The New Runner's Guide to Playing Well with Others
Has the arrival of the New Year (and maybe, possibly, a bit of holiday over-indulgence) spurred you to lace up your running shoes and hit the road? Fantastic! Welcome! While I've only been a serious runner for a couple of years, I have two half marathons under my belt and am training for my first full 26.2, so I'm comfortable playing ambassador to the newest members of the slightly motley crew of those who call themselves runners.
Generally I've found runners to be a friendly group, but there are a few tricks of the trail I thought I'd share so we can all enjoy our time on our feet a little bit more. Also, we aren't alone out there; we have cars, bikes, and critters to contend with. However, with a little respect and good sense everyone can co-exist, stay safe, and dare I say have a bit of fun.
In the end, playing well with others is all about safety. Being unaware and selfish out on the road can endanger you and other runners. The fact that being a team player helps build up your good karma stash is just a bonus.
Runners' Etiquette 101
Etiquette: it's not just for dinner parties and thank you notes. When everyone agrees to a basic social contract for how to engage in a common activity things must move along ever so much more smoothy. When you hit the road, trail, track, or other surface where runners may be present, keep these good manners in mind.
- Share the road. I can't tell you how many times I've been forced into the grass, mud, or even dangerous traffic by groups of people running three or four abreast in a narrow lane. Similarly those with large jogging strollers or even big dogs tend to take up more than their fair share of the running space. Just because you have more girth due to group size or gear doesn't mean you have a right to take up more than your fair share of space. To be blunt, it's rude and can put other runners in danger of injury. When you see a runner headed your way and you are with a group, tighten up ranks to only occupy half of the road. If you have wide gear please pull over if necessary. Seriously, the way to be the worse possible sort of runner is to behave as if you own the whole road. You don't.
- Listen for other runners coming up from behind. Its an inevitable truth of running: faster runners will pass you. Be ready for them by listening for footsteps, particularly if you are with a group or have headphones on - both of which may make it harder to hear. Often faster runners will shout "On your left" as they are ready to pass you. Don't take this as a personal condemnation of your pace and try to block their way (it happens), just take their notice for what it is: a friendly warning that they are coming up from behind. Scoot over a little to let them pass. If you don't, once again, you are setting one or both of you up for injury.
- Mind your pawed partners. Running with your pooch can be fun and motivating. For many months my dog was in better shape than I was and that spurred my competitive juices. However, when you take your dog on a run, you are 100% responsible for their behavior. Keep them on a relatively short leash lest they dart in front of another runner and trip them, which could hurt the runner and your dog. If your dog likes to stop and commune with others' canine companions, pull over to the side of the road so as not to block other runners. And finally, be kind to you dog and teach him how to behave in crowds if you're going to a busy trail to run. A startled and confused pup is a danger to everyone around, including themselves.
A Word About Cars
In the jungle that is the highways and byways, cars are king. They are bigger than you, faster than you, and in a majority of cases not aware of you. I've read too many sad stories about runners that ended up on the bad end of a colliision with a car. Rarely is the outcome good for the runner. Short of always running on trails where there are no cars, I offer these tips for staying safe in the world of motorized vehicles.
- It's better to be safe than right. More than once I've had cars turn right on red even though I had a green crosswalk and technicaly the right of way. I let them go, albeit with a few choice words shouted at their disappearing bumpers, because I'd rather be alive, kicking, and wronged than maimed and right. The bottom line: Don't play chicken with a car.
- Assume drivers don't see you. Until I've made eye contact with a driver I behave as if I'm invisible go them. Its annoying, true, but discretion is the better part of valor. If you run in the dark either in the morning or at night, consider a blinking light or reflective clothing. The dark hours mean tired and distracted drivers. In the morning coffee is just kicking in and people are plotting the day ahead as they drive to work. In the evening they are tired from a full day, distracted by it's goings on, and possibly fresh from a happy hour. Any edge you can get to help make them aware of you can only help.
In General, Be Aware
I'm the first to admit that running can make me contemplative and very inwardly-focused. Or when I'm running with my group I get chatty and absorbed in conversation. It can be hard to focus on the world around me. Still, the best way to run safely and with consideration for others is to simply be aware of yourself and your surroundings at all times. Watch for others, for dogs, for kids, and for cars and you'll be just fine.
Once again, welcome to the crazy fun world of running. If you have questions about running etiquette or your own tips to stay safe out there, please share them in the comments. If you're an experienced running, share your wisdom too. Somewhere along the line someone taught us how to behave as runners and it our duty to pass it on.