By and large, running a race is a pretty selfish pursuit.
Beforehand, you’re making sure you’re properly warmed up and hoping your breakfast will stay down; during it, you’re focused on executing your race plan and – eventually – just trying to hang on till you get to the finish line; afterward, you’re eager to bask in your accomplishment or wallow in self-pity.
And so it’s easy to forget about the concerns of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of other runners who are participating in the race, too.
But please: Don’t. Don’t be That Guy, or That Woman.
Whether you are running the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon’s marathon, half marathon, relay or 5K, here are 26 tips that will help you get across the finish line with a maximum amount of personal satisfaction but also a minimum amount of frustration for your fellow runners.
- DO use the portable toilets. Unlike bushes and alleys, portable toilets are specially designed and equipped to accommodate bodily functions. Look, I’ve heard all the arguments for making the world your toilet. But I’ll put it this way: Outside of a race environment, if you saw someone peeing in public, what kind of assumptions would you make about that person?
- DON’T wait till you get into the start corral to do your warmup. High knees and butt kicks are great dynamic stretches to do before a race, but if you do them too close to others, you may wind up on the receiving end of a butt kick.
- DO line up according to your pace. There is a certain thrill you can obtain from starting up front with the fastest folks, but if you’re not one of those fast folks, the thrill will vanish as you quickly realize you’re simply in the way.
- DON’T talk when last-minute announcements are being made, or during the national anthem. I know, I know — you’re excited. Or you’re nervous. Or you have questions. The thing is, although you may not be interested in hearing what the race director, or the mayor, or the pastor is saying, others probably are.
- DO be patient during the first half-mile to a mile or so. If you’ve lined up too far towards the back of the pack, yes, you might get stuck in a traffic jam. Don’t start throwing elbows or weaving around other runners; relax – it’ll thin out. And as an added bonus, you’ll be able to say you followed this age-old racing advice: Don’t go out too fast.
- DON’T make assumptions about other runners. “It’s Mile 1 and they’re already walking?? Boy, it’s going to be a long day for that person…” Well, that person just may be practicing the Galloway run-walk training method. Or they might have a not-obvious disability of some sort. Yes, this list is generally about being courteous to others, but in this particular case, just worry about yourself, please!
- DO run side-by-side with a friend/training partner. I’ve run marathons this way, and it can be hugely motivating and rewarding to be able to share the experience with someone whose company you enjoy, whether one of you is going slower than usual to pace the other or whether you’re both chasing the same challenging time goal. It can make the 3, 4, 5 or 6 hours go by in what feels like half the time.
- DON’T run with side-by-side with four or five friends/training partners. If you want to run five abreast, do it on a bank of treadmills at the Y or something. Just not during a crowded road race.
- DO try to keep your friend/training partner motivated. I mean, duh, that’s kind of the point of running together, right? A little banter is good. “How are you feeling?” is good. “Are we there yet?” is good. Checking in about pace and hydration? All good.
- But DON’T have a loud and seemingly endless conversation about your fantasy football team, or about your relationship problems, or about the current political climate in the state of North Carolina. Because if I’m running in your immediate vicinity, I really don’t want to hear it.
- DO start getting over to the right as you approach an aid station. This, presumably, will signal to those beside and behind you that you intend to use it, and they can then plan their own decisions about using it accordingly.
- DON’T act like a caveman/cavewoman at the aid stations. Proper and considerate use of aid stations isn’t something anyone wants to spend time practicing outside of races, but there is certainly an art to grabbing liquids, drinking liquids, and disposing of cups on the fly. For sure don’t dart in front of a slower runner at the last second and grab the cup they were about to take. Other than that, I’d say a good rule of thumb is simply to remember that the volunteers working these aid stations are human beings who would prefer not to have sports drinks spilled all over them and don’t like being pelted with trash.
- In fact, DO remember to thank every volunteer at every aid station. They’re keeping you hydrated and energized. It’s quite literally the least you can do in return.
- DON’T forget the other volunteers along the course. In many cases, they got out of bed before you did, they arrived at the race before you did, and they won’t get to leave the race until long after you’re done. These events could not and would not happen without these people. Say thank you, and do it with a smile – even if you’re hurting. (Side note: The police officers are great, too, and well-worth thanking for their service, in general. But they’re being paid to protect you. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something to think about when considering the sacrifice the unpaid race volunteers are making.)
- DO turn your head to spit or blow a snot rocket if you need to. We’ve all been there. It’s not like we’re doing it because we think it makes us look cool.
- But DON’T turn your head to spit or blow a snot rocket without first checking your surroundings. This should require zero explanation.
- DO try to look good for the race photographers. When you spot them, it’s not a terrible time to throw in a little pickup to reduce the chances of them making an image of you looking like you’re barely moving and to increase the chances of them catching you with both feet off the ground. Also: Smile. It might not ultimately make you like the photo any better, but you’ll probably prefer it over one of you looking like you’re about to die.
- But DON’T take your own photos unless you are off to the side of the road. This should require zero explanation, but we live in a world now where certain people think it’s OK to take a photo anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Well, I’m here to tell you that stopping in the middle of the street to take a race selfie is a good way to end up on your butt with a shattered smartphone.
- DO say things to other runners like “Keep pushing” or “Keep fighting. “This, to me, is the safest type of encouragement. Pretty much everyone is trying to get across the line as fast as they possibly are physically able.
- But DON’T say things like “Great job” or “Lookin’ good. “I expect to get some disagreement on this one, but here’s my argument: What if the person you’re saying this to has bonked and is in the middle of their slowest mile, or what if they’re off pace and no longer have any real hope of hitting their goal for the day? In their head, it may feel a bit condescending – even if they know you don’t mean it that way. “Keep pushing” or “Keep fighting,” meanwhile, works in any scenario, in my mind.
- DO take 5-10 seconds to hug or personally high-five your biggest supporters. They got up at sunrise. They’ve been waiting, possibly in inclement weather, for hours just to catch a quick glimpse of you. I can guarantee you that taking this very quick detour will make them feel special and confirm that coming out to cheer was worth the time and effort.
- DON’T let your toddler jump in to run the last 50 yards with you. You will love it. Your toddler will love it. Your family will love it. Maybe even some spectators will love it. But you’re putting the kid at risk of accidentally getting hurt by runners who aren’t expecting a toddler to be in the homestretch, you’re putting those other runners at risk, you’re putting yourself at risk of being disqualified.
- DO keep it moving when you cross the finish line. For the last several miles, all you’ve been able to think about is how good it will feel to stop running. But do not stop in your tracks right after hitting the timing pad. If you can make it 5 kilometers, or 13.1 miles, or 26.2 miles, you can certainly muster up the energy to get through the chute quickly enough to clear a path for the dozens of runners pouring through behind you.
- DON’T get greedy at the post-race refueling stations. Grabbing a six-pack of soda and enough cookies to feed a kindergarten class = not cool. Be considerate. The slowest finishers should be able to find the same goodies as the fastest ones.
- DO hang out and cheer for runners crossing the finish line. Part of what makes a great race experience is a great finish-line experience, and that means great crowd support complete with lots of clapping and cheering. Unless you truly have somewhere you need to be, stick around and show your fellow participants some love.
- And finally: DON’T forget to wear your medal around for the rest of the day, even after you’re back in regular street clothes. You earned it.