10 Commandments of Runner Etiquette

Etiquette (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone a...
Etiquette: Don’t be the alligator out on the trail, road, or track. (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day was an unseasonably cool day, hence the increased number of runners out and about on my usual neighborhood trail, which I love to see. The sense of community among runners can be phenomenal; we just get each other. With a little nod or wave, we fellows acknowledge one another like we’re members of a secret club.

Most of the time my waves are reciprocated with a reaffirming nod or a smile. Other times, I’ll pass one who doesn’t dare break a determined pace and stares blankly ahead, seemingly ignoring my gesture. Should I feel dumb or silly for trying? Are these people just plain rude?  This got me thinking about unspoken runner etiquette. Do some runners have it and some just…don’t?

Similar to etiquette in the workplace, at dinner parties, and in team sports, runners should hold themselves accountable to a standard of politeness.  I know I certainly do, and if you follow my Ten Commandments of Runner Etiquette, you’ll be making friends on the trail in no time.

#1 Thou Shalt Nod Thy Head

When another passerby takes a second to nod her head and acknowledge your presence, please give a nod back. It takes but one calorie of effort to reciprocate the action, while preventing you from looking like a narcissistic ass. Come on, share a little runner love!

#2 Thou Shalt Aim Thy Spit and Snot Rockets Accordingly

Seriously, don’t spit into the wind. Don’t blow your nose onto the shoes of the runner beside you. Just be smart about it. I’ve been the recipient of a stranger’s spit on the meat of my calf in a race before, and, let’s just say, I was not very appreciative.

#3 Thou Shalt Know Thy Place and Keep Pace

We all have witnessed it. Heck, I’ve even been a culprit.  The rookie runner who squeezes her way to the front of the start line, next to the elites, and sprints for the first mile before dying and causing traffic problems by mile two. When I see the girls with team uniforms at local road races, I spare myself the embarrassment of being passed and line up strides behind them! It’s polite and also saves you some face. For a 10k or longer, pacing coaches often line up at the start. Find your pace and stick to it!

#4 Thou Shalt Put That Gel Wrapper Back in Thy Pocket

There is no problem more upsetting on a beautiful wooded trail than it being littered with banana strawberry, chocolate and vanilla Gu wrappers. If you’re into those things at least spare nature and put the wrapper back in your fanny pack until you find a garbage can.

#5 Thou Shalt Not Flat Tire Thy Competitor

When you keep stepping on the heel of the runner in front of you, it probably means you are too close for comfort. When you are breathing down her back and using her as your windbreaker, it probably means you are annoying the crap out of her too! Don’t get me wrong, drafting off of a pack of runners is a common and pretty smart technique, but when it’s just you and one other poor runner taking the brunt of the wind for more than a minute or two, that’s just wrong!

#6 Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself Too Seriously

We participate in a sport that entails placing one foot in front of the other to end up exactly where you began. Really. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Most of us don’t get paid for this hobby, and we might as well enjoy it.

#7 Thou Shalt Share the Road

When another runner is coming from the opposite direction and seems to be on the same side of the trail as you, just move over. No big deal. When you are going at a faster pace than the runner in front of you, be polite and give plenty of room. Also, say “passing on your left” or a gentle hello. Zooming by in silence can startle the other runner if she didn’t hear you coming, and like we covered in #1, it’s nice to acknowledge one another.

#8 Thou Shalt Run Through the Finish Line

If you cross the line and come to a complete halt you could cause an accident!  Wait a moment or two to check your splits and stretch your hammy until you make it out of the chute. Also on that note, don’t take 4 bananas, 5 bagels and 10 power bars from the finish line food area to share with your friends and family who came to cheer. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other runners near the back of the pack who are dreaming about that cinnamon crunch bagel and would be crushed to find everything picked over.

#9 Thou Shalt Not Blare Beyonce Inconsiderately

I’ll admit it:  I am one of those runners who sometimes wears headphones during a race. You might think it means I’m not “serious” or just annoying, but if you do it tactfully, I think it’s fine.  Just don’t blare your mix at maximum so that nearby runners can sing along to every word. We don’t all have the same taste in music (even though I think everyone should jam out to some B. Spears to get to the finish line), and it actually isn’t very safe. When you can’t hear anything but JLo, you might miss out on a siren or a pack of speedsters saying they are “Passing on your left!”

#10 Thou Shalt Not Fart Unnecessarily

Sometimes we can’t help it much, but that’s what a sphincter muscle is for….enough said. To say you beat your competitor because he passed out from you passing gas…well, that’s not much to be proud of, now is it?


How about you, Salties?  Do you agree with these rules? What are your Running Etiquette Commandments?

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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  1. Love this! All of these. So many important things in one spot. (I cry everytime I see a GU wrapper on the trail too.)

    However, the whole reason I blare Beyonce is so that I can fart inconspicuously. It’s nice to be in a road race of 40,000 other potential farters to blame.

  2. YES! I love all of these.

    As to #1. I HATE when other runners look down or act like you’re not there when you’re running towards them. What’s wrong with a “hi” or a “good morning” or a simple smile? I’ve noticed that the friendliness of other runners depends on the path. At the one by my house there are a lot of unfriendliness. At the national park about 25 miles away, everyone is all smiles and super friendly.

    #6 should be #1. It’s not world peace here, people!

