This is not about which fork to use at your running club’s next social or how to make an introduction.
I did, however, go to charm school when I was a teenager; it was called Wendy Warm Charm School. We walked around with books on our heads and learned how to put on lipstick. After the basic class, my mom even enrolled me in the advanced class. I guess I was still a little rough.
No, really, I do know this stuff, not because I learned it in a class but because I’ve been running for 29 years. You pick up a lot in 29 years. Believe, me, taking a few minutes, now, to learn running etiquette, will be appreciated by every other runner you ever know. Make it a point to learn and apply these rules of the running road and to mentor newer runners, which will save them embarrassment and keep everything running smoothly and safely.
Running etiquette means the commonly accepted rules for how to interact with other runners, non-runners, and even cars, during races and training on trails, out on the road, at the trail head, and on the track.
Running on roads/streets
Run against the traffic when on a road. Probably most basic of all is the traffic safety rule we all learned in third grade – at least I did – to always walk – or in this case, run – against the traffic when on a street. This is the opposite of bikes which are to stay with the traffic. Running against the traffic is safer because it allows you to see oncoming traffic.
Cross at crosswalks. And if there’s not one, take care to cross at the intersection. I have a tip for you here, based on personal experience: Even if you have the right of way because the traffic in the other direction has a stop sign, never trust that. Take your time and make sure the driver sees you and is, in fact, stopping.
Run on the outside edge of the road.
Go with the flow. Various trails will have specific traffic flows. While you would run against traffic on the road, on a trail, you are the traffic. Find out what the instructed traffic pattern is on a specific trail. Most of the time you bear to the right with faster traffic passing on the left.
Passing. When passing, always call out “On your left,” but still be very cautious because often the person you’re passing will only hear the word “left” and may move to the left causing a collision or near collision.
I think a loud whistle is acceptable as well just to give the other person a heads up.
Just take extra care when passing, and if you are being passed, be polite and hug the right side or the edge of the trail to give the passer plenty of room.
When reversing direction, be careful not to make a sudden turn. Instead, move off the path to the right and look both ways to check for both foot traffic and bike traffic.
Traffic. Always be aware of traffic ahead and be aware of traffic that may be coming upon you from behind. A good plan is to always behave as if you know there is traffic coming up on you from the rear.
If you run with your dog. If you should be running with a dog on a leash, be very careful to keep the leash short and to keep your dog under complete control. If you are unable to do that, leave the dog at home. Most runners I know absolutely love dogs, but a dog that’s out of control, one that darts in front of people is dangerous.
I had a bad experience with this just the other day. I was on Bayshore sidewalk, which is a very popular and busy and famous stretch of sidewalk along Tampa Bay, at about 9:00 on the weekend, and I noticed a man with a big dog on one of those extension leashes a little ways in the distance, and I immediately started to worry and to feel for the people around him because they were all having to work around the dog, but by the time I got there, he had the dog beside him on the side of the trail.
However, suddenly, the dog bolted across in front of me. I didn’t fall, but I had to come to a complete stop, and I almost went down. The man obviously wasn’t a runner, but he sure needed to learn some trail etiquette.
Spitting, etc. If you feel the need to spit or blow your nose, move to the side, well clear of other runners.
When nature calls. Don’t relieve yourself in someone’s front yard. Do your homework and find out your options before your run. It’s always best to be prepared.
Private property. Stay off of private property. There might be a great shortcut, but try to imagine if that was your house and your property, and avoid the thought process that, “What’s it going to hurt if one little old person, me, walks across their grass – or through their flowerbed.” Remember, it’s never just you. What if everyone did it? It’s just not right, and it just might get you in trouble.
Don’t be a trail hog. Run only two abreast, and if you stop to stretch or chat with friends, move off the trail.
Don’t litter. If there are no trash cans, carry your trash. I feel silly even saying that because it just seems so obvious. I can’t even imagine a runner littering, but I guess it happens. More often, I see runners picking up the trash others have left. I guess this is because we seem to value our surroundings more.
Make sure your group is respectful of others. When you run with a group of runners, when you’re at a water stop, water fountain, or kiosk, step aside after you’ve gotten your water to allow easy access for others.
Headphones. If you wear headphones, either keep the sound low enough to hear communication from others or keep one ear free to hear comments from others and to hear if someone calls out “on your left!”
Water drops. If you have put out water stops, take care to collect them and any trash. Be sure to attach an empty bag to the cooler to collect trash, and when you retrieve the cooler, police the area and collect any trash left by your group.
Group runs. If you’re running with a group, introduce anyone running with the group for the first time, and go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Make a point of engaging them in conversation. Don’t abandon any runners. Make sure everyone knows the course and no one gets left behind.
Be friendly. Always be friendly to others not in your group. Invite their conversation. Introduce yourself and others nearby. Speak, or in some way acknowledge everyone you pass, walkers, runners, and cyclists, either with a ‘Hi,’ a head nod, or a wave.
