Race Day Etiquette

You have new shoes to match your spirited outfit and your running time is better than ever. But before you head for the starting line, follow Modern Manners Guy’s 3 tips for polite racing.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #218

Race Day Etiquette

I'll be honest with you, I hate running. I love working out, but running is the last thing I want to do. I'd rather bike for 5 hours than run for 500 feet! Let's just say that Get-Fit Guy and Modern Manners Guy will not be doing a relay race any time soon. And for the record, what Ben Greenfield, otherwise known as Get-Fit Guy, does is incredible…and insane! He's my hero.

Check out: The 6 Commandments of Gym Etiquette

However, the only time I do like to run is when it's for good cause. This past weekend, my family did a 5K for a charity I've worked with for a while called Susie’s Cause There I was, along with my wife, a double stroller, two kids, and enough "luggage" to survive a zombie apocalypse. I didn't realize it when we signed up, but the race was about 90% uphill, so we wound up pushing the stroller filled to the brim with kids and bags. It was a workout I was not expecting.

Sponsor: This podcast is brought to you by Betterment.com. Betterment offers users an easy way to invest. No prior investing experience is required. Users choose how to allocate their money between two pre-set baskets -- a stock basket and a bond basket. Signing up takes less than 5 minutes, and money can be added or withdrawn at any time without a fee. Users who sign up at www.betterment.com/modernmanners will receive a $25 account bonus as long as their initial deposit is $250 or more.

I'd like to say that not properly preparing for this race was the worst part of my day—but it wasn’t. The worst part was the improper behavior of some of my fellow racers. Although I hate running, I often do charity walks or runs, so this past weekend was not my first rodeo, folks. So before you stretch out your hamstrings and get your free t-shirt at the registration desk, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper race day etiquette:

Tip #1: Know Your Capabilities

Whenever I participate in a race, I can easily tell who is there for a casual jog and who thinks it's a qualifier for the pro tour. And I'm not talking about how stylishly people are dressed, I'm talking about the way they carry themselves. I will never make fun of someone for taking a race too seriously. Be it a 5K walk or an Ironman triathlon, you should take it seriously and try to do your best.

However, it is absolutely crucial to know your limitations. For example, I know that I can't win the race. Yes, that's a sad thing to admit, but it's the truth. Still, many other people don't quite get how things work and often rush in front of the line to get a good start. This inevitably fails.

I saw one guy who was not what I would call the spitting image of health, take off like his life depended on it, get winded after a 50-yard sprint, and then collapse onto the ground, causing 4 people to trip over him. That is highly unmannerly race behavior. I watched another guy badger a pacer about his best time (a pacer is someone who sets the pace for runners to finish at a particular time and is not competing in the race).

Let's face it folks, you know what kind of runner you are, so don't try to pretend otherwise. If you've never ran a race before, it's improper to push your way to the front of the line where the serious racers are. That's just a recipe for disaster. Not only will you get bowled over by someone going faster, but you look pretty stupid when you fall to the back 30 seconds after the gunshot goes off. As well, even if you are the most seasoned of pros, don't trash talk other racers like it's WrestleMania and you’re challenging Hulk Hogan for the Heavyweight Title. Certain races call for particular levels of bravado, but unless it's the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, stick to just wishing your fellow racers, "Good luck."

Tip #2: Strollers and Kids In the Back

At the 5K I went to this past weekend, there were both walkers and runners. I was a walker, with my stroller in tow. When the race started, my wife and I made sure to be in the back of the pack since we knew our stroller and slow pace would interfere with other runners. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, apparently not to everyone.

This one guy thought that since he was such a good runner, the extra 50 lbs. of stroller and baby that he was pushing would be no problem. And maybe it isn't. I live right behind a gorgeous trail where I – and many other parents – take our jogging strollers for a run. However, on the trail, we're not racing against 500 other people who are running solo. That’s the difference.

So here comes this bozo with his monstrous jogging stroller in the middle of a giant mob of seasoned runners. Well, wouldn't you know it, when the gun went off, not only did his baby erupt into tears (shocker!), but the other runners had to fumble their way around him to avoid hitting the stroller. This guy clearly thought he was King of The Road and everyone should bow down to his needs. Moreover, he didn't just ruin the start for many people around him, he also "accidentally" clipped other runners’ feet and used his stroller like a battering ram yelling, "Coming through! Coming through! Baby on board!" Classy, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I'm all for bringing your children to a race (especially if it’s for charity), but come on people, where are your manners? Take the "Speeding Stroller Demon" for example, not only did he insist on being in the front of the line (which could be dangerous to the kid if someone bumps him), but he was forcing people to work around his needs. Other participants had to make sure they weren't too close to his force field, and then he had the audacity to use his child and stroller as a way to get ahead. I just don't get it!

When you are in a race with a stroller and/or child, stay away from the pack of runners. If you want to be in the front, go ahead, but hang to the side. For the optimal safety of you, your child, and the other runners, it’s best to stick to the back of the line where you can run or stroll freely. As well, races are timed, so if you start in the back and finish a 5K in 20 minutes, it's the same as if you started in the front. Of course, that’s highly unlikely. So you’ll have to accept that you won't rip through the finish line ribbon first. Maybe next time, champ.

Tip #3: Have Fun!

Where has all the fun gone? Yes there are professionals or aspiring professionals out there working on shaving seconds off their running time, but for the most part, I guarantee the majority of a race consists of runners who simply enjoy the sport. Sure, they want to finish well, but most are doing it for themselves. So when did running become a contact sport? How on earth do people crash into each other while running? Yes, maybe there’s some contact at the starting line but overall it’s pretty easy to avoid one another on a large road or trail. And like the characters I ran into at this recent race, it amazes me how many people forget why they are there. It wasn't a qualifier for the New York City Marathon, it was a charity run to raise awareness for colon cancer.

When you sign up for a race, think about why you are doing it. Are you competitive? That's fine, run your heart out. Are you trying to support a cause? Fantastic! Just getting the family out for some exercise? Works for me! Have at it and enjoy the free t-shirt. No matter your ultimate motivation, a race is supposed to be fun. Even the people who run for a living do it because they enjoy it, not because they have to. It's okay if you want to win – I support healthy competition – but not at the expense of being respectful to others around you.

Do you have a great story about improper race etiquette? Post all the details in the Comments section below or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Betterment LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Brokerage services are offered by Betterment Securities, an SEC registered broker-dealer and member FINRA/SIPCInvestments are not FDIC Insured. No Bank Guarantee. May Lose Value. Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and Betterment's charges and expenses. Not an offer, solicitation of an offer, or advice to buy or sell securities in jurisdictions where Betterment and Betterment Securities are not registered. 

Running Figure, Man with Stroller and People Running a Race images courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Richie Frieman