In Stride

A Runner's Guide to Etiquette

How to avoid being a jerk on the roads, trails, and track

A Runner's Guide to Etiquette

Some aspects of running etiquette should, by now, simply be considered matters of common decency and common sense. Illustration: Kevin Ward

The rules of competitive distance running are pretty straightforward: don’t cut the course, don’t trip up your fellow racers, don’t use banned substances, and don’t ride a bus to the finish line.

But how should you conduct yourself when running in a non-race environment, without any set rules or regulations? The running community doesn’t always agree on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior while you’re logging miles—as evidenced by the surprisingly divisive subject of running shirtless.

However, some aspects of running etiquette should, by now, simply be considered matters of common decency and common sense. Rather than a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts, the following advice touches upon a few key issues that, over years of running, I’ve seen come up again and again.

Save the Encouragement for Race Day

During races, offering encouragement to other runners generally passes as good sportsmanship. Competition bestows a “we’re all in this together” factor that justifies shouts of “Way to fight!” or “Work this hill!” to your fellow racers. However, unsolicited comments on another’s progress while out for a casual training run don’t have the same element of camaraderie and will make you sound patronizing. The same goes for unrequested coaching advice or remarks on another runner’s form. Keep it to yourself.

Mind the Inside Lane

If I could dispense just one piece of running etiquette advice, it would be this: when running on a track, use the inside lane only when you need it. On a standard track, a lap around lane one is exactly 400 meters (or 2.5 feet shy of a quarter-mile). Such precision is necessary for anyone trying to run a workout that requires exact distance measurements. Anyone using a track for other reasons, like an easy jog or stretch exercises(!), should conduct their business in one of the outer lanes. Likewise, if you’re doing an interval workout that requires breaks between more strenuous efforts, you should cede the inside lane during your recovery.

A Brief Note on Spitting

Mucus and saliva buildup is common while running, and not only for those dealing with seasonal allergies or a cold. Dehydration can cause your saliva to thicken, resulting in unpleasant phlegmy accumulation that will disturb your breathing if not expelled. Thus, runners often need to spit. This is totally acceptable (and inevitable), but unless you want to lose your newfound running partner or make a new best enemy, you need to be aware of your surroundings before emitting the goods. Two words: wind factor.

A Casual Run Is Not a Race

Runners are a competitive lot, and not just during organized competition. For certain people, getting passed on casual runs is an affront to their athletic dignity—they’ll take any opportunity to engage someone in an impromptu race. While this instinct is understandable, bear in mind that a fellow runner might be moving quickly because they are in the middle of a workout, not because they want to impose their evolutionary superiority. Racing strangers can be fun, but only when there’s some implicit consensus. Otherwise, it ends up being an unwelcome distraction for the other person, who was likely having a hard enough time hitting consistent splits on their tempo run before an overzealous stranger started breathing down their neck.

Keep Left, Stay Alive

I’ve addressed this issue before, but it’s worth repeating. When sharing the road with cars, you want to run against traffic, not with it. This is, admittedly, less a matter of etiquette than self-preservation. Take issue with the other suggestions on this list if you must, but there shouldn’t be anything controversial here. When 3,500 pounds of steel barrels your way at 50 miles an hour, you want to see it coming.

Subscribe to Outside

Outside Magazine Latest Issue

Save 66% and get All-Access: Print + iPad