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Running Etiquette Is Simple: Let’s Be Kind

The world is a tough place these days. Let’s make the running paths and trails a refuge.

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Running gives us peace. Heading out on a road, trail, track, or treadmill and settling into the rhythmic movement of a run is a restorative refuge for many of us. No matter what’s going on in our personal lives, or the world in general, a run gives us the time and space to either process difficult emotions, or to be free from them, just for a little while.

The global pandemic continues to unsettle our lives. Hate crimes and senseless gun violence have shattered many families, and virtually everyone’s sense of safety. Here in Boulder, Colorado, that sense of peace and calm was recently destroyed by a gunman at a local supermarket and will never return to what it was.

It’s always important to be kind to each other on the roads and trails—and anywhere, really—but now that need is greater than ever.

I’ve written whole book chapters about trail and road running etiquette, but it all really comes down to this: be nice.

Right of way can be a hot topic among trail users. Guidelines exist saying those on bikes should yield to those on foot, and foot and bike users should yield to horses. Not everyone follows those guidelines, and they’re not hard-and-fast rules; they don’t apply to every situation. The guidelines were introduced as a simple way to encourage trail user groups to get along. But right-of-way can be solved if we all just put ourselves in other people’s shoes, even if those shoes are attached to a bike or in horse riding stirrups.

Proper running etiquette really comes down to common courtesy, and yielding to others if the other party seems like they should have or need the right of way more than you do, whether they’re on foot, bike, or horse (though for safety, horses should always be yielded to). That “should” and “need” has to do with the following: Would it be harder for the other person to start back up again than it would be for you (i.e., someone going uphill on a bike versus you running downhill on foot)? Is the other person doing an all-out effort, while you’re on a casual jog (and this is interdependent of speed)? Are you more comfortable hopping up onto a rock and out of the way while you run, so an older hiker, for instance, can stay on the main trail?

Runners of all sorts can play nice and make room for each other out there. Passing and being passed can be a peaceful affair. And we can do better than just peaceful by improving these interactions with a friendly hello, wave, or head nod. These quick greetings go a long way in making interactions during runs pleasant—both for yourself, and for others. (And pulling a Buff or mask over your face, especially when someone else is wearing one on the trail, is an act of respect for that person and not difficult to do.)

That head nod or hello makes running on roads or even somewhere busy, like on a paved urban path, a social (but socially distanced) affair. Acknowledging others with some sort of friendly motion or sound helps create community between runners, and also walkers, rollerbladers, cyclists, etc. And in a time where community is more important than ever, shouldn’t that be something we’re all striving to build?

The running tribe is strong, and it’s long been runner-code to give the head nod, wave, or quick greeting to other runners. But let’s extend that effort beyond our runner counterparts and connect with others on the roads, trails, and tracks and just be nice to each other.

Niceness goes a long way, and the world could use more of it.