It’ been 547 days since my first “official” road race (wahoo!) – I can still remember the chilly December morning in my hometown – surrounded by my family, cheering squad and wearing more layers than depicted in the infamous Christmas Story movie’s red snowsuit. I stood at the starting line – the same place where I also participated in my first cross-country race 21 years-ish earlier – adrenaline was pumping, but having done a lot of research into what to expect at a race, I felt strangely calm.
Not many folks know, but I’m a secret super-shy person – because of this (often embarrassing) personality trait, I find myself reading zillions of technical resources and rule books at the foot of every new adventure / hobby / career step / interior design re-do. Call it OCD, call it crazy, but I call it my instant nerve killer – understanding boundaries, for many of us in running (as in life) has a calming affect. Why?
Because knowing boundaries is just a stepping stone for the next chapter in adventure!
So I find myself sitting on the patio – finally enjoying fresh air, after sequestering myself indoors for nearly 2 weeks thanks to my inopportune seasonal allergies – and reflecting on this morning’s brick workout, which consisted of:
- A nice 5-mile cycle en route to the race – easy pace due primarily to all those lovely Bostonian pot-holes
- Followed by the Cambridge 5K Freedom Run (wahoo!)
It was a beautiful, crisp, morning – ideal for hitting the streets for a run and finally enjoying an allergy-free day – with a week plagued by severe allergies and little running, I was proud when I reached the last 0.1 mile and saw the finish-line arches. As I neared the end, I finally got within steps of the final timing mat when WHAM (eeeek – picture the sound of breaks being thrown on). After mat 1, comes your last ticket to water, beer and flip-flops and is only 3-4 feet away from the first mat – the infamous second and final mat!
What’s a bummer though, is when the person in front of you throws on the breaks before they even cross the second mat and the end of the running shoot, which then prompts you and many others behind you to stop just on their heels – nearly avoiding a human train wreck. I tapped the woman who threw the breaks on the shoulder and politely (and out of breath) said “hey there, keep going, please don’t stop”. If the obligatory iPhone emojis could have been layered into this quick encounter there would have been a smiley face. Now, I’m no Olympic sprinter, marathoner, etc. but coming to a near stop at the finish line (before the 2nd mat or even the end of the chute), can can be super dangerous to the many other runners just behind you.
A moment later, this same woman who broke what I had always been taught was the “Golden Rule” of the finish line, came up to me and said “don’t push me” – being calm and honestly knowing that not all runners know or follow the same etiquette, I replied “I almost ran into you, stopping at the before the end is pretty dangerous.”
…not a fun way to wrap up a great run on a beautiful morning – but many who run, competitively or not, know bad behavior on the course all too well right?
I’ve definitely been shoved, tripped, and even had someone spit on my shoes (barf). After dwelling on the encounter I thought “hmmm she must have been having a tough race, bad day, bad year, or just out of sorts”. No matter how bad the behavior, I choose to rise above each of these occasions and assume that in the midst of running and finding ourselves out there – some folks are like that garbage truck analogy – they’ve stockpiled a lot of heavy and often negative thoughts and need somewhere to dump them – instead of reacting and perpetuating this negative-thought cycle, I just visualize packaging it up and sending it on its way. See ya negativity!
But on a serious note – with the number of folks joining this amazing and supportive running community (yipee!) – it does make me wonder whether we all have similar boundaries / rules of engagement / whatever you like to label them. It’s not meant to create a rigid, not-so-fun experience, but rather just a quick check on safety for all of those around us — remembering that some of these events, like this morning’s 5K, can contain several thousands of folks ranging in age, experience levels, backgrounds, heights, weights, athletic abilities, occupations, and sneaker preferences – being mindful that there are so many different folks out there, safety (especially on longer distances where we’re all tired) is top of mind for me, even as a relatively “new” competitive runner.
So without any Fit-Nerd biases – here is the official Etiquette for Runners from Road Runners Club of America (also found in this link):
Rules of the road and trails
- Run against traffic if running on the road. If running on the sidewalk or multi-use trails, travel on the right and pass on the left.
