The Runner’s Code: 10 Things All Runners Need to Know

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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The Runner’s Code: 10 Things All Runners Need to Know

Running is different for everyone. Some people swear they immediately feel the runner’s high with that very first stride while others take a mile or two to get into the groove. Even though training varies from runner to runner, there are some rules that apply to everyone, no matter the experience level or distance covered.

Some rules are in place for your safety, some for your enjoyment and some for the safety and enjoyment of others. “If we all operate under the same general rules, we can ensure that everyone’s run is both enjoyable as well as safe,” says Melissa Farrell, co-founder of Las Vegas Runners. Whether you are on the roads, trail or track, remember the following runner’s code to make every training and racing experience a positive one.

When it comes to running safety and etiquette, a huge part is just knowing basic road-running rules, such as the fact you should always run in the opposite direction of traffic so cars can easily spot you. As your terrain changes, so do the rules; for example, when running on trails, follow traffic laws (run on the right side of the trail, single-file) but on the track run counterclockwise, with the fastest runners in the innermost lanes.

Another important part of safety is to stay aware and never assume cyclists or drivers see you. There has long been a debate about whether or not it is safe to run with music, but if you absolutely need to, keep one ear exposed so you can hear sounds around you. Likewise, if you are running with a group, don’t get so involved in conversations that you are distracted from other surroundings — and make sure to never run more than two abreast as to not take up too much room on the roads, potentially blocking traffic.

When choosing a group there are some things to look for such as members who run a similar pace and who may even be training for the same race as you. However, you don’t need every member to be the same experience level as you. “It is good to get with a group that includes both experienced runners and beginner runners,” notes Mike Rush, co-founder of Rush Running Company. “This is desirable because regardless of your experience, you will either be able to give advice or take advice.”

No matter how many people are in your group, again, it is important to make sure you run no more than two abreast and also that you run close together. Keeping an eye out for the safety of the group is an important part of the group experience, and if you are running too far ahead or too far behind, should you or someone else become injured, it may take longer to get the necessary help.

Running is an excellent way to explore roads and trails you may not regularly see. However, with running comes a greater responsibility to respect the environment. Whether you are training or racing, make sure to never litter and clean up after yourself. Should you see trash and have easy access to a trashcan — or even have a pack or running belt where you can stash it — take an extra minute to pick it up and dispose of it properly, even if you didn’t put it there. If you notice too much trash, you can even stage a clean-up with fellow runners to beautify the area. Along the same lines, don’t relieve yourself on private property; always try to locate a port-a-potty or public restroom. Giving the roads and residents extra respect is a great way to help elevate the running community and its reputation.

It can be easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest running innovations, but buying a pair of shoes or other apparel simply because you like the color? That is a huge no-no. Not only can it — in the case of shoes, especially — result in injury, but it also means you aren’t taking into consideration other important factors. This includes getting apparel that is sweat-wicking and made from technical fabric, as well as making sure it has proper reflective qualities. When running in the early mornings or late at night, when visibility is lower, you will be thankful you invested in the right gear to make sure other runners, cyclists and cars can see you clearly.

No matter your experience level, you shouldn’t be afraid to sign up for a race! Racing is a great way to keep yourself motivated, track your progress and set new goals for yourself as a runner. A big part of racing — especially for large-scale races — is lining up in the race corral prior to the event. Often this is assigned based on your pace, but if it isn’t, be honest and realistic about where you belong. “Please start in the proper starting area at the start of a race,” notes Michael Garrison, PhD, owner of Hawaii Running Lab. “The front row should be filled with runners who are going to finish in the front.” If you are a beginner, you shouldn’t be lined up near the front where the pros and faster runners will be in order to keep the area clear and avoid unnecessary slowdowns or collisions. Going for your race goal is a very personal experience, but don’t forget there are others on course going for the same thing. Following proper etiquette when it comes to letting others safely pass helps everyone have a safe race day.

When racing, taking time to thank volunteers and safety officials as you run by is always a wonderful idea. It doesn’t require more than a simple wave or thank you as you grab a water cup and shouldn’t slow you down as you speed toward the finish line to reach your personal record. Additionally, as many pros and those who finish in the front often do, it is great to stick around and cheer on fellow runners — some who you may know personally — after you’ve finished your own race. The important part, especially if you are cheering as you walk to your car, is to keep the path of the runners clear and avoid weaving your way through to give someone a high-five or a cheer. Allow other runners the courtesy you had to finish their race unobstructed, but with plenty of clapping, yelling and words of encouragement from the sidelines.

There has been a lot of controversy in the running world regarding banditing, also known as running a race you did not sign up for. Banditing can be dangerous, especially if there is an emergency and your bib is registered to another runner or if you do not have a bib at all. “Don’t run a race unless you have personally registered for it,” urges Garrison. “Using someone else’s number — most races swap these for free or a small fee — or running unregistered is not cool.” Sign up for as many races as you can, while staying injury-free, of course, but don’t run a race you haven’t paid for. Running is an expensive hobby, from the gear to training plans and entry fees, but it can cost your personal safety and that of other runners if you bandit a race.

A big part of running with a group or buddies is the camaraderie. When it comes to a friend who may be dealing with an injury — especially one that has sidelined them from the sport completely — be extra sensitive. They aren’t the ones who you should go to and complain about a bad run or minor ache you may be feeling after logging 18 miles; remember, they wish they were in your shoes. Staying aware when helping a friend get through injury can help keep their morale up and may even bring you both closer outside of the sport.


Finally, when it comes to running, understand that every single runner — even pros and coaches — have days they don’t want to run or runs that are less than stellar. However, don’t let a few bad runs spoil the whole sport. If you are having a rough go of it, change your routine. Focus on cross-training. Try some different terrain. But don’t ever let some tough workouts keep you from experiencing those good days. Because in the end, the good days always outweigh the bad.


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About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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