Running etiquette

Ask Miles - March 2010

Source: Runner's World, March 2010

One of my favorite features of Runner’s World is ‘Ask Miles‘.  I think it’s an interesting take on an etiquette/advice column, and it provides a lot of useful information.  It’s kind of sassy, too, which I guess you can get away with when you claim a column was written by an apostrophe.  I mean, who doesn’t like a sassy apostrophe?  Personally, I like for all my punctuation to be a little bit cheeky.

It’s nice to have a source you can turn to for running etiquette because let’s face it: runners are people, and people tend to need rules of conduct (well, depending on which philosopher you believe, I guess you could argue against this) when it comes to interacting with other people.  The thing is, though, that when I’m out running (especially on a nice day like today, which pretty much guarantees that the park will be busy busy busy) I get the impression that there aren’t very many people reading ‘Ask Miles’.  Or at least that not many people are paying attention to what they’re reading, because there are some egregious breaches of etiquette going on everywhere you turn!  It’s for this reason that I thought I’d compile my own little guide to running etiquette.  Of course this is by no means exhaustive, and I’m open to suggestions or additions, or some healthy debate over the finer points.  In my opinion, proper etiquette when running can be broken down into different categories, so I’ll proceed by giving each category its due.

Sharing the road

If, like me, you run in a heavily populated area, you are going to have to share the road with other runners.  You’ll probably share the road with cyclists, walkers, and vehicles as well, but I’m going to focus solely on other runners here because I think otherwise things get complicated.  Even if you’re in a less populated area, you might still come across another person every now and then, so it’s good to know how to share the road no matter where you are.

To the extent that it is possible, you should always stay to the right.  This way, you don’t encounter any problem with people who are running in the opposite direction, and others are able to predict what part of the road/lane/sidewalk/etc you are occupying.

When passing someone, pass on the left if you are able to do so.  If, however, you have more space to pass on the right than you do on the left, then pass on the right.  Passing someone by squeezing through a small space on one side of them can make them feel crowded, and really doesn’t make sense if there is ample room on their other side that could be used to pass.  If you don’t think the person you are passing knows you are behind them, it may be polite to give them some kind of signal that you are going to be passing them.  This is especially useful if you’re in a crowded area with a lot going on.

Don’t run right up behind someone and then pass them at the very last minute, barely leaving any room between the two of you as you step back into line in front of them, as though you are driving aggressively and want to intimidate them or run them over.  This kind of behavior is extremely rude.  Always begin your passing maneuver before you come right up behind a person, and make sure you are well ahead of them before returning to the right of your running space.

Finally, when you’re running in a group or just with a partner, don’t pass someone by surrounding them.  Instead, all members of the passing party should pass as though they are one unit.  Otherwise, the runner being passed may feel engulfed, which is thoroughly unpleasant.  Talking over the head of the person you are passing as you pass on both sides of them amplifies this feeling and is especially inconsiderate.

Bodily functions

As any runner knows, dealing with a variety of bodily functions is inevitable; however, there’s no reason why you should make others privy to what your body is dealing with.

Spitting and blowing snot from one’s nose are common practice.  Personally, I’ve encountered very few situations where I absolutely had to spit, so I kind of have a hard time understanding why some people feel compelled to do it so frequently.  That said, though, my feeling is that if you feel you have to spit, then spit.  But! be considerate of those around you when you do.  If you have just passed someone, don’t spit until you’ve put a good amount of distance between the two of you.  Don’t spit as you’re passing someone, and don’t spit right before you pass someone.  Spitting is something that should be reserved for a moment when you’re not surrounded by people, and should always be done judiciously.  I’ve been very nearly spat on by a great number of runners who just didn’t bother looking behind them or even just alongside them to see if anyone was there.  Don’t be like them.  All the same rules apply to snot rockets.

Peeing during a run is obviously much less of an ordeal for men than it is for women.  Men should not, however, think that this means that they shouldn’t try to find a secluded area in which to do their business.  Very few people want to see another person peeing, and those people who do want to watch should find a consenting party with whom they can enjoy such activities.  A run through the park or a road race is neither the time nor the place for this.

Recently on twitter I saw someone mention that they like to fart as they pass someone.  I guess this is supposed to be a show of dominance.  It’s really just a show of immaturity.  Don’t do it.


Race etiquette could be a guide unto itself, so I’m just going to touch on a few major points.  For instance, water stations.  Do not stop at water stations.  Walking through them is fine, but coming to a complete halt is an invitation for a multi-runner pile-up.  Once you’ve taken your water, move away from the station to make room for other runners, and when you’ve had your fill, be careful about where you throw your cup.  Remember that no one wants to get hit by your errant cup.

