Sancho’s Guide to Race Etiquette
I took up running in 2012 as a way to get fit and keep up with my 2 year old son. I’ll be honest, the first few months were hard going, but I kept at it as often as possible. Increasingly however, I managed to find excuses not to run. The wrong weather, the chance of a lie in, just not being bothered, I had excuses as long as your arm not to run. That is when I entered my first race, the 2013 Leeds 10k. It was a physical and mental challenge but one I got through, just.
Since then I have taken part in half a dozen 10ks and two half marathons, not bad for 2 and a bit years since I started running. I have improved as a runner and my times have fallen with each race, but I have also noticed some shocking behaviour from fellow runners on the many courses I’ve run along. The thing is, there are lots of books about running a “good” race but none that I have found about the etiquette of running a “nice” one. We all turn up with our numbers pinned to our chests, having read the race booklet, set off to smash our PBs and, after every race, without fail, you hear the same gripes from other runners about people’s behaviour.
A lot of it boils down to thinking about other people and not just yourself, but I have come up with a list of examples and things that I have seen first-hand or been told about that, if we own up, we have probably done one or two of ourselves. Please note that if you are new to running or haven’t entered a race yet these things are not guaranteed to happen to you:
Walking/Stopping. There will come a time in every runners life when, no matter how hard you have trained, you just need to stop. Firstly I should point out that you should feel no shame in having to walk. You might need to regroup mentally, catch your breath, use the facilities at the side of the route, or tie your shoelaces. You might have got to that point where your legs just need a rest before pushing on to the finish. You may well beat yourself up about it but the other runners passing by won’t, as long as you move over to the side of the road. Don’t stop in the middle of the road. You will cause people to have to swerve to avoid you, putting them in danger of running into other people. Also, if you do need to walk and you have friends around you, please don’t walk in a line across the road, single file will make sure you are not talked about in bad terms after the race.
Spitting. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but in the heat of the moment the need to clear your mouth whilst on a run can be quite overcoming. The longer the race and the hotter the day also comes into it. As you become dehydrated your saliva will become thick and difficult to swallow without hindering your breathing. So if you do need to spit, think about when and where you are doing it. Check over your shoulder for other runners, aim for the gutter or bushes, and please consider the wind. This goes double if you need to clear your nose mid run!
Water stations. Speaking of becoming dehydrated, most races provide water stations so that you don’t have to carry your own water. You should make good use of them, but again we all need to think about what we are doing. If you aren’t going to take water at a particular station then stay clear of it. They get very congested at the best of times so additional bodies just get in the way. If you are taking on water remember that there will probably be more than one volunteer handing it out, the second or third volunteer may well be easier to get to without tripping over another runner. Once you have got your water you will need to get rid of the bottle/cup. Please, please, do so in a responsible manner. Bins will be provided so use them if you can. If you have passed the bins by the time you need to drop your litter don’t leave it in the middle of the road for somebody to trip over, aim for the side of the road again. And finally watch where you are throwing the bottles. I have a friend who ended up with a broken rib because of a flying water bottle, its litter not a javelin.
Snacks. This is very much a personal bugbear of mine. I understand that at all levels of running people have their energy intake preferences. I know people who love energy gels. Jelly babies are a runner’s friend. I prefer a handful of raisins if I’m flagging on a long run. If you need to top up then go for what works for you, but please take your litter home with you. If you have a running belt full of gel packs use it to stuff the empties in. The marshals will have enough on their hands clearing up the water bottles that have not hit the bins without picking up your waste as well.
Corners/Racing lines. Back to racing. There is no such thing as a straight race once you get past 110m hurdles so we will all hit a corner at some point in time. It is true that one of the best ways to a PB is to stick to the racing line and run tight to the corners, but try not to swing across people and cut them up. This was rife at this year’s Leeds half marathon, especially at the last corner before the finish. People were turning from the other side of the road to get as close to the barrier as possible before the lunge for the finish line and I know a couple of people who had to slam on the breaks to avoid running into people cutting them up.
Elitism. Now this may get me in a spot of bother, but I have seen and heard tales of some rather snooty behaviour from our fellow runners. At the end of the day we all put our trainers on one at a time, some people however seem to think that they warrant special treatment. I have heard cat calling, know of people who have been shouted at for being in the way, I even know one person who was told to stop cheering while marshalling at a local run. For me running is a community that, if you are reading this, we are all a part of. We should encourage each other to improve, help those who are struggling, and thank the people who have given up their time so that we can run. There is no room in my book for elitism.
Now I know that come my next race day, I will see one or two of these things. Litter on the road is guaranteed, but I live in hope that afterwards, when chatting to my friends at the baggage collection area, that we have tales of joy and not stories of people running them off the road or being spat on. If we all remember to think about those running with us we’ll all have better race days!