The Keys to Running: Race Day Etitquette

Running EtiquetteIf you are reading the columns on this site, you may still be somewhat new to regular workouts and running. We all have to start somewhere so, with that in mind, here are few tips on running etiquette that will help you blend in and not irritate everyone else around you.

Don’t Be That Guy

Wearing Headphones

Not too long ago, this was one of the more controversial topics in running.With the advent of the iPod and other compact music players, it’s possible to have all your music with you during your race.The question is – just because you can do it, should you? 

A few years ago, I would have said absolutely not to wearing headphones during a race.You need to be fully aware of your surroundings, the race course, and your competitors.  My reasons were for safety and to focus on the event.Official race organizers wanted them banned for insurance reasons, not wanting participants distracted and getting injured.

However, an outright ban on music players proved to be highly impractical, and largely unenforceable. 

Today headphones and music players are only usually prohibited for ‘elites’, those athletes who actually might win a distance race.I’ve relaxed my stance on headphones also.Readers of this site, myself included, will likely never take first place, nor win the cash prize.If headphones help you keep your pace or help you focus, and the race does not explicitly ban them outright, then I am okay with it.We compete because we love the run.  We should enjoy it as much as we can.

However – as I often say – safety first.Always keep the volume to a level where you can hear everything and everyone around you. 

For a more thorough discussion of the great headphone debate, visit Runner’s World at:

External Speakers

Related to wearing headphones– if you are going to use a music player, you have to use headphones.I once ran a race where another runner had an iPhone strapped to her arm with the external speakers blaring her music, not going through the headphones. 

It’s obnoxious and distracting to the other runners.Don’t. Do. That.

Line Up in the Right Corral

For large events, you will often be assigned to a specific section or corral based on your average running time.Sometimes this will be done during registration, sometimes just at the start of the race.For example, there will be a large block dedicated to people who run 7:00 minute miles, behind that will be a section for people who run 7:30 minute miles, behind that will be a section for people who run 8:00 minute miles, etc…

If you know you can’t run a 7:00 minute mile, don’t line up in the 7:00 minute corral.If you honestly don’t know what your mile time is, then make a realistic guess and enter that corral.These days with chip timing, it really doesn’t matter when you cross the starting line, it will not affect your finish time.Save space for those who do qualify for that corral.

Water Stations

Many races will offer water or Gatorade at various points along the race course.Usually these stations are attended by race volunteers handing out cups of water for you to grab as you go by.If you decide you need to drink, grab your cup and keep moving.Once you clear the tables and volunteers, move to the side of the road and finish your drink.Do not come to a complete stop, as there are likely other runners right behind you.So take a few seconds, and move out of the way as a courtesy to others.Besides, running while drinking usually ends badly.

Taking Pictures During a Race is Probably Definitely a Bad Idea

This blew my mind.At one particular race the course started off on a nice downhill grade, offering some great views of the Potomac River.A quarter mile into the race, with 5000 runners still clustered together at the start, one participant decided he needed a photograph.He came to a complete stop, raised his camera up high, and snapped a few photos.I have never heard that many expletives on a race course before, nor since.The guy taking the photo got pushed, shoved, and elbowed by the crush of runners behind him.If you cannot control the urge for a picture (why are you racing with an actual camera, anyway?) get off the course.  

Keep Moving at the End

Crossing the finish line of a race is a great feeling, but you should resist the urge to simply stop when you do.There are a dozen people right behind you, so when you enter the chute just keep moving to avoid a bottleneck.By all means, walk or grab a bottle of water if offered, but heed the direction of the race officials or volunteers, and move along to the post-race festivities. 

A lot of the things mentioned here are common sense, but if you have never participated in a race before, you may not quite understand how these things work.At its simplest – pay attention to those around you, and be courteous.You will be surprised how friendly and encouraging your fellow competitors can be.  Be aware of those around you and you will do just fine. 

Have you run a race before? Let us know what irritates you in the comments below!

Brian Kehs

About the Author: Brian Kehs is a husband, father of two, a runner, and a manager in IT. In addition to running, Brian is an avid Star Wars fan boy who thinks Neil Gaiman’s Sandman may be the best literature out there. He regularly run 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers and half marathons. In his free time he coaches an elementary school running club!

4 replies
  1. Penny McDaniel
    Penny McDaniel says:

    I run in a lot of races, and absolutely love the competition, if not amongst others, amongst myself since I am always trying to improve technique and time. In one race, someone came up behind me and actually ran into me, throwing me off balance, because she was paying more attention to her iPod than the people around her. People need to pay attention. Great blog…can so totally relate!

  2. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I’ve only ever run 5km fun runs, and I actually really hate running–I get bored and find it hard on the joints. But I try to register for at least a couple 5km races a year to help push myself to exercise regularly in between so I don’t keel over during the race! (and my sister is a huge runner, so we try to do some family runs) One thing I would add to your list of annoyances is related to the water stations point… don’t stop dead once you get your water AND don’t throw your cup in the middle of the road for people behind you to step/trip/slip on! If you can’t manage to hit the garbage cans provided, at least throw your cup near them so it doesn’t pose a hazard for anyone behind you.


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  1. […] to the streets… so I asked our resident runner, Brian Kehs, to give us another entry in the “Don’t Be That Guy” series. […]

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