Running Etiquette: Roads and Trails

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Running Etiquette: Roads and Trails

One of the first things coaches review with runners new to the sport are basic etiquette rules — and with good reason: Running on multiple types of terrain comes with its own set of challenges, specifically in terms of safety.  

“When out on the trails or road, it is especially important to abide by some rules, primarily for the safety of all of the runners out there,” explains Melissa Farrell, owner and coach of Las Vegas Runners. “If we all operate under the same general rules, we can ensure that everyone’s run is both enjoyable as well as safe.”

Though it can be uncomfortable, should you see someone venturing away from rules of running etiquette, a gentle reminder can help keep them — and you — safe. Teaching new runners proper etiquette is especially important so they don’t develop bad habits that are unsafe and hard to break.


The rules of running on the road are in place to mostly keep runners safe from cars and other vehicular traffic. Awareness in this case is extremely important not only for your safety, but to help vehicles avoid collisions with one another, as well.

Farrell shares the top three rules for runners on the roads:

  • Run against traffic if you do need to run in the road/shoulder.
  • Wear clothing that allows drivers and other runners to see you from a distance.
  • Beware of your surroundings. Listening to music can take you out of your environment, so be sure you can still hear traffic and you are always looking around to notice any issues.

The topic of listening to music on the run is a controversial one, so much so that some road races have banned the use of headphones on course altogether. If music is absolutely needed on a training run, many runners opt to only have one headphone in, leaving one ear completely open to traffic and pedestrian noise.


The Road Runners Club of America adds two important rules to this list, which deal with respecting the area where you are running.

“Respect private property along your route; don’t relieve yourself in the neighbor’s bushes,” it notes in information about running etiquette on its website. “Don’t litter. If you can’t find a trash can, carry your trash home.”


When it comes to running on the trails, you might not have to worry about vehicles, but you still need to keep an eye on your surroundings. Other runners and cyclists abound and, depending on the trail, animals — such as horses — might share the trail. Though you are running on a different surface and your experience may vary, many of the same rules apply.

“On trails, you do need to be more aware of your footing, due to the uneven surface and possible hazards,” notes Farrell, “but as far as courtesy, visibility and etiquette, they are the same in both situations.”

Farrell shares the top three rules for runners on the trails as follows:

  • Wear proper attire/lighting to make sure both runners and bikers can see you clearly.
  • Yield to those runners/bikers who are coming downhill, especially on single track trails where there is limited space.
  • Don’t run alone on the trails. If you must, alert someone to your location and planned route.

That final rule is important, as cell reception is often spotty on remote trails. If someone knows where you’ll be running and approximately what time you’ll return, you have a backup in place should you find yourself injured or in danger and unable to immediately call for help.



It is easy to get used to running on only one type of terrain, but varying it can help prevent overuse injuries and revive a stale running routine. It can be intimidating to embark on a new style of running, but the rewards are almost always worth it.

“I see many road runners who are afraid or hesitant to venture out on the trails, and vice versa,” adds Farrell. “I think both surfaces can prove to be challenging but a nice change of pace for either type of runner. If you are aware of some simple rules, and are careful, both can be great cross training for the other.”


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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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