25 Basic Etiquette Rules for Running

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When running on trails, paths, a track, or roads, it's important for runners to follow a basic set of rules. Doing so helps keep those areas safe and enjoyable for everyone, including non-runners.

Common-sense guidelines can improve your running experience if you're running along a multi-use path, your local track or trails, or on the road. There are also a few racing rules that are helpful to know if you participate in a running event. Keep these practices in mind when you run.

Basic Safety Rules for Running

No matter where you are running, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and know safety guidelines.

  • Always look both ways before entering or exiting a path when you are approaching intersections. Even if you're running on a one-way street, there may be runners, walkers, or cyclists coming from the other direction.
  • Follow the posted rules if you're running on a track. Typically, runners proceed only in one direction and outer lanes are for slower runners and walkers. If there are no posted rules, ask other runners on the track or follow their lead.
  • Reconsider headphones, especially on unfamiliar paths. You need to be able to hear traffic and signals from other people using the path or trail. If you really need music as a distraction, keep the volume low and one earbud out.
  • Wait for drivers to see you before proceeding through driveways and other intersections without signage. Make eye contact with the driver if you can.
  • Wear bright-colored or reflective clothing so that drivers can see you at night (and even during the day). Lighted shoe accessories also make you more noticeable to drivers and cyclists.
  • Tell someone when and where you will be running and when you'll be back.

Staying safe on the road means seeing others and making sure that others see you. Wear bright clothing and stay alert when you run.

Rules for Running on the Road

Sharing the streets with cars, bicycles, and other runners and pedestrians means you need to be extra vigilant.

  • Avoid the middle of the road, even though it may be the most comfortable place to run.
  • Don't make sudden U-turns if you are running an out and back route. Always look behind you before turning around.
  • Don't relieve yourself in someone's yard, or in any other area where you might be seen by pedestrians or park users. You might not be shy but others may not be comfortable with it. Check for a port-a-potty or an open business along the route.
  • Merge cautiously when you pass. Look over your shoulder for other runners or cyclists who might be passing you.
  • Pass on the left and state your intentions to the person(s) you are passing. Say "on your left" so they know to move to the right.
  • Respect private property. Stay off of lawns and out of private cemeteries, parks, and other protected properties when you are running.
  • Run facing traffic if there is no sidewalk or running path. Stay to the side and as far from traffic as possible.
  • Run single-file or two abreast if you're running with a group. This allows other runners, pedestrians or cyclists to pass without forcing them off the path or into oncoming traffic.

Respect your fellow runners (and cyclists, drivers, and other path users) by signaling your intentions when you change directions or pass.

Race Day Rules

Racing means sharing a course with many other runners, so be respectful of your fellow competitors, race staff, and volunteers, along with private and public property along the route.

  • Choose your starting corral wisely. Allow faster runners to take the lead corrals. Slower runners and walkers should start at the back.
  • Don't carry loose change or a set of keys in your pocket. Although the constant jingling or clanging may not bother you, it could annoy those who are running near you.
  • Don't drop clothing along a race course or jogging path, especially on someone's private property, unless the race allows. Many larger races have clothing donation partners to recycle clothes.
  • Don't toss trash such as water bottles, gel, or bar wrappers on the ground. An exception to this is if you're near an aid station. In that case, volunteers expect to pick up discarded water cups.
  • Keep your fluids to yourself. If you need to spit, blow your nose, or throw up, move to the side of the road and do it there, if you can't get to a port-a-potty in time.
  • Move to the side before slowing down to walk or stopping to tie your shoe, stretch, or take a drink from your water bottle.
  • Signal to those behind you if you're going to slow down or start to walk. This prevents runners behind you from having to maneuver around you.
  • Signal your pass if you need to squeeze through a tight space to pass another runner. This is especially important if the runner ahead of you is wearing headphones.
  • Stay to the back of the pack if you are walking or jogging in a group, running with a pet, or jogging with a stroller (when allowed). While this may be a fun run for you, it may be a competitive event for those around you.
  • Wear your bib number as directed. Most races require you to wear the number on your front.
  • Keep moving through the finish line when you complete your race. Even if you are exhausted, you risk getting hit by other runners if you stop right away.

Most importantly, participate with integrity. While this might seem obvious, some people are tempted to cut the course or run with someone else’s bib number. It's not allowed, so just don't do it.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.