(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
February 2000. My, how you’ve grown, Bix and Portland! These were my two most recent races, and the first time in too long that I’d run each one. Since my last visits, the Bix Seven had tripled in size and Portland Marathon had doubled.
Please don’t misread what I’m about to say. I love seeing races fill to overflowing with runners, runner-walkers and pure walkers. I’m not about to say that only the fast few should race and everyone else should step aside and watch, because that would make a spectator of me too.
What must be said, though, is that crowds create problems. Running in peak midpack traffic at Bix and Portland, I saw too many infractions of race rules and violations of common courtesy. Minor wrongs grew into major disruptions when hundreds or thousands of people committed them.
In these crowds, too many runners acted like drivers veering to an exit ramp without looking or signaling. Running became a contact sport, leaving me with bruises to prove it.
This wasn’t the fault of race organizers, since Bix and Portland run as smoothly as any races in the country. Officials can only do so much crowd controlling. The crowds must largely control themselves by following a code of the road written into the traditions of the sport.
The problem is, newbie and once-a-year runners haven’t spent enough time in the sport to memorize this code. Most displays of bad running etiquette come from innocence or ignorance of these customs, not malicious intent.
So widespread is the problem that the Road Runners Club of America appointed Freddi Carlip to serve as “Ms. Road Manners.” She makes appearances to address these issues.
“The lack of manners seems to stem from ignorance and not using common sense,” says Carlip. “Many people entering road races don’t understand the mechanics of being part of a road race. I don’t know why we old-time runners were able to figure things out without being told, but it’s not the case today.”
Big road races resemble rush-hour traffic. Both move better and take you where you want to go faster when certain rules and customs apply. Observe them yourself and let others know, politely, when they stray from these the seven most important, and most often violated, practices of road racing:
If you don’t enter a race, don’t run it. Don’t be a bandit who steals services from runners who have paid for them. Don’t run partway “for training” and demean the full efforts of others.
Leave children, dogs and well-meaning friends on the sidelines. Baby-Joggers and leashed pets create hazards for the runners around you. So do supporters accompanying you on bicycles or in-line skates, or those who dash into the streets to hug or run along with you.
Start where you expect to finish. Know what the pace signs mean (it’s not how fast you could run a single mile in your dreams). Never start in front of the starting line or before the official starting time, which both give false results.
Run in a straight line whenever possible. Look before you veer (or spit, or blow your nose), and don’t change lanes unless you’re two steps in front of the nearest runner. If you take the increasingly popular walking breaks, walk to the side of the road.
Run side-by-side with no more than one companion. Don’t create a multi-person roadblock for the runners behind you, especially when your group stops as one for a walk or a drink.
Take out your own trash if you carried any bars or gels to consume along the way. Don’t toss down the wrappers as if mom would come along later to pick after you. (Drink cups aren’t your responsibility since the race supplies them.)
If you have a complaint about the event’s conduct, don’t address it to the low-level volunteers who are most visible. Don’t discourage them from ever wanting to work at a race again. Take your complaint to the race director – preferably in writing after the heat of race day has eased for both of you.
2018 Update. Freddi Carlip continues to produce Runner’s Gazette, one of the sport’s longest-lasting publications. It dates from 1976.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]