Race Etiquette

Yesterday on Boston Marathon’s Facebook page there was a discussion about race etiquette.  I of course clicked over to the page to see what the Boston Marathon had to offer.  Instead it was a discussion from hundreds of runners that turned from race etiquette to more of a racing pet peeves chat.  Either way I was intrigued and spent quite awhile scrolling through stories.  I couldn’t believe some of the things I read about.  Being trampled over by weaving runners?  Peed on by people relieving themselves in the start corrals?  Yikes!

After years of running and participating in various races I have seen the good, the bad, and some pretty ugly behavior that goes on at these events.  There is of course the general race etiquette that everyone should follow (aka basic manners) but after reading through the comments I realized that these days basic manners tend to get thrown out the door.

Below are a few of my biggest race pet peeves that also fall under basic etiquette guidelines.  Please feel free to add yours in the comments as I would love to hear your stories and gripes!

Pick your true corral:  A couple of summers ago I ran a local 15k with my husband and as we lined up in our corral I saw a high school friend line up in a much faster corral than us.  I had heard that he started running in the last year and I remarked to my husband that I was really impressed.  Good for him!  And then the gun went off and within the first mile we both flew by that friend.  It wasn’t a huge race so there wasn’t any worry of trying to get around a ton of people at the start.

Then we ran the Hot Chocolate this past fall.  Racers submit their projected finish times and are given a corral.  When the gun went off I was shocked to find myself behind a ton of walkers.  I had to do a lot of weaving and had I been worried about my finish time I would have been one pissed off runner.  The amount of weaving I did in the first mile and a half actually added on several tenths of a mile to my final distance.

Moral of the story:  Be honest with yourself.  Go in the corral that suits your pace and be fair to the rest of the runners.  Starting out near the front if you plan to walk can cause some serious congestion and might even end in injury for someone.

Look before you hack:  Runners are gross.  I am a runner and therefore I am gross.  My nose runs, I sweat a lot, and I have choked on more bugs than I would like to think about.  I recognize my grossness and try my best to keep it to myself.  Snot rockets and loogies happen.  But seriously people, look before you let one fly.

At another 15k I really, really wanted to pass a gentleman but he did this constant 30 second spit to his left side and we were on a narrow path.  I really didn’t want to get nailed by him but I also really wanted to pass.  It was disgusting.  It might have been a brilliant race tactic on his part now that I think about it.  And nothing is more gross than running with a group and having that person in front of you who just spits as they feel.  No one wants to get hit by that.  And goodness gracious be aware of wind when you spit!

Be courteous:  Running and races can’t happen without the hard work and generous kindness of many volunteers.  They keep us safe and keep the race flowing.  They hand you water and fuel and make sure you cross the finish line safely and with medal and beer in hand.  It’s a thankless job (see runners are gross).

So when you grab a cup of water try to at least aim for a garbage can or the side of the road.  You don’t have to stop running to hit he garbage but at least make an effort to get it near the trash or the side of the road.  It can be pretty rude when other runners dump their cups right on the path for the rest of us to trample over.


Don’t forget those volunteers.  If I am not exhausted I try to make an effort to give a thank you as I pass by.  At my recent 10k I was in the top 5 runners and came to an intersection where a cop was directing traffic.  As I approached he was letting cars go through and I started to get irate.  How dare he make me stop when I was doing so well!  But as I got closer he promptly stopped traffic to let me through.  I made sure to shout a big thank you to him as I passed by.

Of course you don’t have to make conversation with every volunteer.   A smile can be worth a thousand words.  As you pass someone give them a nod or a smile.  It will show them that you recognize and appreciate their hard work.  Someone in the discussion mentioned volunteering at a race where a guy had premade thank you cards that he ran with.  He handed them out as he hit water stations.  That guy seriously rocks!

Ok let’s hear it.  What are your biggest etiquette do’s/don’ts or gripes?  I’d love to hear your race stories both good and bad.

44 thoughts on “Race Etiquette

  1. I have only run 3 half marathons and 1 full marathon over the past 2 years, and my experiences have been pretty positive. Due to running in such a short period of time, it is hard to tell if we are losing our etiquette. I think in society in general we are, and this might be mirrored in the races.

    The littering at the water stations was the one thing that has hit me the greatest, especially when there are garbage containers right there.

    Loved reading about the guy who handed out those premade thank you cards to the volunteers.. That is so cool. I always make an effort to smile and thank the volunteers.

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting post! 🙂


    • Thanks for sharing your side. I think in general runners are a really great group and very respectful of each other. But just like anything else there is a handful of bad apples that tend to be a tad lazy or disrespectful.

  2. i like to acknowledge and thank the volunteers as well! i love the race where they compete for the “best water station” and have all sorts of creative things set up…so cute. hmmm what else…i like to wave and thank the spectators who get so excited to cheer runners on, too, and laugh at their signs or whatnot. they’re such an important part of the race and keeping us going, knowing we have their support!

    • These are all fantastic points. I too love the water station competitions, especially in smaller races. The volunteers really can make or break a race. They are definitely a vital part of running.