One of the best parts of being a runner is the camaraderie we share. It’s nice to be friendly, even if you only give the other runner a head nod or wave, that’ll be appreciated, and hopefully, reciprocated.
Along those same lines, we are all part of the same community. Check in with any runners, whether you know them or not, who may be struggling. Even if there’s nothing you can do for them, just the fact that you checked goes a long way. Sometimes another runner, a stranger, may need help but be too shy or uncomfortable to ask a stranger for assistance.
Just remember that some day that might be you in need of help. It happens to every runner, and sometimes just letting another runner know you’ve been there is the kindest thing you can do.
It’s not every man for himself, it’s more like one for all and all for one. If another person is not a member of your group, maybe they’d love to have a group to run with.
Direction. Always make sure you know what direction to run in. Traditionally, it’s counter clockwise, but there could be exceptions.
Walkers and slower runners should stay to the outside. Inside lanes are reserved for people doing speedwork.
If you’re the faster runner, and you’re coming up on slower runners who are in your way, call out “track” or “on your left” to signal them to move over.
Diplomacy. Keep in mind that some people are unaware that there is any such thing as track etiquette. Never get nasty with anyone; how could this possibly help? Just be nice and diplomatically, inform them of the correct etiquette. It probably never occurred to them that there is a ‘right way’ to run on a track.
Be considerate. Don’t stand around on the track. Move off the track to chat, stretch, or whatever. If other runners lap you, move to the outside to give them room.
Avoid wearing headphones.
Don’t turn a friendly run into a race, leaving the other runners behind or causing them undue stress as they try to keep up. Discuss planned paces ahead of time and make sure everyone has people to run with.
Dogs. If you take your dog to a track, make sure it’s on a leash and be very careful. Don’t use one of those extension leashes unless you lock it with only a couple of feet extended.
Kids. If you must take your kids to the track – and everybody knows this sometimes is necessary, be sure to take some toys to entertain them and only do this if they are well behaved enough that you can be sure they will not disrupt any runners.
Look both ways before crossing the track.
Equipment. If you are using any equipment, be careful to keep it out of the way of other runners. Don’t leave it on the track and walk away, even for a few minutes.
Above all else, just be respectful and use common sense.
Race numbers. Pin your shirt on the front of your shirt, and make sure it is clearly visible.
Walking. If you are walking, stay to the back of the pack, behind all runners unless you are faster than some of the runners.
The Starting Line. If a race doesn’t have corrals to organize runners according to time, then be responsible, and line up according to your expected, realistic time. You can always estimate the right area by looking for the pacers and lining up in the area near the pacer closest to your planned finishing time.
Walk/run. If you are doing a walk/run, hold up your hand long enough before stopping to give other runners time to move if they are behind you.
Cutting the tangents. I always advise my runners to cut the tangents. No one has to cut the tangents on a race course, and it’s fine if you choose not to, but you’re always going to run farther than people who do cut the tangents. Of course, always, always stay on the race course, but most serious runners learned early on that cutting the tangents makes sense; however, you have to keep your eye on the runners around you. Since the faster runner always has the right of way, this is usually not a problem.
If you are a slower runner, this is an important consideration. Slower runners should stay to the outside, as I said before, but if the course has turns, first in one direction and then the other, then the slower runners – or walkers – need to switch from side to side to stay on the outside of turns. This can be a huge factor in everything going smoothly.
Shoe issues, equipment malfunctions, wardrobe adjustments. If you need to tie your shoe, take off your outer later, fiddle with your watch or slow down to locate a goo, move over to the side of the road to accomplish this task.
Along those same lines, if you drop something, move to the side and retrieve it as soon as possible before anyone trips over it, but do point it out to those behind you telling them to watch out until you can safely retrieve it.
Trash and discards. Many people will discard a ‘throwaway’ article of clothing during a long race, or it they’re wearing a trash bag to stay warm or dry, they may discard this. Either way, make sure to place it in a trash can if possible. If none are available, at least make sure not to drop it on the road.
Slower runners and single track trails. When you’re racing on trails, it’s harder to pass. Be aware of others runners who catch up to you, and step off to the side to let them pass. And it’s always nice to exchange encouraging, supportive words.
The finish line. Run through the finish line. Your coach will teach you this, but when you do stop to walk, do just that, walk. Keep walking for a good ways, just following directions of the race officials. That keeps everything flowing smoothly at the finish line, which is in everyone’s best interest.
Race bibs. Never wear someone else’s bib. Never. If someone else has an available bib, the only way that can benefit you is if the race director allows transfers and you follow procedure to do it according to the race rules. If the race doesn’t allow transfers, even if it also doesn’t allow deferments or refunds, still, never run with anyone else’s bib and never let someone else run with your bib. This causes all kinds of problems, safety and otherwise, many of which you may not realize. Just don’t do it.
That’s it. Probably a much longer topic than you expected. That’s why it was worth writing about. The running community is massive and with the large number of runners out there, both training and racing, going all different paces and distances, common courtesy and attention to running etiquette will go a long way toward keeping everyone safe and happy.