Last Updated on January 30, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
…but you should probably consider doing anyway.
I know, I know, don’t we have enough rules already? Enough whistle blowers and holier-than-thou martyrs in the endurance world, preaching from atop their blog soapboxes? I’m certainly guilty of complaining loudly in the past about the actions of others in the running world myself, but just bear with me through this one. I promise it’s not negative.
I spent this past weekend in Bethlehem PA, absolutely engulfed in the world of road racing. As much as I sit here behind my screen declaring how much I love trail running, and near daily cringe at the thought of training on the road (it’s true), there is no doubt that I will always feel a sense of thrill at a big road race. Thrill, and a tiny flutter in my heart. After all, it was road racing that sucked me into this sport in the first place.
There will be plenty of posts in the coming days recapping my experience hanging out with the Runner’s World crew and racing all 4 events of the 2015 Runner’s World Half Festival. But in the meantime, I wanted to share this post, one that came to me about 8 miles into the half marathon this weekend.
6 things you don’t have to do during a race…but should consider doing anyway.
Gestures that certainly aren’t specific race day etiquette, but might help contribute to an overall more positive race day experience for you and everyone else involved. And of course, leave you with some good running karma.
1) Thank the volunteers.
Because let’s face it, without the countless volunteers, your race probably wouldn’t happen.
You may only see a volunteer for a split second as you run by them, but while you are busting your butt trying to set a PR, that volunteer is busting theirs to help facilitate that PR. They wake up early to get to their location before roads are closed (in fact, they are probably at their station before you even hit the start line). They shiver (or sweat) as they stand in one place for hours on end making sure you take the right turns and stay on course. They get absolutely soaked while filling and handing cups full of water to runners that, try as they might, aren’t always very graceful when it comes to grabbing said cup. And the volunteers do it all with a smile on their face, for typically zero compensation.
PLEASE let them know how much you appreciate their time.
And while we are thanking people…
1a) Thank the emergency personnel
…such as police officers and EMT’s, that are out their ensuring your safety. From blocking roads, to directing traffic, to riding their bikes up and down the course making sure everyone is healthy, they are typically there for the long haul.
Sure, they are most likely getting paid, but I have no doubt that many of these men and women would rather be at home in bed at 6:00 am on a cold Sunday morning, or sharing breakfast with their own families, rather than getting yelled at by angry drivers who didn’t pay attention to the road closure signs.
Please let them know how much you appreciate their time as well. I’ve seen a quick “thank you for your time” shout out put a smile on a previously sullen looking officer’s face.
2) Use garbage cans …if you can.
Listen, we all know that tossing your empty water cup on the ground (within reasonable distance of the aide station) is common, acceptable practice. And I’m not going to argue that.
But if you CAN time your toss to coincide with a garbage can, almost ALWAYS provided a few paces beyond the table, do it. Not only will it make the cleanup a little easier on the volunteers, but it will help lessen the soaking wet pavement and slippery cup chaos, which I’ve seen cause more than one fall. Hell, I’ve almost fallen a number of times myself in that mess.
3) Pace Group? Don’t block the road.
I TOTALLY understand why you want to stay bunched up behind the pace leader like a flock of baby ducklings following their mama. Mama duck is bringing you to the safety of the finish line, after all…and hopefully with a PR. And believe me, I know potential PR’s are nothing to mess around with.
But if you are in a pace group, be sure to be aware of where you are in the road in the bigger picture. Pace groups can clog a road faster than that one time your toddler flushed his favorite toy and clogged the toilet. Keep in mind that people still need to get past you, and make your best effort to stay towards the right half of the road. This applies for any large group, really.
4) Be respectful with your music.
I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole of “should you or should you not wear headphones to a race“. I’ll let the race director make the rules and let you decide whether or not you are going to follow them. BUT I will say keeping your music at a low to moderate level truly is the safest thing for everyone.
Just this weekend in fact, I saw a woman wearing headphones who was completely OBLIVIOUS to the police car coming right up behind her. Yeah, the roads were closed, but obviously there was a reason the officer needed to get where he was going. She didn’t hear his siren and she definitely didn’t hear the countless runners yelling at her trying to let her know there was a car literally just a few feet behind her.
Also…please don’t play your music out loud on your phone. Believe it or not, some of us don’t like to listen to music while we run. If you do, that’s cool, but don’t force us to do the same just because we are running the exact same pace as you and can’t seem to break away.
5) Offer help…if you can.
Again, this is TOTALLY not expected of you. You paid for this race, you trained for this race, no one would think any less of you for going out there and focusing on YOUR race and nothing else.
