When it comes to rules of the road, knowing proper etiquette isn’t limited to driving cars, riding motorcycles or bikes. Runners who are competing in a road race also have a responsibility to do the right thing. This means being considerate and aware of others sharing the road with you before, during and after you lace up your best kicks to tackle the course and the clock.
Regardless of the distance or scale of the event – be it a neighborhood 5k or a world-renowned marathon – there are expectations that runners of all abilities should abide by, as both a courtesy to the next guy or gal and for everyone’s personal safety.
With that in mind, here’s a six-pack of pointers from DICK’S Sporting Goods Associate Cathy Connor to properly conduct yourself on the road during your next race. Connor, an avid master’s-level runner with 25 full marathons to her credit since taking up the sport just 12 years ago, is slated to compete next April in her eighth Boston Marathon. Suffice it to say, she knows her stuff.
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
“The key is to know your capabilities before you line up,” Cathy says. “You need to be honest with yourself and know whether you fall into a high-, moderate- or low-ability group. If you try to run too fast too soon with a group that’s clearly faster than you, in order to impress yourself or others, you’ll wind up getting trampled or run out of gas. So try to get to the starting line early and position yourself where you know you can run safely.”
In addition, Cathy offers two more important tips when gearing up for the gun. While they seem like common sense, they can often be easily forgotten.
“Try not to trash talk before a race with runners you don’t know,” she says. “And make sure you use the Porta John as soon as you can beforehand. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve seen who forget to go and end up interrupting their own race!”
2. BRAKING BAD
One of the most common mistakes made by first-time racers is hitting the brakes suddenly mid-stride and walking down in the middle of the road. “It’s an ongoing issue for newbies,” she says. “It’s understandable if you have to stop because you’re sick, are unaware of your surroundings or just having a rough time. But if do, it’s best to pull off along the edge of the course and get out of everyone else’s way. You have to think of yourself like a car or a bike.”
“Stopping suddenly in large packs – or even zigzagging – increases the risk to those behind you that they may get tripped up,” Cathy says. “So regather yourself along the side when you’re feeling affected and try to run straight.”
3. AVOID TEMPTATION
While it’s a good idea to think of yourself as a car following the rules of the road, this isn’t NASCAR, which means drafting behind another runner’s rear bumper too long to conserve your own energy deserves a black flag.
“Try not to do it,” Cathy says. “In a weird way, it’s a compliment to the runner you’re riding because you recognize that he or she has ability to help you. But it can also make those runners uncomfortable and can mess up their strides. So just pass them when you can.”
4. DRINK RESPONSIBLY
When water beckons, be careful not to clothesline the runner behind you who may be reaching for that same cup. “Make sure you give a quick glance so you’re not in their way,” Cathy says. “After I grab the cup and use it, I try to crease it up and toss it along the side of the road away from other runners, rather than just dropping it in the street. Wet cups can be dangerous and lead to slipping and falling. Plus, cups can end up hitting other runners in the face, which is not cool.”
5. DON’T CLOG THE CHUTE
So, you’ve finished the race. Well done! Congratulations! Now, get out of the way.
“At the end of the race, don’t just stop,” Cathy says. “It’s important to remember to run it out because courses often narrow like a funnel at the finish line and oncoming traffic is rolling up behind you. It’s no different than running and stopping in the middle of the course.”
Plus, runners are often racing the clock to set personal records, which means high speeds, long stopping distances and possible collisions. “You can always catch your time on the race or snap that selfie afterwards,” she says. “It’s common sense, but not everyone remembers when they cross the finish line.”
6. PAYING YOUR RESPECTS
Once the race is over, Cathy emphasizes the importance of thanking the volunteers who man the various aid stations to treat injuries, the street crossings to make sure runners make that right instead of a left (it happens), and the water stations to replenish both body and spirit.
“They give so much of their time and often without compensation,” she says. “I try to put myself in their position and show gratitude. I know they appreciate it. And it’s just a good way to end your race experience.”
BONUS TIP: SOMETIMES, IT’S BEST TO UNPLUG
Cathy estimates as many as 85% of all runners train for their next race while wearing headphones. While she is no stranger to the practice herself, Cathy is quick to add that listening to the outside world can be refreshing and stimulating.
“I enjoy listening to nature during training, like hearing geese in the fall,” she says. “I even enjoy the crowd during a race, since they’re out there encouraging me to do my best. I once had my battery on my iPod die out during a marathon and I ended up having a great run without it.”
Lastly, there’s the health benefit of being unplugged. “When you’re running without tunes blasting in your ears, you can concentrate on your breathing without distractions,” she says. “It’s so important to be able to listen to yourself because it can help you get a better read on your pace and overall conditioning.”
So next time you hit the road for a run, try unplugging and take it all in.