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Spectator signs from The New Yorker
(Bob Eckstein / The New Yorker)

Whether you’ve run 20 races or are preparing for your first, there are always tips and tricks to tuck into your mental gear bag that can make it more enjoyable, safer and even faster.  Practicing good race etiquette is not just a suggestion; it’s vital to a positive experience.

Consider these tips from a few seasoned racers, and remember the most important rule of race day: the Golden Rule!

Before the race

Shuttle buses

  • Do be mindful of seat space. Everyone wants to get going to the start, so making the other half of your seat available means a full busload and a quicker departure.
  • Some folks like to chat, some like to stay in sleep mode during the ride. If your seatmate is responding to your chat with one-word answers, take that as a clue.
  • If you brought food on board, be respectful with your trash and leftovers. Don’t leave a mess behind.
Standing in line for the porta-potties pre-race
(Blulz60 / Shutterstock)

Portable toilets

This is one of the most confusing lines you’ll ever stand in (which doors are available to me in this line?) and one of the most grueling (why is that person still in there??).

  • Help keep the lines moving by getting your business done and out. Using the porta-potty as a place to stay warm is inconsiderate AND ewww.
  • Don’t cut lines, we all want to get to the start line on time.
  • Don’t leave a mess on the seat.
  • Do hold the door open with your elbow for the next person if they are approaching.
  • Using porta-potties along the course calls for even quicker exits; PRs and BQs may be dependent on your hasty use of the facilities!

Start area: chutes, corrals, start line

  • Be aware some larger races have only one entrance to the start area with the sides protected by fencing; avoid finding out you have to go all the way to the back just to get up front.
  • Speaking of getting up front: be respectful if you have to jostle your way through the start corral to your pace area. Polite “Excuse me”s will communicate your intentions and make the journey smoother.
  • This one’s a pet peeve of many runners: if corrals are not being monitored, position yourself according to your anticipated pace. If you are a walker or start at a walk, do not place yourself at the front; rather, start in the back half of the pack. Otherwise, you may negatively affect faster runners and create a safety hazard on narrow courses.
  • Starting with slower friends? Line up with them close to the back and agree to meet at the finish. This could be an advantage to you: your time typically doesn’t start until you cross the start line, and you may benefit from not going out too quickly with the speedsters.
  • Once you cross the start line, if you determine you can’t run the pace you planned, do a quick over-the-shoulder glance and move to the edge of the course.

Got layers?

  • Toss throwaway apparel well off the road or trail (or into the available bins) so that discarded layers do not become tripping hazards.
  • Some gear can be stowed on your body for reuse: pull arm sleeves down to your wrist and tuck gloves in your waistband or fuel belt.

During the race

Be considerate

  • Once on the course, be mindful of personal space; avoid running on someone’s heels or at their elbow.
  • Don’t stop suddenly. Instead, glance back and put up a hand to warn runners close behind you that you are slowing. Even better, gradually slow as you move to the edge of the road or trail.
  • If someone does stop suddenly in front of you and you must quickly dodge them, try to do so with the least amount of clearance. Passing too widely could result in a multi-runner pile-up.

Personal hygiene

  • Having a bit of allergy issues or fighting a head cold? Be sure to tuck tissues into your pocket or fuel belt.
  • If a runny nose hits and you must clear your nose sans tissue, do everyone around you a favor: move to the side and look over your shoulder before you let that snot rocket fly.

Passing runners

  • Pass on the left if possible, in keeping with trail norms.
  • If you are ready to pick up your pace, great! Go for it. It is empowering to “reel in” runners, pass them and continue on, but not cool to just pass them and then slow down.
  • Avoid wedging yourself between runners who are running close together.
  • Run your own race! Don’t get swept up in a competition with someone who seems to be challenging you (unless you are nearing the finish line and using it as motivation to push your pace).
(Verywell Fit)

Water stations

  • If you take the first cup of water offered at the head of a water station, KEEP MOVING until you can step out of the way.
  • Better: keep running near the center of the course, wait until the second half of the water station to slow down and grab a cup. Larger races usually have multiple water tables at each aid station.
  • NEVER stop to drink in the middle of the tables. It is unsafe, it slows down runners behind you and it backs up the system, creating a domino effect. 
  • Look to your right or left before tossing cups or gel packets… this takes two seconds and avoids having your cup land dangerously in the middle of someone’s stride.
  • Don’t drop cups or gel packs in the middle of the road if you can avoid it; these are slipping hazards. Use the available bins.
  • Some environmentally conscious race directors are now replacing single-use cups with fill stations for personal bottles or vests. Be considerate of other runners waiting their turn by filling your bottle just enough to allow you to bypass the next stop.

Do unto others…

  • Encourage others if you see them looking beaten near the end. While a “We’re almost there!” with miles still to go can make me want to stick my tongue out at spectators, a “We’ve got this!” or “Let’s finish this thing” near the end can work wonders to motivate others in the last few hundred meters.
  • Acknowledge supporters along the course including spectators, volunteers and law enforcement — a smile, wave, thumbs up or “Thank you!” can go a long way.
  • Smile or laugh at funny signs — it will make you feel good to smile as well as encourage spectators to come out next year!

After the race

Finish line and finish area

  • While it is normal to want to sprint at the finish, be mindful of and avoid elbowing other runners if the chute is narrow.
  • Finish-line photos are great keepsakes, but avoid stopping for the cameras while other runners are coming through and may be distracted.
  • As you accept your medal, continue moving through crowded finish areas. Some larger races have volunteers who gently force runners to keep moving after crossing the finish line.

Share your thoughts!

What have you discovered to be a welcome habit, safety tip or kindness during a race? Share your own ideas on how we can be more considerate on the course to help everyone have a better race experience!

Along those same lines, practicing good etiquette during training and casual running is an upcoming topic for this column. What is the proper way to share the road? How do you deal with cyclists, cars, or gassy running partners? Share your pet peeves and/or suggestions for making the road and trail a more enjoyable place, and I’ll include your helpful tips!


Want to receive Coach Bette’s monthly column in your Inbox? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter or sign up as a RaceRaves member (it’s free)! And read her most recent column here.

About our columnist:

Betty Hagerty columnist photoBette Hagerty decided to run a 5K in 1992 after a few months of running around her neighborhood, using her car’s odometer to measure distances. When she found herself among a few hundred people talking about running, she knew she had found her community. Since then she has run several hundred races, from 5K to marathon distance and helped form two running groups.

Bette is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and posts weekly Tuesday workouts on instagram as @BetteRunning. Her passions for running and writing have finally run into each other, and she looks forward to sharing her experiences and knowledge. She welcomes your glowing compliments at [email protected].

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