  3. Corom and I were just talking about your post and he said just this last race someone stopped right in front of another guy to tie his shoe. There was almost a collision. Corom did mention that he would have plowed into the guy on purpose if that happened to him. The snot rocket or spitting is my biggest pet peeve when the runner doing it isn’t considerate of others around him/her. I always thank the police officers that are out there controlling traffic for the races along with the volunteers. Love them!!!

    • That is so frustrating when people just stop like that. In fairness I think they are so wrapped up in their own situation that they are oblivious. I had a runner I was working with and she suddenly crossed a path to go to the restroom and was almost hit by a bike. So scary but she just forgot. I still wouldn’t fault Corom though. I would feel the same way!

  4. I always always thank the volunteers! They are out there working so hard and making it a better event for the rest of us! They should all be appreciated more. I have actually been nearly trampled at a race once. A girl tripped me at the start and I fell and people basically ran over me. it was humiliating and awful. I did, however, run one of my fastest miles ever after the experience because I was in such a blind rage haha.

    Luckily I’ve not been spit on yet. GROSS!

  5. Oh yes. Great post. I think that people need to remember that just because it is a race doesn’t mean that the rules of the road don’t apply. And please please please pick your true corral. One of my biggest pet peeves and also a legit safety concern.

  6. I love the walkers who line up in the first corral. Stupid is the kindest word I can think of to use here. I also love the people running 12 minute miles, in front and in a row across the road. HELLO! If you’re going to make this a social event, line up in back please.
    I always try to thank the volunteers, we couldn’t do this without them.

    • I’m with you. First let me say there is always a place for walkers and I am so glad they participate. But let’s all share the road the way the race is set up. Reminds me of a time we did a mountain trail run and ended up behind a pack of walkers who were laughing about how slow they were going. My husband had to hold me back.

    • Basic manners. Sadly I think it is a small group of rude individuals that give us all a bad rap. Some people are just so out for themselves they don’t care about breaking rules or making more work for others. Fortunately most runners are pretty awesome.

  7. I’ll offer a piece of etiquette for us volunteers: don’t crowd the race course. I’ve seen people stretched well out into the street while I was volunteering at a water stop for the Chicago Marathon and I experienced it myself when I ran my first half. It creates even more of a bottleneck in an already congested area. We’re all there to make the race the best experience possible for the runners and, having been on both sides of it, I know this is one thing we can be more mindful of. (That said, most people I’ve volunteered with and most people who have volunteered at the races I’ve run have been great…and most runners are equally great at expressing their appreciation!)

    • Excellent point! Reminds me of the Hot Chocolate race (again…so many race don’ts there). Volunteers were in the street holding tootsie rolls and marshmallows out but they basically made a small tunnel. I didn’t want candy, just to run. But because of the crowding I had to walk through them. I also had a volunteer cut me off at a water station during a half. I’m pretty sure I shouted and later felt badly about it. But don’t mess with runners I guess 😉

  8. Hey! Great post!! I know what you mean about picking your true corral!! It can definitely be frustrating and dangerous when runners line up in front that should be a few corrals back.
    I experienced this this past weekend at Shamrock 8k! A totally huge race and I totally tripped over quite a few runners just trying to get through. I was in corral 1 out of 16 and I’m pretty sure some of the runners I ran by should have been in corral 6-7 at least! Eeeek!!
    Have a happy Monday! XOXO

  9. Corral issues – We have a VERY jam packed 7 mile race here every year and the first mile is up a VERY steep hill and it drives me INSANE to see how many people I have to pass who are walking up the hill. This is a huge issue for this race.

    Snot Rocket – I accidentally did this onto a runner at a 5k and apologized relentlessly. I had just gotten over a sinus infection and was running really fast (PR’d my 5k time with a 23:07) and it just shot out of my nose. She didn’t care at all, but I felt SO BAD.

    • LOL I love your confession. At least you were apologetic. What a gross and funny story. It seems all of are are annoyed by walkers at the front huh? Looks like a common trend at races.

  10. I don’t do snot rockets during races. I don’t spit either. Consider the other runners on the course!

    My pet peeve: someone stopping to walk IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COURSE! Get to the side first!

    • Ah yes that is a great one too. I have heard of people getting seriously injured at races because of this. At Chicago last year I was impressed by the number of people who used hand signals to motion for moving over or slowing down.

  11. One of my biggest complaints is the “walking wall”… 4 or 5 people forming a log jam in the middle of the course and oblivious to the fact that they are being a pain in the ass to everyone trying to get by. And here’s a little helpful hint for battling the wall. As you approach the wall, pretend that you are about to hock up the mother of all lung cookies. The wall will part like the Red Sea. Sure it’s a bit childish, but very effective.

    • Childish but effective works and if that’s what it takes to perhaps get them to separate….go for it. Yeah that wall is frustrating. I find this a lot when 5ks and 10ks cross at the end. There’s got to be a better way.

