You’ve put in the work, and after months of training, race day has finally arrived. Naturally, you are a bundle of nerves — not only about your performance, but also because there’s so much to remember: Did you pack your on-course fuel? Are you wearing your lucky socks? Just how much traffic will there be to get there?
It is important to remember that other runners — whether there are 25, or you’re running with thousands of people — put in the same work you did and deserve to have the best experience, too. This brings us to the etiquette of racing.
Here are a few key race-day manners to keep in mind as you toe the starting line. Follow these and you’ll help guarantee a smooth race day for yourself and fellow competitors.
BEFORE THE RACE
The area where you line up pre-race is known as the corral and though you may think your position there doesn’t matter, it absolutely does — especially for elite runners.
Prior to entering the corral, it’s best to get the entirety of your pre-race routine out of the way. For example, do your stretching, strides and warmup routine beforehand. There are a lot of runners lining up and the area can get crowded very quickly, so being considerate of this will give everyone the space they need to prepare for their race. Additionally, should you need to use the port-a-potty, do so before you enter the corral to reduce the number of people you need to weave through to get there and back.
“You’ll likely be standing in your corral for 15–45 minutes (depending on the size of the race) so plan accordingly,” notes Gary Berard, New York City- and New Jersey-based running coach and founder of GB Running, LLC. “Being mindful of those around you is a courteous and thoughtful approach, particularly when you’re all about to embark on a long, arduous journey such as a marathon.”
Once you are in the corral, as mentioned above, make sure you are in the right place. Many races assign corrals based on previous race times, but for those that don’t, make sure you are out of the way of faster runners and realistic about your pace and where you place yourself in the pack.
“Most large races with a serious elite field will have a separate corral for [elite]runners, but smaller races can be a free-for-all,” explains Allison Macsas, co-founder of Rogue Expeditions and winner of the 2017 Austin Marathon. “If you don’t realistically have a shot at a top-10 finish, it’s best to stay off of the front two rows so that you don’t impede those who do, especially in shorter races where seconds really matter. Beyond basic courtesy, it can be dangerous for slower runners to get in front of the faster runners — it will inevitably lead to weaving, dodging, tripping and falling.”
DURING THE RACE
When it comes to etiquette mid-race, most of the courtesy rules take place at the water stops. Always keep moving forward throughout the race and as you prepare to slow down to get water, take a quick look around to make sure you aren’t in the way of any other runners.
“At water stops, ease your way over and try not to cut people off and even though everyone else is throwing their garbage on the ground, at least attempt to hit the trashcan,” urges Macsas. “And say thank you to the volunteers, they’re putting in a long day!”
Berard shares the same sentiment about littering on the course. Though there are volunteers present to clean up discarded cups and wrappers, some races — he specifically notes the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa — have started to crack down and discipline runners who leave trash on course.
As for on-course etiquette, the rest of the rules involve cell phones, cameras and music players. Wearing headphones is allowed on many courses, though some races do not allow you to listen to music. Being aware of the rules is imperative and should you choose to wear headphones, keep the music low so you can hear the runners around you.
“Race directors often have a rule against headphones, most often to ensure that runners can hear the directions of race officials, police officers and volunteers,” adds Macsas. “That said, please, please, please don’t play music out loud! I can assure you that no one else appreciates it.”
If you need to have your phone out to listen to music and snap pictures, step aside for those mid-race selfies. It is perfectly OK to celebrate your accomplishment and document it along the way, as long as you aren’t in the way of any other runners.
AFTER THE RACE
Post-race you enter the finisher’s chute once you cross the finish line, where you collect your medal, grab any race-provided snacks, get official photo opps and collect any gear you dropped off before the race. In this area it is important to remember that there are many other tired runners around you, so being aware of your surroundings even when you aren’t on course is important.
“On the finish line, try not to block someone else’s finish line photo — we all want one,” emphasizes Macsas. “Gather yourself, but keep moving to avoid bottlenecking. Thank the volunteers and, most importantly, stay awhile and cheer! The runners behind you will appreciate it as much as you did.”
NOTES FOR SPECTATORS
If you stick around to cheer on other runners — or you’re giving your family and friends advice for their own sideline experience — here are a few things to know.
The first rule, of course, is to stay off the race course. Not only can it be dangerous for runners, but it can also put you in a compromising situation. Additionally, you want to make sure medical personnel and race officials have the proper access to the course should they need to help any runners who may need it.
“Let the runners have their space,” adds Berard. “I know it’s always hard to find your runner in a sea of humanity during any road race, but taking baby steps into the race course in attempt to spot them is a definite no-no.”
The other rule to follow involves cheering: You should absolutely do it! Be aware of what you are saying to runners on course; Macsas advises you to stay away from phrases such as, “Pick it up!” and Berard specifically mentions not to yell, “You’re almost there!” Otherwise, cheering and congratulating runners really has no rules as long as you are encouraging them along the way.
“The runners at the front — myself included — often look focused and serious, because we are. Though we may not show a lot of emotion or reaction, we really do appreciate the cheering, so keep doing it,” concludes Macsas. “For elites, traveling to a race is often the equivalent to a business trip, and we often don’t have friends or family there to cheer — if you see a name on a bib number, yell it!”