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Running Etiquette: Do's and Don't's of Road Races

15:41 March 30, 2015
By: Celeste Turner

It's a chilly morning and other runners are warming up around you as you gather at the starting line of the New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. You glare at the race contenders on either side of you while they snarl back at you. The adrenaline electricity of competition and anticipation of the upcoming mileage is fueling your mind and kick-starting your body into "beast mode."

Running Etiquette: Do's and Don't's of Road Races
[Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

"If I am doing a 5K race," admitted Jennifer Novak, a 43-year-old USA Track & Field-certified coach and experienced marathon runner, "I am motivated by not allowing folks to pass me (although they still do). In a marathon, I let them pass, telling myself that I'll be passing them a few miles down the road."

"Road Hogs," as they are affectionately called, are those individuals who intentionally swerve back and forth or stick to their group under any circumstances in order to block runners coming up from the back. Race etiquette dictates running or walking no more than two abreast. "If someone is trying to pass, I'll always move to the side," said Greg Roques, a 34-year-old runner who competes in 5K, 10K, half marathons and triathlons. "I don't want to mess up someone's time."

However, Roques would like the same consideration extended to him when lining up before the race. Slower runners and walkers should move to the back of the race pack. He said, "If I am gunning for a performance record time and you are dressed like SpongeBob, wearing a beer funnel on your head, don't get mad when I plow you out of the way." Moreover, don't assume that because you arrived early, you should be at the front of the starting lineup. To avoid annoying fellow runners, be sure to line up according to how fast you plan to run or walk the event.

"Once I was at the front of the entire race and the gun went off," said Novak, who usually runs 60 to 70 miles per week to train for marathons. "When we started running, someone stepped on my shoe and I ran right out of it! I briefly considered running with one shoe, but instead turned around to find my shoe and went headfirst into the crowd of runners behind me. Needless to say, those runners were not understanding."

Clothing malfunctions and bodily functions are a fact of life during a race. If you need to shed layers of clothing, tie them around your waist or place them on the side of the road where no one will trip over them. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, so throwaway clothes like old shirts, warm hats and gloves can be tossed to the side. "I have overdressed for races in the past," said Bryan Davis, a 28-year-old marathon and triathlon competitor. "My routine now is to 'rent' a sweater from Goodwill and toss it in the donation pile at the beginning of the race."

"If I am gunning for a PR and you're dressed like SpongeBob, wearing a beer funnel on your head, don't get mad when I plow you out of my way."

Generally, runners follow basic rules of race etiquette: move to the side of the road when stopping for any reason. If you need to spit, blow your nose, tie your shoe or check for porta-potty, step off the race course. This rule also applies to runners approaching the water and aid stations: move to the right and grab your drink from the volunteers, then continue onward. You can drop your used cup down by your waist rather than tossing it over your shoulder and spraying the runner behind you. "I usually drop the water at my feet so I don't hit someone with it," said Roques, who typically runs 35 miles per week. Also note that this is an ideal opportunity for runners to say "thank you" to the volunteers manning the aid tables, not a chance to test their basketball skills by slamming their empty cups into garbage cans.

Once you have crossed the finish line, follow the instructions of the race officials. Finish line etiquette emphasizes that runners keep moving forward to the end of the chute. It can be hazardous for runners coming in behind you if you stop suddenly, so keep going and stay in finishing order. "I always keep going past the finish line," said Novak, who competed in the Zydeco Marathon in March and plans to run both the Lehigh Valley Marathon in Pennsylvania and the New York Marathon later this year. "I have (twice) run into someone vomiting at the finish line. It's not cool! Move to the side, but don't stop mid-lane at the finish line."

However, when you finish the race, be proud of your accomplishment and enjoy the post-race refreshments. Just remember that this event is not an all-you-can-eat and -drink buffet. The runners at the back of the pack would also appreciate a taste of some goodies at the end of the race.

Running is supposed to be a stress-reducing activity, but every runner has their own pet peeves about running in races that really spark their frustration. Some describe the "heavy breathers," the "litterbugs," or the "runners with the loud, obnoxious music playing in their earphones." Yet every runner will tell you that the "ghost runner" tops the list of runners' pet peeves. Also called "banditing," race participants who do not register and pay no fee to run are considered a grave injustice. These runners can cause problems with race organizers and first-aid staff because the event is staffed and supplied according to the number of registered runners.

Remember, runners may belong to a certain class based on time or speed, but that doesn't mean they exude class. Keep up with your race etiquette when you are pacing your miles and you'll be ready to hit the streets in style.

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