Having to take a walk break during a race is fine, but make sure that you move over to the side of the pack before you slow to a walk.  Keep in mind that you are the only person who knows what you’re going to do next, and there may be someone directly behind you who has no idea that you’re going to start walking at the next hill.

Relatedly, try to line up at the start of the race in the appropriate area.  If you run a nine-minute mile, then you should not line up at the front of the pack.  You don’t have to go to the far back, but remember that it’s unfair to the runners around you if you know you are slower than they are but you line up with them anyway.  When large groups of people line up in the wrong area, other runners end up having to weave around them, which can end up affecting their race times.

Cell phone use while racing (and running in general, really) is not recommended.  Other runners are most likely trying to concentrate on their race, and it can be unpleasant to hear someone having a (usually) loud conversation with someone over the phone.  Those conversations usually sound like this: “HEY!…YEAH I’M RUNNING A RACE RIGHT NOW!…YEAH IT’S GOOD!…HAHA, YEAH!…” etc.  I could be wrong but they often sound like conversations that could probably wait until the race is over.

When you get to the end of your race and into the finishers’ chute, keep moving!  Even if you’re barely walking, try to keep some forward momentum going so that the other runners coming in don’t get caught in a huge traffic jam, and don’t have to stop short as soon as they cross the finish line.

Is there anything you’d add to this?  I’d love to hear what you have to say, and what your experiences with running etiquette are!

30-day Embrace:Me Challenge, Day 1: (I thought it would be nice, for the sake of accountability and just general record-keeping, to include a little blurb about my challenge progress.  So here it is!) I had some trouble today coming up with an idea for what I would do, until I went running.  The run was brutal!  The wind was blowing hard from every direction, and every part of me felt tired and depleted.  I decided to take the opportunity to be nice to myself–instead of pushing to get through the mileage I had planned, and/or beating myself up because it was hard and I was having trouble with it, I let it be okay.  I reminded myself that I had nothing to prove, I’d done this run before and knew that I could do it, that walk breaks were okay, and that pushing myself to finish the run when it just didn’t feel good was not going to help anything or make me feel good.  It was a bad run, but for once I’m okay with it.  Sometimes a run is like that, and it’s not an excuse or a reason for me to be abusive toward myself.

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  1. The spitting thing REALLY gets on my nerves! As well as the “cutting-off” someone you just passed. I fell last year during a race because of this (my first 5k too)! The guy passing me clipped my foot. My knees got horribly banged up. He didn’t even freaking stop!! Grrr…

    Not every run is great or easy. If it was I guess more people would do it (maybe)? Truth be told…I never like any run while I’m doing it. It’s agonizing at times. But when I finish! It’s suddenly the greatest thing EVER! Especially if it is a bad run to start with 😀 Great job! You got out and ran! That’s more than most people can say.

    Hope you had an amazing day! Jealous you had nice weather 🙂

    1. Ugh, that’s awful about that guy cutting you off like that! I really wish people would pay more attention and be more considerate of the people around them! And I’m glad you kept running in spite of that experience 🙂

      I think it’s definitely true that more people would run if every run were a good one. I guess the trick is to just take the good with the bad, and find whatever it is about the run that you like and focus on that 🙂

  2. What a great Challenge post! (I’m not a runner, lol, although I’d love to be so once I’m ready for that, I’ll know who to turn to!) You’re such a strong person!!!!!!
    I can’t wait to see what else you do!!!!

  3. I hate it when people run in twos or threes but don’t move to the side of the road! It makes it seriously difficult to pass. I get that you want to run in a pair or a group, but try to be considerate!!

    I just don’t understand the impulse to run/jog/walk while talking on the phone. Why?! You’re huffing and puffing while talking, broadcasting your conversation to everyone around you, and it can’t be terribly pleasant to sweat while holding a phone to your face. I just don’t get it!

    1. Yes, when people run several abreast either toward you or in the same direction–that is one of my pet peeves! What often happens to me is that I will be running toward a group of two or three with very little room to get by, and instead of them running single-file for a second while we pass each other, I have to squeeze through a tight space or move completely to avoid running into them. I don’t understand that at all!

      1. Oh my gosh, yes! I hadn’t even thought about the grocery cart similarities, but that drives me crazy as well, lol!!

  4. wow, i’m not a huge runner, and haven’t ever done a race, but i think a lot of these things sound like common sense. the fact that they’re such intuitive guidelines makes is so much worse that people are so inconsiderate to not follow these rules! sounds like all of those things would seriously annoy me!

    1. I know, total common sense, right? Sometimes it’s amazing how many people don’t seem to have common sense, though!

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