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Running Etiquette – Behaving Yourself Out There

Gary Griffin

Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of an old and frequently grumpy endurance runner who has witnessed his share of bad running behavior over the years …

Let’s begin with some bad behavior that nearly took place on my part years ago in the Bartram Trail 50k in Alabama.  It was late in the race, mile 27 or so, and I was running along with a fellow whom I had met just that day.  Being a bit fatigued and engaged in conversation, we managed to get off the well-marked trail. (Sound familiar, Jillian?)  We ran along for another 2M, unaware of our error, until the trail we were on merged into the trail that we should have been on.  We learned from those we encountered that they were at around mile 29, which meant we had probably more-or-less run the same distance they had even though we took a different route.  When I heard that I said to my running buddy that day, “Well, at least we ran the same distance.”  He told me that it didn’t matter.  We needed to go back to where we had gone astray and run the right course, which we did.  I will confess that if he had not been a preacher from Alabama and had I been left to my own decision I would have decided my mistake was of no consequence and simply completed the race.  But he made it clear that to do so was cheating -- and he was correct.  You must run the route that the race dictates!  Not completing the entire course is bad behavior!

Of course, my error was an innocent mistake on my part until I was properly corrected.  I have witnessed far worse -- instances of individuals intentionally cutting courses in order to get an advantage over other runners.  One year at the Pennar 40-miler near Navarre Peg and I witnessed a fellow who was running behind me in 3rd place get on a bike and make his way past me.  Peg, being totally aghast at such behavior, especially after watching him finish the race and accept a medal, reported the guy, and he was DQ’d  the race director.  Behave yourself out there.  Don’t be a Rosie Ruiz who cut the 1980 Boston Marathon course and claimed to be the winner. The one you are cheating is yourself.

Let’s talk ear buds and headphones:  I get it that you like your music and the latest Ted Talk or Click and Clack, but you can’t insulate yourself from the world around you when you are running with others.  At the Miami Half Marathon this past January I was running over the causeway to South Beach when an emergency vehicle approached from behind with sirens blaring.  The runner to my left, who was in the path of the ambulance, had no clue there was anything going on except whatever it was that was bouncing around in her head.  I hollered to tell her of the vehicle, and I may as well have been talking to the drawbridge.  I finally had to reach over and literally grab her arm and point to the vehicle before she realized she needed to move.  I saw it again at the NYC Marathon a few weeks ago.  A wheelchair racer was coming down one of the bridges and moving far faster than those of us plodding along on foot.  Again, the runner on my left blocking his path was totally oblivious to his warning calls until I reached out and got his attention.  Not good behavior at all!

Not too far removed from the above is to be dialed into one’s own world to such an extent that you are unaware of runners who wish to pass you.  This is especially important when running single-track trails.  In Jim and Kristin Halley’s Summer Trail Series pre-race announcements they always stress the need to be aware of runners behind you who want to pass, noting that one should step off the trail and allow faster runners to go by.  That’s good behavior and something that I personally feel our local trail runners continually demonstrate.

By extension, the need to give way to faster runners (and vehicles!) has some application to the road as well.  At the Wakulla Springs Ultra a few years back Peg and I were called to task by the Park Manager because our runners were “blocking traffic” on the Park entrance road in running 4-abreast.  We were never again allowed to use the old 2.07M loop along the entrance road and instead had to move the course to the 10k loop on Wakulla Springs Road.  We’ve all had enough close encounters with vehicles while behaving ourselves and running on the edge of the road.  Let’s not antagonize those behind the wheel and get ourselves in further danger by being in their way.

Continuing with this thought of “the need to give way to faster runners,” too often at starting lines this inevitably leads to problems – lining up in front of runners who are faster than you.  This is particularly important when running in our larger races or on tight courses, such as within the confines of Cascades Park or on the Goose Pond Trail.  As one who was never up there with the speedsters, and now particularly as I age up and slow down even more, I try to be aware of who is around me at the start.  If I am standing within 50 yards of Charlie Johnson I keep on moving back.  Know your limits folks, and yield to those who will likely run faster than you.

OK.  Two more things, and both of these make me grumpier than I already am.

Let’s start with what I will call, “Ignoring designated cutoff times.”  It would be easy to say that I am especially dialed in on this because I am married to one of GWTC’s chief timers, but I’ve worked enough finish lines and corners and aid stations in my day to get bent out of shape on my own.  Cut-off times mean cut-off times.  Don’t enter a race if you can’t beat the cut-off, PLEASE.  Volunteers are just that: volunteers. They aren’t paid by the hour.  When you sign up for a race with a 3 hour cutoff, do the math and figure that if it is going to take you 3:30 to finish, drop down to the shorter distance if offered or just don’t start the race!  You can say, “Well, I don’t care if they shut down the aid stations and remove the intersection watchers or the finish line.  I can just finish on my own.”  Good thought perhaps, but the harsh reality is those volunteers are not going to leave their posts until you go by their point on the course.  You are, in fact, abusing their time.

Finally … the ultimate example of bad, bad behavior: littering the course.  I’ve run enough races to have witnessed this time and time again, and have cleaned up enough courses that it is a wonder I don’t have permanent neck damage from shaking my head while asking “What is wrong with these people?”  Why would you do that, drop a Gu pack or carry a cup with you for a half mile past the aid station and then drop it?  Is your momma going to come clean up after you?  Our town is awash in litter but that doesn’t mean you need to add to it. Our trails, for the most part, are pristine places of solitude and beauty and one of the reasons that we love Tallahassee as a place to live and run. But the Halleys and David Yon at Pot Luck and Peg and I at Pine Run and hopefully everywhere else that trails are raced make it clear that litter is a bad thing (and punishable by disqualification at Pine Run!)  But, it goes beyond littering the course.  What about the start / finish areas?  It amazes me the post-race litter than accumulates because runners are apparently too lazy to find a garbage can or a recycling container.  If you need proof of this, hang around the Turkey Trot venue on Thanksgiving morning after most everyone has gone home or the Tally Marathon or Springtime finish areas and you’ll see what I mean.

We are so fortunate to be able to participate in this sport that we call “running” and we are so fortunate to be surrounded by the beauty of Tallahassee and the dedicated volunteers of Gulf Winds TC.  I fully believe that GWTC has established itself as one of the finest running clubs anywhere and our out-of-town visitors continually affirm that.  By being witnesses to proper behavior out there just maybe we can lead others to do the same.

Thanks for listening.  I feel better now!