    #10 (within reason) doesn’t bother me. A little toot toot here or there is no big deal and happens to the best of us, especially those of us who’ve had kids – it definitely changes the effectiveness and capabilities of pelvic floor muscles!

  3. In light of recent runner events in the news, we should consider adding #11…thou shall always run with toilet paper (just in case!)

  4. Or at least move to the rear of the pack before letting one loose. This also applies to cyclists in a pace line. Yuck!

  5. I know The Guardian recently had a running etiquette article that implied “Thou Shalt Not Run Shirtless”, so that’s a potential addition, but frankly I’ve been doing a lot of shirtless running lately so it would be hypocritical for me to suggest it. Which I just did. Fine, I’ll keep my shirt on at lunch today, unless it chafes. Which it probably will. So I’ll put it back on before coming into the building.

    Thou Shalt Keep Thy Shirt On When Entering Thy Workplace.

    Fair enough?

    Also, I have my own version of commandments for predawn runners at http://predawnrunner.com/2012/03/ten-commandments-predawn-running/

    1. F that! The commandment should be “though shall run shirtless if though desires and not care what others think if it’s hot.”

        1. I’ll give you it’s a little harder to ditch the shirt when running from work. I only did it if it was REALLY hot. I also keep it on at the y most of the time because it’s a family place. Hmmm,. There’s a post in this!

  6. Love this I would also add Thou shalt not take up the entire sidewalk when running with a friend(s), stroller, or dog. Share the sidewalk people

  7. I try and flash the peace sign to everyone on two feet during my runs. I love seeing fellow runners out giviing it a go. Bicyclists however do not get the same courtesy as they have pushed me off thepath numerous times due to their lack of ability to share the road and ride single file.

  8. Excellent! Except the farting “unnecessarily”. I would argue that if your GI tract sent down air that way to get out, it’s better to just get it out than hold it in because someone might not like it much. Seriously, it’s farting. It’s a natural thing. And you’re outside, so it’s not like you’re stuck in an elevator.

  9. I do violate rule # 1 when doing tempos or MP miles as I pick a spot right in front of me and that is all I see. Otherwise I acknowledge all runners that I come across. So ladies, I did an experiment when running with my Wife one day and noticed that every male acknowledged my gesture, yet only about half the females responded back. I understand why but I found it interesting.

    1. I am with you on becoming oblivious during extra hard efforts. If I’m waving at the last set of hill repeats, I’m doing it wrong.

  10. I usually nod or smile when I pass other runners, especially when I’m running around my neighborhood early in the morning. However, I sometimes run on paths that are packed with runners (Capital Crescent near DC, on the weekends), and it’s impossible to smile/nod at every single person without smiling/lookin’ like a fool nodding your head constantly. LOL I think commandment #1 depends on the density of people running.

  11. LOVED all of these and I have often said that I wish the New York Road Runners would include rules of etiquette for all races. It can really make or break or race. Another tip is that you don’t have to grab water or Gatorade at the first table. There is a whole line of tables and it causes a traffic jam when everyone tries to hydrate at the first table. Also, no stopping in the middle of the race. If you need to stop or walk, go to side or off the course if possible. As for the runner’s nod, I think it really depends on where you are running. If you are in a neighborhood or a trail that doesn’t have a whole lot of traffic, it makes sense. If you are in Central Park, with hundreds and hurndreds of runners, you’d spend so much time nodding that you might forget to keep running:)

  12. Sorry, Ginkgo, but if I don’t smile or nod at someone and they take it personally, that is THEIR problem, not mine. I’ve got my own groove working 90% of the time, and I couldn’t care less about acknowledging the other runners on the trail. I’d even go so far to say it’s rude to take offense at someone for just doing her own thing because you need some kind of community validation.

    Since I’m striking #1 from my list, I’d have to replace it with the worst runner etiquette infraction of all time, which you admitted to! Wearing headphones while racing is completely unacceptable behavior. It’s dangerous, inconsiderate, and even race directors are starting to DQ people for it; I’m seeing that more and more. And good for them! I’m tired of getting stuck between two jerkwads who didn’t follow Rule #3 just because they’re both wearing headphones and can’t hear me when I ask them to pass!

    1. Did you see Beth’s comment above? The running culture in most areas is way different from NYC! I agree on your other point although I have a feeling we’re in the small minority there.

    2. Good points! If I lived in NYC and ran in more densely populated areas…definitely could see the wave/hey/smile thing not working out so well. For me, being the people pleaser that I am :), whenever a runner or two pass by, I like to acknowledge their presence and flash them my pearly whites.

  13. I agree with #1 in principle … but at what point do you exchange the nods/waves? I know I’ve probably missed receiving a nod and other runners have missed seeing my nod because we weren’t looking at each other at the time it was given. When I see someone coming, I look straight ahead until we’re pretty close and then I wave or say hi. I don’t want to stare at them the whole time I’m approaching because that’s just creepy.

    Cinnamon, I’m with you on the headphones during races. I’m seeing the opposite of you, though, where RDs are starting to allow it when they previously enforced the bans.

  14. Encouraging people to run through the finish line is my pet project. If my race is going well, I am running across that finish line at a pace that means stopping quickly is not a possibility. If my race is going poorly, I suck it up and sprint across that finish line. In either instance, I am always glad to have those 5-10 yards to slow myself down and start gasping for air. Maybe race directors can help by placing all the tables and medals a little further back?