  12. There are a few things that kill me at least once every race. First being the deadstop walk. If you’re going to stop and walk (we’ve all been there!) please move to the outside and signal you are slowing down. I nearly hurt myself and someone else during the Broad Street Run last year because of that. Secondly, to the brave spectators who run across the race course — god bless your hearts because when you decide to cross oncoming traffic like that you better get moving with some speed because we are NOT stopping. I’ve seen some UGLINESS from that and I’m sorry, absolutely the spectators fault.

    Confession: I am an absolute snot rocket and spit queen. HOWEVER, I am happy to say I always do it on my own feet, never to the side for that gross reason of ruining someone else’s race. 🙂

    • I am sooo with you on that on. Some volunteer at the Hot Chocolate darted across with a box and nearly took me out. And the people who cross with luggage?! Seriously! I don’t get it. We are running a race because we are speedy! (Or we at least like to think so).

  13. The walkers! Aaagh! I keep running at full pace and just yell excuse me as loud as I can until they part. If they don’t then they I’ll run straight through them. I know it’s rude but when you’re 2km from the finish of a national race that you trained six months for, you turn in to a rugby player.

  14. Chicago Marathon, 2011. Somewhere in the early second half they handed out big blue sponges soaked in cold water. I was grateful and impressed – until I looked ahead. Sponges all over the road. I’m talking curb-to-curb blue slip hazards. How I wish I’d taken a photo! I kept my sponge as a souvenir, but come on, people – how hard is it to hold onto a SPONGE until you reach a trash can?

  15. Ugh – the people who think they don’t need to apply deoderant before running a race. I seem to always get stuck behind the smelliest people, for miles. Mouth breathing that long will make you hyperventilate.

  16. I admit that I don’t say thank you at the water stations as much as I should. I always mean to but then zone out so much that the best I muster up is a smile/ nod. But this is also why I have no problem getting yelled at by runners when I volunteer at aid stations a few times a year. I figure it’s my due. At my last half, I was making a final kick to the finish line when one of the course volunteers drove right up behind me in some super sized dune buggy thin and then angled in front of me. I admit to yelling at the driver while I tried to dodge it to get to the finish line. Mile 13, seriously?

    • I think a nod, smile, or a wave is perfectly acceptable. When I am in the zone I do the same thing. And you have every right to yell at a situation like that. I don’t understand why anyone during a race would think that was a good idea.

  17. Great post 🙂

    One of my biggest gripes about races is when people cross the finish line and just STOP. Right in the middle of the road. I’ve often come across the finish line and literally run straight into them and then had a word at them to MOVE OUT THE WAY!
    But other than that I’ve mostly had good races… I always thank the volunteers too – especially towards the end of the race because they’ve been standing out there for ages waiting for us to all come past, and they’re still supportive.
    On a side note, I ran a half this past weekend and for ages I got stuck behind this guy who had the biggest wedgie in his pants – I could not imagine how uncomfortable he must have felt. Each time I passed him I’d be in front for a few minutes and then bam! He’d pass me and stay right in front of me again for a few minutes… it was awful and really hard for me to not stare at his butt!

    • Yes the finish line is a big one. And how funny is the wedgie. That would definitely entertain/bother mile for several miles too. You definitely gave me a good laugh this morning!

  18. I know a few walkers and they put themselves in fast corrals so that they can finish the event before getting swept from the course. When the course has a maximum completion time this is part of the reason. I want to encourage them to take part in events but perhaps there should be a walkers lane?

    • That is an excellent point. Last year I had several runners who asked me why the slower runners start last. They thought they should start first because it would take them longer. When I pointed out that they would be keeping the elite/faster runners from finishing they were surprised and then totally understood. I think this is why some races have an early start time for walkers and I definitely appreciate that.

  19. Runners really are gross. If someone relieved themselves on me right before a race he would not be running that race well. I’d have to knot his shoes together. That goes beyond gross.

    Weaving around walkers in a race used to drive me crazy, especially when they form a wall. Hello! For walkers, choosing the wrong corral time can’t even be blamed on wishful thinking. Maybe they see it as a head start, but I’d think it’d be discouraging to have so many pass you early on.

    • LOL I’m picturing you tying their shoes together! I know, I couldn’t believe it when I read that. But then again I remember leaving my corral at Chicago last year and looking at the ground as I ran and wondering if that really did look like pee?! Some people! I agree about the wall of walkers or for that matter even joggers. Any wall is annoying when you are trying to run a race.

  20. Nice tips! I can’t imagine being pee’d on at the start corral. Gross. I can’t stand it when folks who are clearly not in it to win it line up at the front. It’s dangerous!! Also runners who race side-by-side and block me from passing. Annoying. But the worst is those who are rude to and ungrateful for the volunteers and spectators. I’ve seen racers yell at volunteers who fail to hand off a cup of water flawlessly. Give me a break!

  21. Couldn’t agree with these more. The corrals some people pick for themselves is ridiculous. This year, at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, Jesse and I lined up near the front, which I thought was a mistake because I’m not very fast, but we flew by everyone, and I’m really glad we seeded ourselves with the faster runners.

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