- Never run more than two abreast if you are running in a group. Don’t be a road or trail hog.
- Don’t run down the middle of the road or trail.
- If you are running an out-and-back route, don’t just make a sudden u-turn at your turn around point. Stop, step to the right to allow oncoming traffic the opportunity to pass. Ensure the road or trail is clear of oncoming traffic (runners, cyclists, in-line skaters, etc.) then make your u-turn. Making a sudden u-turn without looking over your shoulder is a good way to get hit.
- Alert pedestrians when you are passing them – don’t assume they are aware of their surroundings. A simple “on your left” warning will suffice.
- Be alert on blind curves.
- Stop at stop signs and ensure oncoming traffic yields to you before proceeding across a road. Don’t assume cars will stop if you are entering a cross walk.
- Respect private property along your route. Don’t relieve yourself in the neighbor’s bushes.
- Don’t litter. If you can’t find a trash can, carry your trash home.
Race Etiquette on Course
- If you drop something as the race starts, don’t stop and pick it up! Wait until almost everyone has crossed the starting line; then retrieve it.
- Don’t drop clothing on the course after you warm-up. If you must 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. If you drop it; don’t expect to get it back.
- Run or walk no more than two abreast.
- Do not block runners coming up behind you by swerving needlessly back and forth across the course.
- If you are walking in a group, stay to the back of the pack and follow the two abreast rule.
- Bodily functions are a fact of life during a race. If you need to spit, blow your nose or throw-up, move to the side of the road and do it there. If nature calls, check for a port-a-potty, an open business, a kind neighbor along the course, or as a last resort, a discreet clump of bushes before relieving yourself.
- Move to the side if someone behind you says “excuse me” or “on you’re your right/left”. The person behind you is giving you a heads up before passing. It’s proper race etiquette to let that person pass you without blocking their effort.
- If someone in front of you is wearing headphones, and they are blocking, gently touch their elbow or shoulder as you pass to alert them to your presence.
- If you need to tie your shoe or stop for any reason (phone call, nose blow, etc) move to the side of the road and step off the course.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. The course may or may not be closed to traffic. It is your responsibility to watch for oncoming traffic!
- Yield the right of way to all police and emergency vehicles. Yield the course to wheel chair athletes, you can change direction or stop more quickly then they can, especially on a downhill.
- Don’t cheat! Don’t cut the course or run with someone else’s number.
- Enjoy your race!
Aid Station Etiquette
- When approaching an aid station to hydrate or re-fuel, move to the right and grab your fluid/nutritional needs from the volunteers or the aid tables then continue forward away from the volunteers or aid table.
- If you need to stop at an aid station step to the right side of the road and proceed to the aid station, but do not block others from accessing the aid tables or volunteers handing out fluids.
- Throw your used cup to the right side away from the course as close to an aid station as possible. Drop your cup down by your waist as opposed to tossing it over your shoulder. The person behind you may not appreciate the shower if the cup is not empty.
- Say thank you to the volunteers manning the aid station.
- If you see someone in distress on the course, report their number to the aid station and try to recall the approximate mile maker where you saw them.
Finish Line Etiquette
- If you neglected to leave your personal music device at home, now would be the most important time to remove your headphones.
- Follow the instructions of the race officials at the finish.
- If a friend or family member is running the last stretch with you and isn’t in the race, he/she should move off the course before the finish chute starts.
- Once you have crossed the finish line, keep moving forward until the end of the finish chute. Stay in finishing order if the event is not electronically timed so the finish line volunteers can remove the pull tags for scoring.
- If the event is electronically timed, be sure to return the timing tag/chip before leaving the finishers’ chute.
- Exit the chute and wait for friends or family in a central location.
- Enjoy the post-race refreshments, but remember it is not an all you can eat buffet for you and your family.
- Stay around for the awards ceremony to cheer on the overall winners along with the age group winners. Running is one of the few sports where the participants get to mingle closely with the event winners.
- Be proud of your accomplishment!
Now let’s go out and run, be safe, support each other and be aware of one another!