A fresh new year tends to bring a less competitive season to those of us in the Northern hemisphere. As such, it is a good time to remind ourselves of why we race, as well as how we race. Winter races, at least for me, tend to be more of a social affair than a competitive one. It is a good time to practice good racing etiquette, and to get the habits instilled in you so that you do not forget yourself when you are late in the season and can not spare your attention from the task at hand.
As such, here are some unwritten rules to always keep in mind when you are running a road race. Unless you are told otherwise by a race director, following these rules will make their jobs easier and your race more enjoyable.
First, know the course rules. Read the pamphlet or sign up sheet for anything out of the ordinary that you need to know, and try to listen to the starting instructions at the line. You may learn about a particularly bad stretch of the course or a course change that can keep you from going the wrong way or hurting yourself.
Next, always stay on the course. There are very few instances when leaving the course will give you a faster time, and if it does then you probably deserve to be disqualified. If you see somebody go off course, you should try to let them know. If they ignore you or are obviously trying to cut the course, inform a race official.
Know how the race is scored. If you are handed a stick or you need to tear something off of your bib at the end of the race, you do not want to mess up and not get an official time. Most of the races that I run these days are chip-timed, so check to see whether you need to tie the chip to your ankle or shoelaces and be sure to run over the mats.
Wear your bib on the front of your jersey or shorts. The volunteers will be more likely to recognize that you are a part of the race and not a bandit, it will be easier for you to tear your ticket off the bib at the end of the race, and it allows your name to be announced at the finish line if they aren’t using a dedicated chip mat to check names. Wearing your bib on the front of your jersey is often written directly into the race rules, and I had a friend once who was pulled off of the course and disqualified because the race director did not see his number on his back.
Seed yourself appropriately at the starting line. Some races will seed you based on your race number or the color of your bib, and you will need permission to get very far up in the field. Most races, however, rely upon the honor system for self seeding. If you at least get into the starting area in your expected per mile pace zone and then move forward near the start of the race, you will be less likely to be trampled or to hold back faster runners. As a competitive runner, I really dislike having to weave around somebody that is walking in the first half mile of a race, and it can create a dangerous situation if somebody is not paying enough attention.
Use your turn signals before going around a corner. Not only will you let your fellow competitors know that you are about to change directions, but it also keeps people from cutting inside you so that you are less likely to collide. You can be polite and keep an advantage over someone at the same time! I have written about how to use your turn signals before.
Point out potholes and cars when you notice them. If you see a hole in the ground, especially if you are in a crowd, just say, “Hole!” and raise our arm briefly. If you see or hear a motor vehicle then yell, “Car Back!” or “Car Up!” as appropriate. Sometimes these things are not readily apparent to everybody, and giving a little warning will allow people to avoid getting hurt.
Avoid spitting on people. If you need to spit or blow a snot rocket, then make sure there is nobody around you or that you are on the side of the course. Pay attention to the wind; it can make it hard to miss people sometimes, including yourself.
Don’t wear headphones. I realize that this can be a heated debate amongst runners, but if your race does not specifically prohibit them (most do) then at least keep one ear free and pay attention to those around you. If you would like to debate the issue, then please do so in the article where I share my take on running with headphones.
Look before you leap when moving towards a water station. This is another good time to use your turn signals and reserve some space before you start moving towards the side of the road. When you reach for your water, do not shoot your opposite arm off without looking first. I was punched by an Olympic Gold Medalist once when Joan Benoit Samuelson got me by accident.
Be careful of where you throw your trash when you are done at an aid station. Your fellow runners do not want your water or Gatorade thrown on their legs. If there is a trash can out, hold onto the cups or gel packets or whatever else until you can toss it in. This will save the volunteers some work, and will prevent anybody from slipping on your trash and hurting themselves.
Keep moving through the finish line. Do not stop to chat or grab your knees until you have left the finish chute. It will make it easier for the volunteers to attend to the people who are seriously hurt, and it will keep the finish line from backing up back onto the course. This is especially important at big races where there are a lot of people or at small races where you need to keep in a line to be assigned the correct finishing position. Be sure not to get out of line if the race is not chipped and you need to tear off a piece of your bib to assign yourself the correct finishing position.
That’s a list off of the top of my head. What other breaches of etiquette bother you? I will update this list with anything that I missed and that should be on it.