Basic Race Etiquette

During the marathon on Saturday, I started noticing a few things on the course that I felt should be addressed.  As you know, I think runners are a special breed.  We tend to push ourselves to the brink, and yet if we see someone in need, we will stop our own race and help them.  We will often forego our own goals and hard training to ensure that another runner is taken care of or crosses the finish line.

However, there were a few things that I felt needed to be discussed.  Maybe new runners or new racers don’t know a few tricks/rules of the trade.  Perhaps seasoned runners could use a reminder.  So let’s address a few and please add yours below if I miss any.

Respect the porta potty line.  We all need to go to the bathroom.  Pre-race rest stops are a requisite for us all.  We stress about it.  We plan it out.  Jumping the line or pushing your way through is rude and disrupts the system.  Be patient, arrive early, and wait your turn.


Respect the start waves.  If your race doesn’t have assigned corrals, please go to the appropriate one for you.  I have had many runners point out that they are a bit slower and it would make more sense for them to start up at the front and give themselves a bit more time.  Races stay open to make sure you get your run in within the allotted time frame.  Cutting the line and starting at a pace that isn’t yours, actually disrupts the entire race.  Athletes who are planning to run at the intended pace end up getting backed up and weaving around each other.  This even makes the course dangerous.  Trust the system and stay where you should be.

Don’t push.  Be patient and respect your fellow runners.  I can’t believe I am even posting this.  But I did see a runner shove people out of the way.  I actually thought it was a joke at first.  It is unnecessary, disrespectful to your peers, and dangerous.  We already have enough road rage.  Let’s keep races peaceful and avoid race rage.


Use hand signals.  It is absolutely okay to walk during a race.  Run/walk plans are a great way to approach training and races.  But if you are running with a crowd, it is recommended that you raise your hand to signal that you will be stopping to walk.  For safety reasons, this ensures that other runners won’t slam right into you and create a dangerous back up.

Look before you loogie or snot rocket.  Yeah I get it.  It is that time of year.  Allergies are crazy right now.  Running makes your nose run.  If you need to hack a loogie or shoot a snot rocket, please look before you do it.  Nothing is more gross than getting attacked on a race course.

Be respectful of volunteers.  I am not going to say that you need to slow down and place a cup of water in the garbage bin.  That isn’t always feasible.  If it is possible to aim for a garbage can, please do.  Say thank you if you can.  Try your darndest to be kind and thoughtful towards the volunteers with a smile, or a nod, and a cup tossed in the direction of where the others are.

I guess what I am saying is, be respectful.  Follow the same rules you would on the road.  Treat your fellow runners with the same respect you would like to receive.  And don’t forget to treat the race volunteers with respect as well.  They are out there making sure you finish safely and cleaning up your litter.

What are your race etiquette recommendations?

20 thoughts on “Basic Race Etiquette

  1. Keep moving through a water stop. Do not stand still. Argh. I can’t tell you the number of times I slammed into someone because they suddenly planted themselves at an aid station.

    • Definitely been there. Excellent reminder. Hand signals and basic rules of the road are a must. Do it just as you would when driving. Look before you shift lanes and use your signals!

  2. I still can’t believe you saw someone shoving others … that is just crazy!

    The ‘respect the pace group’ thing is very true – most half and full marathons have some sort of separation, and what I have found is that when people who are slower go up front, it is more than inconvenient, it is exhausting to have to dodge around them!

    Other thoughts:
    – If you ARE walking, no more than 2 people side-by-side (and that is only if the course width allows it).
    – Same for running together as a group – respect the right of others to be able to pass you.
    – If you are NOT running the race, get OFF of the course … and if you are, make sure your fans know the basic rules and don’t have little kids charging out into the road shouting ‘daddy/mommy’.
    – If you cramp or have a shoe until or otherwise need to stop, head to the side of the road.
    – Mid race pictures/selfies … if you MUST, at least have the decency to get way to the side.

    Again, it is all about showing respect for others, as you say.

    • Mid race selfies. Those clogged the Chicago Marathon course last year. You know my feelings about phone usage during runs and in general (as I type on my phone ;). Running and walking in groups is a great reminder. I swerved in and out of many this past weekend. And you are so right about respecting pace groups. I will never do Hot Chocolate again. They start the 5k and 15k together. I couldn’t “run” for the first 3 miles. Had I really trained and cared about my pace, I would have been infuriated. I pretty much was anyway. As always, thanks for your great thoughts.

  3. i always try to keep the mentality that we are all united by the same love for running and should therefore try to appreciate and understand one another — might sound a bit cheesey, but it’s true, that if you empathize and relate to someone, you’ll hopefully be respectful and treat them how you’d like to be treated. people get antsy and nervous at races and sometimes just are out for themselves, but the idea of having a cohesive, fun community of like-minded runfreaks is just such a nice, wholesome thought and i always try to think, “they’re running this same race i am, have trained for this also, and deserve to have as great an experience as i want to have.” i find that helps me stay positive. and smiling at other runners never hurts. 🙂

  4. I’ve never hear of the hand single when going to walk. I always look behind me and move to the side out of the way but never stop dead in my tracks. Last weekend, I tried to put my cup in a plastic bag a volunteer had and even said…here, let me put this in the bag…she didn’t like that too much! So, I just dropped it and kept going.

    • That’s funny! At least you tried. Looking before you move over or stop is a great practice. I noticed the hand signaling a lot in large races like the Chicago Marathon. It isn’t as common for smaller races.

  5. I too never heard of the hand signal if you’re going to walk and I really like that idea. I try to be aware of my surroundings for reasons like that. Thanks for pointing it out.
    The BAA 5K was my first big race and I went to my true pace group, only to find out when we started running that everyone else didn’t. It was very frustrating to have to weave (especially as a slower runner to start). I can’t imagine how frustrating that would be if you’re trying to actually “race”.
    In my second HM a was running near a guy who said “thank you” to every volunteer we passed (cops, water, etc.). I commented and he said he read in Runner’s World to thank the volunteers. Loved that!

    • That’s so cool! It isn’t always feasible to say thanks and sometimes you are too exhausted. Even a nod or a smile goes a long way. There were military members manning the first aid along the course of Grandma’s Marathon. I followed a guy who shook hands with each person. It was so wonderful to see.

  6. I think just respect, on all levels. Respect the other racers, volunteers, spectators, yourself…. you are not the queen/king of the race, so don’t act like it!

  7. Great list! I’ve (unfortunately) experienced all of these at some point. Some are annoying while others can be dangerous! Slow runners pushing there way to the front in a fast race is especially scary since they can get trampled. Seen it during a 5k, and during a half I tried to tell an older woman that where she was lined up was dangerous. (faster runners were already jockeying for position before the start gun).

  8. When walking, try to get to the side and stay there. Take a glance around you before stopping to make sure no one will run into you when you stop.

  9. Good list.
    One more though. Please don’t grind to a halt the moment you cross the finish line at a 5K or other fast race. There may be people finishing hard behind you and you are likely to get plowed over. Keep moving!!!!

  10. Pingback: Coney Island 5K Race Report | A Fast Paced Life

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