The Basics of Running: Rules & Etiquette

If you are new to running in road races, you may not be familiar with some of the rules – both stated and unwritten.  While may veteran runners love to see new runners joining the sport, there are runner and race day rules and etiquette guidelines that new runners should learn and follow so they are considerate to those running around them! 


  • Run against traffic if running on the road.  If running on the sidewalk or multi-use trails, travel on the right side and pass on the left.  
  • Never run more than two people wide if you are running in a group.  Do not be a road or trail hog. 
  • Do not run down the middle of the road or the trail. 
  • If you are running an out-and-back route, do not just make a sudden u-turn at your turn around point.  Step to the right, stop and allow oncoming traffic the opportunity to pass.  Ensure the road or trail is clear of oncoming traffic (runners, cyclists, etc.) and then make your u-turn.  Making a sudden u-turn without looking over your shoulder is a good way to get hit or cause an accident. 
  • Alert pedestrians when you are passing them.  Do not assume they are aware you are coming.  A simple “on your left” warning is perfect!
  • Be alert on blind curves.
  • Stop at stop signs and ensure oncoming traffic yields to you before you proceed across the road.  Do not assume cars will stop if you are entering a cross walk.  
  • Respect private property along your route.  Do not relieve yourself in the neighbor’s bushes.
  • Do not litter!  If you cannot find a trash can, carry your trash with you till you find one or return home. 


  • FOLLOW THE RULES OF THE RACE, OUTLINED ON THE RACE ENTRY FORM!!! All runners have a collective responsibility to keep the event safe!  Make sure you know whether or not the race you are running allows dogs, headphones, cell phones, jogging strollers, etc. before you get there on race day. 
  • Pre-register for the race even if same day registration is offered.  This will help ease the registration process for everyone involved.  (Note: The bigger the race the more likely they will not allow or offer same day registration!)
  • Arrive early for the event, especially if you are picking up your race packet and number on race day.  Check your registration information carefully, especially if you are racing for an award or prize money.  (Note: Again, the bigger the race the more likely they will not allow or offer packet pick on race morning.)
  • Use the facilities before the race starts to lessen the need once on the course.  Make sure you help keep the facilities clean for the person in line after you.
  • Pin your race number on the FRONT of your shirt or shorts.  This is where it is most visible for photographers and race officials.
  • Line up according to how fast you plan to run (or walk) the event.  Slower runners and walkers should move to the back of the race pack.  Just because you arrive early does not mean you should be at the front of the starting line!
  • Pay attention to the pre-race instructions and announcements.  This is not the time to be blaring your favorite song on your person music device or talking to those around you!  Sometimes they may have had to change the course or need to give runners special instructions last minute.  Make sure you are listening!


  • If you drop something as the race starts, unless it is extremely important (such as a car key), do not stop and pick it up!  Wait until almost everyone has crossed the starting line, then retrieve it. 
  • Do not drop clothing in the middle of the course after you warm-up.  If you must shed layers of clothing, tie them around your waist or place them on the side of the road or starting corral where no one will trip over them.  If you drop/leave clothing, do not expect to get it back!
  • If you are running with friends or family members, do not run or walk more than two people wide.
  • Do not block runners coming up behind you by swerving needlessly back and forth across the course.
  • If you are walking in a group, stay to the back of the pack and follow the “two runners wide” rule.
  • Bodily functions are a fact of life during a race.  If you need to spit, blow your nose or throw-up, move to the side of the road and do it there!  If nature calls, check for a port-a-potty, an open business, a kind neighbor along the course, or as a last resort a discreet clump of bushes or trees before relieving yourself.
  • Move to the side if someone behind you says “excuse me” or “on your right/left”.  The person behind you is giving you a heads up before passing you. It is proper race etiquette to let that person pass you without blocking their effort.
  • If someone in front of you is wearing headphones, and they are blocking you, gently touch their elbow or shoulder as you pass to alert them to your presence.
  • If you need to tie your shoe or stop for any reason (phone call, nose blow, etc.) move to the side of the road and step off the course.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings   The course may or may not be closed to traffic.  It is your responsibility to watch for oncoming traffic and other dangers.
  • Yield the right of way to all police and emergency vehicles.  Yield the course to wheel chair athletes.  You can change directions or stop more quickly then they can, especially on a downhill.
  • DO NOT CHEAT!  Do not cut the course or run with someone else’s number!
  • Enjoy the race!


  • When approaching an aid/water station to hydrate or re-fuel, move to the right and grab your fluid/nutritional needs from the volunteers or the aid tables then continue forward away from the volunteers or tables.
  • If you need to stop at an aid station step to the right side of the road and proceed to the aid station, but do not block others from accessing the aid tables or volunteers handing out fluids.
  • Throw your used cup to the right side away from the course as close to an aid station as possible.  Drop your cup down by your waist as opposed to tossing it over your shoulder.  The person behind you may not appreciate the shower if the cup is not empty.
  • Say thank you to the volunteers manning the aid stations.
  • If you see someone in distress on the course, report their number to the aid station and try to recall the approximate mile marker where you saw them.


  • If you are running with a personal music device, now would be the most important time to remove your headphones or turn the volume down. 
  • Follow the instructions of the race officials working at the finish line.
  • If a friend or family member is running the last stretch with you and is not officially registered for the race, he/she should move off the course before the finish chute starts.  Do not allow them to cross the finish line with you!
  • Once you have crossed the finish line, keep moving forward until the end of the finish chute.  If the event is not electronically timed, stay in the correct finishing order so the finish line volunteers can remove the pull tags for scoring.
  • If the event is electronically timed, be sure to return the timing tag/chip before leaving the finishers’ chute – if necessary!
  • Exit the chute and wait for friends and family members in a central, pre-planned location.
  • Enjoy the post-race refreshments, but remember it is not an all you can eat buffet for you and your family.
  • Be proud of your accomplishment!


  • If you have won an award, stay for the award ceremony.  
  • If you feel you deserved an award but your name was not announced, do not run on stage to debate the awaed with the announcer.  The announcer usually just reads the information given to them by the race officials.  Find a race official and discuss the discrepancy with them. 

Recently asked the question, “What are things other runners do, or forget to do, that drives you crazy?”  Here is a list of some of the top answers they received from their readers:

  • Lining up at the front of the race and then running slower “than a baby can crawl”.
  • Abruptly stopping during a race in the middle of the road.  Move to the side first before you stop!
  • Bringing your untrained dog to run a race with you.
  • If you must spit or blow your nose, please do so at the back of the pack and off to the side!
  • Runners, do not run WITH traffic.  Are you crazy?
  • Cutting off other running and then slowing down.
  • Throwing drinks or trash at the feet of the runners behind you.  Throw it in the bin a few paces down the road!
  • Stopping IMMEDIATELY after the finish line.  Keep going a few yards passed the finish line to get out of the way of other runners who are trying to finish!
  • Do not literally push people forward when the starting gun has fired!

Remember that no event is perfect and people work hard to make them safe and enjoyable for everyone.  Most events are staffed primarily by volunteers, but there is always a race director or race committee that is responsible for the event.  If you have ideas for improving an event or concerns you would like addressed, share them with the race director or race committee in a positive and productive manner. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s