Ask-A-Salty: Reverse Race Course Cool-Downs

Got questions? Just ask!
Got questions? Just ask!

Ask-A-Salty is back! It’s the feature where YOU ask the questions and WE give you the answers. If you have a question for us you can send it to us by clicking on “Ask-A-Salty” above the banner or by clicking here.

Our latest question comes from Meredith who asks:

When I race a 5k, I am definitely in the middle of the pack. At some point during the last mile, I start to see people running the wrong way on the course, numbers still on … I guess these are runners who have already finished and are cooling down?

But why do they have to do it on the course? Are they flaunting their faster times? Showing off? (Trying not to be ‘speedist‘ here but it is hard!)ย Or are they just looking for a friend? In which case, why can’t they just wait for said friend at the finish instead of taking up room on the course?ย 

Can someone shed some light for me on why some runners need to run the race backwards while others are still running it forwards?

Ah, the old Reverse-Race-Course-Cool-Down question!ย 

What are those crazy freaks doing when they’re running backwards along a race course before everyone is finished?

You were correct. Those runners running the course backwards are most likely cooling down (running easy after a hard effort to aid in recovery or to meet mileage quotas). I am admittedly one of those crazy freaks. Here’s why I like to do reverse race course cool-downs (RRCCDs):

– To cheer on slower friends.

– To cheer on all runners finishing up.

– To make the cool-down more fun and to take my mind off of how dead my legs are after racing.

– Because I am not sure where else to run in an unfamiliar area.

Reasons I don’t do it:

– To flaunt that I am faster than others.

I’m sure there is a mega-jerk here or there that uses a RRCCD to flaunt that s/he already finished, but the vast majority do not. In fact, as I indicated above, they are doing it to encourage others at best, or at worst just to make the cool-down go by more quickly. The intentions are not malicious. I often look forward to seeing my faster teammates and friends as I’m finishing a race. It motivates me to keep pushing.

I do think your assumption that RRCCDers are “flaunting” is speedist: you’re assuming that faster people are snobs and look down on slower runners. Most don’t. In fact, those people you think are fast are slow to others. It’s all relative and most runners, on the faster end, middle of the pack, or slower know this and accept it. Life is better with friends of all speeds, I say!

How would a RRCCD work at this race? My head hurts. (PS nice shorts, dude in the middle.)

How to do a Reverse-Race-Course-Cool-Down without being a jerk.

Now that we’ve established what I believe are the benevolent motives of most RRCCDers, Meredith’s question touches on another important point: etiquette. RRCCDers should never ever negatively impact someone else’s race because of a lack of manners. Here are my rules for RRCCDs.

1. Stay out of the way of racers. Come on. Do I need to tell you this? If the course is narrow, stay off of it. Get on the sidewalk if you need to. Stay out of the way of the racers and definitely get out of the tangents! If a racer has to run around you, you’re doing it wrong (and are possibly a jerk).

2. Remove your number. If you keep your number on, you will confuse people. The old guy race volunteer will freak out when you go the wrong way. The other racers might wonder if they’re going the wrong way. It’s easy enough to do, so just unpin it and head on your way.

3. Cheer for people. If someone’s digging deep, give them some support. If someone’s really struggling, encourage them. Make yourself useful and have some fun.

4. Be nice. And never ever flaunt that you’re finished and the other racers are still running. That’s obnoxious and RUDE. Be nice and respectful of others. This is a good rule for all of your life, in fact!


So readers, what do you think? Are RRCCDs ok? Do you do them? Any other rules for performing an RRCCD politely?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I agree with Salty. There is one local 5-miler in particular where I’d always see the faster finishers returning as I was slogging past the four mile mark (I am definitely a back-of-the-packer). It used to bother me, but as I got to know more of the local runners, I realized that they would never sneer at my pitiful pace, they’d just cheer ’cause I was giving it my best effort! Now when I see friends running their reverse racecourse cool down, I cheer them for finishing, they cheer me for still racing, and everyone’s happy!

    1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who loves a little RRCCD love at the end of a race! I love the idea of cheering for the RRCCDers as they cheer for you. Win-win!

  2. I did a RRCCD this past Sunday after a 13.1, mainly because my brother was running in it, and was about 9 minutes behind me. I found him about .5 miles away from the finish, and I turned around and cheer him to the finish line. I didn’t think to remove my bib, but it was a small local race and the volunteers knew that I had crossed the finish line already so I probably didn’t confuse anyone.

    A few forward-running runners I passed congratulated me on the race, and I cheered them on with a “keep it up!” ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. i love going back out on the course – i like to find friends and run them in and to cheer for others. It has never crossed my mind that people would think I was flaunting. In fact I have been near the end of a race and have been looking for my faster friends hoping they are coming back out on the course to cheer me on or run me in. Good point about taking off the bib number. I often don’t think about that!

  4. Yes, RRCCD are OK. I usually run a cooldown, and sometimes the race course is the only option available. My last two races, I did take my bib off as I was running so as not to confuse anyone (or make anyone feel bad). In the past, I’ve either changed out of my race shirt (or added a layer) so the visible bib wasn’t an issue. But then again, most races here are on the city bike path system so there are usually regular runners running the “wrong direction.” That caused some (happy) confusion for a girl I know at a recent race – she thought she was 4th female based on who she saw at the turnaround, but one of the women wasn’t in the race.

    At my last race, one of the speedy guys ran back about 1/10 mile from the finish line with his camera and took pictures of the runners on their way to the finish. I thought that was super cool, and didn’t give much thought to how much faster than me he had to have run to be able to do that.

  5. Hi,

    I asked the original question and I am glad to read all the responses. I really was just curious as to the motivation! To be fair, in my own experience there was only one person who I think really caused a problem doing this—it was a trail run, so not much room, and his RRCCD after the 5k did cause other runners (including me doing the 10k) some annoyance as we had to move out of his way. He showed no inclination to move for us even though he was long finished!

    I also appreciate your etiquette rules—I think if more people followed these (esp re: support and number removal), it would never have occurred to me that a runner might have a flaunty reason for running backwards. I know a lot of this is on me to change my perception of things, and I will be sure to give reverse runners the benefit of the doubt in the future.

    Thanks for posting my question!