The Not-So-Boring Guide To Runner's Etiquette
Sometimes I wonder what Oiselle is thinking...
Sure, ask Jungle Chicken to write a sassy article about poor decision making. Of course, ask her to weigh in on fashion do's and don't's (because she'll know the don't's all too well). She'll probably have a few fun things to say about a disastrous marathon attempt. But, really, Oiselle... ETIQUETTE? RUNNING ETIQUETTE? The main reason that I got my nickname, Jungle Chicken, is that the JC is the UNDOMESTICATED predecessor of the more demure and sophisticated barnyard chicken. Well, Oiselle's mistake is my gain, because as a matter of fact, I do have a few things to say about running etiquette. Just be careful taking my advice.
I looked up some past articles on running etiquette written elsewhere for reference, and I was quickly reminded why our sport gets such a bad rap from the general public and even a lackluster following from its own so-called fans. Because running etiquette makes for a boring story. So herein I will outline some better ideas for how to conduct yourselves out there on the roads, tracks, and trails - and really anywhere else.
Watch a football game. A basketball game. Tennis, even, supposedly the most polite of all sports with the white skirts and the no loud clapping and the general frowning-upon of female grunting (this was an issue a decade or so ago--young readers will have no idea that it was actually frowned upon when some of the female tennis players first started to make aggressive sounds of actual effort while playing). What you will notice is that the players celebrate themselves and one another will alarming frequency. There is fist-pumping and chest-bumping and general whooping and dancing going on all over the place. You'd think that every point was the game-winning one.
Imagine if runners did this. Imagine if you saw a runner pass the first mile marker in a 5K and scream out "Damn, I'm so fast! Are y'all watching this!" If a woman running intervals on the track did a little victory dance every time she hit her goal time. If we let out warrior cries when we launched our final sprint to the finish! Sure, runners will be seen raising their arms above their heads when they break the tape in a marathon, or shouting out or pumping their fists if they win a road race or a track race, but that's one time, and typically just one runner (the winner), and sometimes those events are long. Once I was running along a very popular path in my home of Saint Paul when a runner coming towards me from the other direction suddenly put his arm up in the air, hand in a fist, and let out a loud "YES!!". I have no idea what personal victory he had just achieved, but I got a big grin on my face and realized that he had it right. So come on, runners: start celebrating yourselves. Wherever, whenever, and however. Chest-bump your fellow teammates between intervals.
Look, I'm as competitive as the next girl (actually, I'm probably not). I care about my final finishing time and place, especially if I'm going to PR or win money or beat a rival or do something of some actual consequence. And I'm not about to suggest, so don't get me wrong, that your PRs or finishing times and places and personal goals and vendettas don't mean as much if you're a mid-packer or back-of-the-packer or back-packer as they do if you're an elite or a pro. But if the difference between you finishing 875th versus 876th in a small local 5K means that you, a grown-ass man in your mid-fifties, run down and practically knock over and then just barely out-lean a thirteen-year-old girl, then dude, just don't do it. Does it really matter? You're going to look like an asshole. And let's be honest, you probably are one. Lest you think that this doesn't happen all the time, at tiny local events everywhere, then start watching, sister, because it does. I don't even happen to think it's okay to surprise-attack your teammate or friend or partner right at the finish line, giving her no chance to respond. If it just so happens that you're launching an all-out attack on the finish line and end up nipping someone at the line, I guess that's acceptable, but most of us, and definitely you, in your heart, know whether you snuck up on that person on purpose in order to grab that last spot for $50. If your pride and the general fairness of sport don't mean more to you than $50, then by all means, go right ahead. Shove that sixth grader out of your way.
If I could give runners one piece of actual, non-sarcastic etiquette advice, this would be it: if you are out running at your typical pace and someone catches you from behind and runs past you, it's because that runner is running faster than you. Maybe that runner isn't a faster human being in general--maybe you're running an easy day and she's running intervals, or a tempo run, or a time trial. Who knows? But whatever the case may be, that runner was behind you, saw you up ahead, and caught up to you, so here's a tip: that runner knows how fast you were running and will be aware if you suddenly pick up your pace when she catches you. And she will be annoyed.
