I’ve seen other runner’s etiquette and "rules" lists over the years and thought maybe I should share my thoughts with those who follow my adventures. Hopefully you’ll identify with them, you might chuckle a bit, and I might even make you a little angry. These are the “rules” I try to run by and they’re based on my own experiences dating back to my years as a young man when I started running with my Dad. Some may be unique, but most are probably variations on common themes from across our sport.
- Never judge other runners. You can certainly admire them, but don’t judge them. They’re running too. I think it was in Runner’s World I read, “there are no ugly runners.” It captured the same attitude I’m trying to express. Publications like Runner’s World (which is an awesome resource!) seems to present a picture of what some think is the typical (or stereotypical) runner: very lean, ideal form, and all the right gear. There are many folks out there who look just like that, but if you see someone running who doesn’t fit the picture, remember this: at least they’re running. You and I won’t ever know why or how most of the folks we see running actually ended up motivated to hit the road or trail--all you know is they’re there. As a lifetime runner without they “typical” runner’s body type (I consider myself an “ordinary runner”), I’m pretty sure I’ll never look like those runners on the magazine covers. The less-than-picture-perfect person you pass on the road or trail might have finally decided to give running a try. They might even be on their very first run. Or, they may have once been an incredible athlete, but are now recovering from injury. What matters is they’re running.
- Acknowledge other runners. A smile or wave of recognition or encouragement is always appreciated. A kind verbal or non-verbal greeting goes a long way when shared with other non-runners on the road or trail too: walkers, equestrians, cyclists, etc. Make a point to offer this kindness to others whether they return it or not.
- Your shoes matter most. Other than shoes, all the rest of your gear falls into the “nice to have” category. You risk hurting yourself without the right shoes. If you’re just starting out and don’t know what you need, your best bet is to find a local running store. They’ll assess you and let you know what kind of shoes you need. Many of them will watch you run and/or look at an old pair of shoes to see how you move, then advise you from there. Oh, and those shoes won’t last forever. Understand that if you get into this, you’re probably going to buy new running shoes every 300-400 miles. Distances vary depending on whose advice you’re considering and how you run. Regardless of miles, if your feet, ankles and knees start complaining and there’s no other cause, it’s probably time to treat yourself to some new shoes.
- Running is an individual and a group activity. For many of the runners I know, it’s primarily individual rather than social. However, you’ll still find like-minded buddies to share your passion with whether you run with them or not. Fact is, there’s an individual and a social element to running no matter who you are. Even if you’re a solo runner, find a local running group or track club, or even a casual group of friends at work or school who also run. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
- Running buddies and training plans keep you focused. I mostly run alone unless I’m in a race, but I have several running and non-running friends who expect to hear about my jaunts. They ask regularly and my answer can’t be, “I didn’t run.” They’ll apply all the appropriate pressure. Call it accountability or something else, but it’s nice to have others around you who are interested in what you’re up to. For those solo runners like me, training plans give some structure to the routine. Even if you enjoy running, you’ll find yourself in those periods of slump when the routine becomes too routine or you’re not challenging yourself. Having a race goal and following a related training plan causes you to add variables you might not otherwise include: flats and hills, slow and fast speeds, changing distances, etc.
- Running is competitive. Here’s the secret though: you may not always (or even usually) compete against another athlete. Your primary competitor may be a new distance or a personal best/record, a change in the frequency of your running or weekly volume, or a change in the time of day you run. There may or may not be another human there. This is true for races too. I know I care very little about when other runners finish the race I’m in. The competition for me is to finish what I started and how that finish compares to any previous races of the same kind. But if you’re competitive and want to race others, you’re still in the right place!
- It’s as much a mental game as a physical one. Maybe it's more mental than physical. No doubt running is a physical activity and it carries all the physical benefits and consequences with it. Learning to physically deal with discomfort and pain is only a part of it though. Right along side the physical aspects are the mental and emotional ups and downs associated with your commitment to run: mentally dealing with the physical discomfort, pain and injury; nerves on race day; and frankly moments of boredom. Whether you run with some form of audio entertainment or not, running is not always the most mentally stimulating task. I’ve mentioned it before: running for me is mentally therapeutic. Even so, running with music, an audio book, or just my thoughts along with the urban or natural sounds that surround me can still result in those moments where my brain wants something more or different. Discipline is called for: yes physically, but also mentally. Oh, just getting out the door to run may be the thing that requires the most mental discipline.
- Never defend your right of way. The rules of the road or trail are nice, but your soft body will usually never win a contest with a bike, horse, or motor vehicle. At best, you’ll probably break even with another runner or jogging stroller. Courtesy and respect are always nice when they’re extended to you, but in the interest of safety and deference to others who may not even see you, when in doubt, err on the side of caution and respect the things around you that could cause you harm.
- Respect the distance. This rule, and the next probably warrant their own dedicated posts: No matter whether you set out to run a mile, a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon or ultra, patiently and properly train for and respect the distance. It’s the best way to avoid injury. Biting off more than you can chew after a moment of sudden inspiration usually ends in unnecessary pain and discouragement. I know this will anger some, but I also tend to think unless a race clearly advertises otherwise, running races are for running and the achievement of crossing the finish line is diminished if you treat it otherwise. If you enter a race knowing you can’t or won’t run through to the finish, consider covering the distance outside of the timed race setting. This is especially true of the longer distances: the half marathon and longer. I’m definitely not the fastest runner, but I’ve never entered a running race without the expectation I’ll run from the start to the finish line. You can (and should) do the same!
- Walking is awesome. This is related to respecting the previous rule. Do what you can do to gain and maintain good health. There are times when anyone who runs finds they need to walk during training and during a race: to repair equipment, perhaps to eat or drink (I can’t drink from a cup without walking), to deal with an injury or help a fellow runner. When you need to slow to a walk during a race, check beside and behind you then move to the side of the course. In other words, run like you drive--or should I say run like you’re supposed to drive. Some races declare a side of the road or trail for slower runners or walkers. If so, follow the rule. When it’s all said and done though, if you move to the side, you’ll lessen the risk of surprising or angering a runner behind you who may want to pass. You’ll also reduce the risk of causing a wreck and getting hurt, or hurting someone else. If you’re a runner, pay attention to the races you enter. If the race allows walkers, parents with strollers, etc., don’t get mad when they’re there and moving slowly along the course. Walking is awesome too, but enter running races to run unless the race specifically accommodates walkers.
I’ve probably amused, intrigued and angered enough folks at this point, so I’ll stop for now. In a few weeks I’ll post the rest of my thoughts on running etiquette. In the meantime, if you happen to see me out there, let me know if I don’t smile and wave. And please don’t hit me with your car.
It’s great to be a dad!