Half Marathon Racecourse Etiquette – 15 Things You Should Never Do!
There’s something about having a ton of people gathered at the starting line of a half marathon, all pumped up on adrenaline and a healthy dose of competitive drive. It’s like the air around a long-distance race is crackling with energy.
To keep that good energy going, we all need to follow good half marathon etiquette. Much like not spitting out your window in rush hour traffic, and not cutting in line at the checkout, certain things are just not done on race day.
Half marathon etiquette is an essential part of pulling off a long-distance race for tens—hundreds—even thousands of people. Etiquette helps the race flow smoothly and safely and keeps it enjoyable—and fair.
So, whether you’re a newcomer to the world of pavement-pounding competition, or you’re just looking to level up your marathon game, there are 15 things you need to know to help you navigate the subtle conventions of race day.
These are those things.
#1. Don’t Run Unregistered.
Never—seriously, never—bandit a race. It makes legitimate, registered competitors’ blood boil, it’s unfair, and it’s a health and safety nightmare.
Course overcrowding is dangerous, and it puts unnecessary pressure on medical personnel on race day. And if things go wrong—the worst-case scenario for any runner—nobody knows they should be looking for you. Ergo: nobody is going to know to come looking for you if you go off-course or sustain an injury.
It’s pretty simple: if you didn’t pay for the race, don’t run in the race. Not only is it poor sportsmanship to accept water, kudos, enjoyment, and even medals, when you haven’t paid your way, it can leave registered runners empty-handed.
#2. Don’t Piggyback.
We’re talking about giving your running mates room to breathe on the course, and not riding their tailwind. Don’t cozy up to them so tight you run the risk of treading on their heels or kicking them in the Achilles’. Seriously, don’t do it.
#3. Don’t Gang Up.
Races can be a great way to bond with your buddies, but it’s important to be mindful of how much room you’re all taking up on the race path.
Years of running half and full marathons have shown that running two abreast is a comfortable compromise. Three or more, running shoulder to shoulder, makes it difficult for other runners to overtake. It gives you less leeway to set your individual pace. Your social circle will also become a collision hazard for runners on the home stretch in an out-and-back course.
#4. Don’t Forget To Communicate.
We aren’t all chatty runners. But part of being a runner—and especially when running in a large crowd—is communicating.
“On your left,” lets the runner in front of you know you’re approaching and planning to overtake. “Runner back” lets the runners behind you on a narrow out-and-back track know a faster runner is heading back on the home stretch. This one comes in handy on rocky, narrow bike paths and tracks.
Likewise, if you hear the “Runner back” call, be sure to move to the left of the course. Returning runners will always stay to the right.
#5. Don’t Wear The Event Shirt.
It might be cool to have a new shirt. The shirt might look a lot better than the one you’ve got on. This half marathon race might be the biggest event you’ve ever competed in.
The thing is: it’s still untested gear. It could fail at moisture-wicking, or cause chafing, and it definitely hasn’t been cleaned, so you’re opening yourself up to a lot of potential discomforts.
And for the superstitious among us: it’s considered bad luck to wear an event shirt before you’ve crossed the event’s finish line.
#6. Don’t Wear Another Runner’s Bib.
Speaking of what to wear: don’t wear any bib other than your own. Your bib identifies you to the race director and the staff on the ground, and wearing a buddy’s bib could mess with timings, rankings, and awards.
Misrepresenting yourself as someone else is cheating, plain and simple.
#7. Don’t Spit.
Maybe you’re clearing your mouth after a water pit stop. Maybe you swallowed a bug. If you’re hit with the urge to spit, move off-course and do it discreetly on the grass or in a bush. Don’t spit on the road where your fellow race-runners could step—or even slip—in it.
#8. Don’t Snot Rocket.
While we’re on the topic of bodily functions: if your nose is running harder than your feet, you’ve forgotten a tissue, and you’re running sleeveless, you may need to get creative with the—if you’re squeamish, look away now—snot rocket. But, like with spitting, if you need to do it: get off the track and head for a bush.
#9. Don’t Litter.
This needs no explanation: don’t throw your sticky, used GU packets on the road. Don’t toss water bottles, tissues, road snacks—just, anything, OK?—while you’re running.
#10. Don’t Bring A Rogue Entourage.
It’s good to have friends. If yours are coming to cheer you on, make sure they’re aware of the boundaries and rules. I’ve seen many racers injured trying to avoid unruly spectators at a race—from friends flying over the handlebars of their bike after a collision with a clueless spectator, to buddies losing their ranking after tripping on a spectator’s wayward sign.
#11. Don’t Stop At The First Water Table.
This one is probably more advice than etiquette: avoid the swarms and bypass a traffic jam by heading for the last water table. You’re more likely to find a full cup of water than what you’ll find at the first table: runner chaos, empty cups, and frazzled, over-burdened volunteers.
#12. Don’t Forget To Thank The Volunteers.
Volunteer staff at race events get up just as early as runners, and they’re still on their feet long after your celebrations have ended—plus they do it all for free. Remember this when they’re helping with marshaling, offering you water, and providing emergency support.
#13. Don’t Sneak Into A Front Corral.
We know how much you want to get your race started. It’s hard to show restraint and stand around when your blood is pumping.
But keep in mind that sneaking into a different corral can be unsafe for you, frustrating for those around you, and difficult for organizers.
#14. Don’t Lie About Your Pace.
In many half marathons, the registration process will include nominating your pace. Be honest—races are typically seeded by racer ability, and you are not impressing anyone by giving a pace you can’t realistically achieve.
#15. Don’t Bring A Boom Box.
While I do not doubt that your playlist is the most epic, the most motivational, the most guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping—not everyone will agree. Some of your fellow runners will enjoy the silence—or a podcast—or an audiobook—or, you know, their own playlist. Let’s respect each other’s taste in music and limit our listening to our headphones.
Running a half marathon can be daunting—it doesn’t matter whether it’s your first, or your fifty-first time. You’ll invest a huge amount of time in your fitness, your pace, and your gear, but it’s just as important that you know how to be good at the etiquette side of racing, too.
Being a good half marathon competitor will help you build a strong competitive practice, improve your stride and pace, and it can enhance the social aspect of running. You’re probably planning on running more than one half marathon in your life, so why not be good at it, right?
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