aren’t working just as hard. “We all have different levels of ability, but we are all out there for the same reason,” says Bryan Montgomery via Facebook. Most folks know this, but some, it seems, do not, with slower runners complaining of heckling, rudeness, and other unruly conduct directed at them. “26.2 miles is a marathon whether you do it in under 4 hours or 6 hours like me,” says Jen Feenan via Facebook. “If some one is slower or struggling, a simple pat on the back or a ‘keep it up’ as you run past can work wonders and really boost morale,” says Maria Davis via Facebook.
We know, you’re hungry! You just burned 1300 calories running that half-marathon. But you get one bagel and one banana, one water bottle and one Gatorade. That’s it. There might be dozens, hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of runners behind you who are hungry too. Dwindling supplies at aid stations and the finish line is a common complaint among slower runners and walkers. Help a runner out, and take just one of each.
You and your training buddy might be super competitive in races, but in training you should have each other’s backs. That means pulling each other through hard workouts and going easy on slow days. If you try turning that recovery run into a race, you might not have a training partner for long. “[There’s] nothing worse than getting the pace pushed on you when trying to run easy,” says Team Run Flagstaff pro runner Nicholas Hilton via Twitter. Agree on a pace before you start your workout and stick to it. No one likes a show off.
It’s happened to every runner. You’re on a quiet path or trail when you see another jogger coming your way. You give them the nod or the wave, the one that says, “Hey, we’re in this crazy thing together. We’re runners.” Then, they completely ignore you. Maybe they’re in the zone and don’t notice, maybe they’re working too hard to expend the extra energy, but sometimes they stare right at you like you’re crazy. If a passing runner nods, smiles, or waves, acknowledge them back. Solidarity is a beautiful thing. Unless, of course, you’re running an ultra-crowded path, like Central Park on a fall Saturday morning. Then you can forgo the hello. If you waved to every runner you passed, you’d be waving your entire run.