That said, there are times when you will come across a fellow runner who is struggling. It’s so easy to pass someone struggling and think “they didn’t train hard enough” or “they should have been better prepared”. But the truth is, you never know what happened…maybe they accidentally dropped their last packed of nutrition and didn’t realize it. Or maybe they are just having a bad day. Who knows what happened, but if you have the means (and time) to help, consider helping.
If you have extra nutrition or water that you aren’t going to use, and the time to slow down for a few seconds, consider offering it up to the struggling runner. Or maybe they just need a few words of encouragement. Those take almost zero effort, so give the encouragement generously. You may totally turn the race around for them. And if nothing else, I believe it’s good running karma that will come back to you some day…maybe in the form
6) Stick around at the finish line.
Cheer those behind you in! You know how amazing it feels to cross a finish line with hundreds of people cheering you in? Well guess what, unfortunately not everyone does. I can tell you from experience that coming into the finishing chute to a non existent crowd can be incredibly disheartening. It can diminish the feeling of accomplishment on a good day, and can make a bad race feel even worse.
Help celebrate your fellow runner’s victories and struggles. Put on some warm dry clothes, grab a snack (or even a beer!) and stick around for a little while.
So, there you have it, my list (for now). Small gestures that don’t take too much effort out of your race, but may contribute to an overall better experience for you…and everyone else. Spread the good running vibes and try to remember these tips during your next race!
Is there anything you would add to this list? Comment below!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.
I always try to thank the volunteers and safety personnel along the way as they have given up the day to make the race a success. I definitely like it when people do not play there music out loud as I like to get in the zone without music. These are great tips Heather! Can’t wait to read more about the weekend!
What a great post, thanks! It’s so easy to forget these little things that can go so far for someone else 🙂
Amanda Brooks (@RunToTheFinish)
I love saying thank you to the volunteers while I run it’s actually a total mood booster for me too!
Would agree with every single one of these points. I ran the Birmingham (UK) half marathon this weekend and it made the whole atmosphere so much better that the volunteers felt appreciated and chipper (including some random members of the public who literally opened their front lawns to set up unofficial music, water and aid stations). Also, don’t know if it’s just me but I found that encouraging others as you run (be it getting them going when they are struggling or cheering on the guy who passed you running in a tweed three piece with a briefcase- yeah, that happened ) actually helps me run better because it sublimates the nerves and pressure for a time. So glad you had an awesome time racing 🙂
Wholistic Woman (@wholistic_woman)
It’s funny, as soon as I saw the post title I thought of #1! I always thank volunteers. I’ve been one myself and I can’t imaging racing without them!
The description of the pace group made me laugh, but only because it is true.
I’m just going to comment that I get the “don’t make me listen to your music” at the vast majority of races. The exceptions, for me: at a Rock ‘n’ Roll race, I like it when there is a party-pack with music, or when the pacers have music for their groups. It’s in the name, you should expect the noise 🙂
I totally agree with you there! But out on a trail race? No way! I want to hear the birds, not Jay-Z, LOL!!
These are such awesome tips, and things people probably often forget with the exhaustion of racing! I love that sign, too – so great.
Jess @ Run Pink Jess
YES to all of these. I practice each of these “rules” at every race. Especially thanking the volunteers. I occasionally miss the garbage can … but I make a good faith effort!! 🙂 I never use headphones because I feel like being present during a race is critical… I would add “don’t be rude to another runner who may not be aware of the water station rules” During my first race I guess I accidentally ran in front of someone at a water station and she was a total jerk face to me yelling “NO” at me. Really?! Never judge a runner. She/he could be a total newbie! 🙂
I always cool down by running back down the course and encouraging my friends as well as thanking the volunteers. The volunteers at races work so hard- all before the runners even arrive and after we leave. Plus, I’ve been a volunteer myself and it’s a tiresome job- it’s even more draining than running sometimes!
I’d like to add: If you are going to run a race and take selfies or pictures, do go to the side of the course for this. Some will stop in the middle of the road to take pictures and it’s hard for other runners to go around them.
If you are walking for any reason please don’t just stop. This sudden braking can cause runners behind you to fall or run into you. Move to the right and put up your hand to notify those behind you. And like the pace group if using the Galloway method in a group please do not string out.
Look before you spit…please people!
yes! these are super positive tips that can really spread the love of running and help everyone feel apart of the tribe. I know that’s what I like about road racing! Trails….now that’s a whole different love affair! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and good karma
I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have been toying with the notion to do a “rewrite.” All of these suggestions are golden, and I always try to adhere to them as well. I had never thought of the pace group(s) blocking the route…but that does happen! I also get really annoyed at the racers who toss their water cups directly on the ground as they run right past a trash can. UGH.
So very needed in this “it’s all about me race world.!”
I would add to thank the food folks too, and dont gripe about the selections in front of the volunteers.