This happens to me with alarming frequency. I'll be running along at whatever pace, and I'll be closing in on a runner in front of me pretty fast. I can see the runner up ahead for a half mile and it takes several minutes to catch him. This would be a good math problem--it could go like this: "Erin is running at 7:00 per mile pace. There is a runner exactly one-half mile ahead of her. It takes Erin 6 minutes to catch the runner. What speed, in minutes per mile, is the runner ahead of her running?" And then the follow-up question, not so math-related, would be: "If the slower runners picks up his pace immediately after Erin catches him and proceeds to run right behind her for a mile, what should Erin do?" You're not fooling anyone, runner who has just been caught and passed--we saw you! You weren't running that fast, because we caught you!
Now, before you think me an arrogant jerk, I have had the runner I passed say to me, "I'm going to try to keep pace with you for awhile, if you don't mind." Hallelujah! A friend! Someone to run beside me on our journey! I LOVE this. I'm also not immune to being passed and thinking to myself, "That dude isn't faster than me. I'll show him...." Wait, Erin. Whoa. You know what you're doing. He just caught you. He knows you're not running as fast as he is.... I get it. It's tempting. We all have our pride, but don't succumb.
This is an easy one. You are in the right. You, the runners, always have the right of way. This should be so obvious that it doesn't even count as "etiquette." Cars should stop for you crossing the street whether it be at a crosswalk or a stoplight or in the middle of the highway--basically wherever the hell you want. I mean, there you are, doing something positive for your health and leaving exactly no carbon footprint, just your own actual footprints, and even then only if you're running in sand or snow or mud. Otherwise no footprints at all. Your general mantra when running with anyone else around should be this: "As a matter of fact, I do own the road." It's Biblical: the meek shall inherit the earth. And when it comes to kinetic energy, we runners are the meek. Less mass times less velocity (in fact, less velocity squared!) means that we are the meek. So we should inherit the road.
My brother is a musculoskeletal radiologist (I know, that's what he does and I write sarcastic blogs about fake etiquette--someone won the gene pool, though I of course got the fabulous body, so we're maybe close to even) and he crosses paths every so often with a general surgeon who lives near me. The surgeon not only lives near me, but he lives right where I often feel the need to cross the road, randomly and without warning, but not exactly near any official road "crossing." (Is anyone else already thinking of the joke, "Why did the [Jungle] Chicken cross the road?" C'mon! That joke is throwing itself in your lap! Don't make me say it! I'm way more subtle in my high-brow humor.) So he says to my brother, "Hey, your sister runs right in front of my giant, hurling-itself-through-the-universe SUV on a fairly regular basis. You should tell her to be more careful." Oh, is that right? I should be more careful? Or are you, a surgeon, trying purposely to run me over so that you'll have to put me back together and then charge me an arm and a leg (also? here? easy joke! I swear this shit writes itself....) so you can continue to live in that fancy house that just so happens to sit in the middle of my running route? Jeez. Some people.
But the moral of the story, really, to be serious for one sentence: Be aware. You will lose that battle. Don't get yourself killed.
In an effort to make this blog post seem legit, I actually did some "research" and read one-and-a-half running etiquette articles from other sources. I stopped reading during the "-and-a-half" article because it stated that shouting encouragement to other random runners is not advised. What?!?! Those moments when random people shout encouragement to me are my absolute favorite. Bikers whizzing by often tell me that I'm looking good or fast or to keep up the effort, and I love it! It makes me feel like a part of the community, like my striving is not going unnoticed, like we're all in this together! Surgeons in their SUVs honking and swearing and waving me out of the road... I know they're really saying, "We're all in this together, fellow human! The light in me honors the light in you!"
I wondered what that other author could possibly be thinking. Maybe it's a Midwestern thing to be encouraging to random people. Maybe it can come across as condescending or patronizing or unwelcome if a man shouts encouragement to a woman? Me, I give people the benefit of the doubt. I love to hear encouragement, so I give it to others. Go ahead--do it.
In summary, fellow Birds, remember that the fork goes on the left, the knife and spoon on the right. Curtsy the Queen. Cross the street wherever you want. Encourage others you meet on the road, track, or trails--we're all in this together.
Chest-bump. Fist pump. Head up. Wings out.