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Running Etiquette: Mind Your Manners

To spit or not to spit? The etiquette expert, avid runner and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post guides us on every fitness foible.

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To spit or not to spit? That’s just one of the questions we asked Lizzie Post! The etiquette expert, avid runner and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post guided us through every fitness foible.

My friend always bonks during marathons and asks my advice afterward. I know it’s because she isn’t putting in the training, but I don’t know if I should tell her. —Pamela

Lizzie Post: The sporting world is one of the only areas in life where it’s generally acceptable to tell someone bluntly to put in more effort. She’s asking for your advice. Look at her and say, “Girl, you just have to train harder.” If possible, offer to help her get ready for her next race by running together a few times a week.

Is it best to run on the sidewalk, bike lane or street? —Erin

LP: Safety is the key. It’s always preferable to stick to the pedestrian-designated area. But if the sidewalk is extremely crowded and there aren’t many cyclists in the bike lane or drivers on the road, you can run against traffic in either area. Use your best judgment to assess what’s going to feel most comfortable for you and those around you.

My running buddy doesn’t have a GPS watch. When we run together, she always expects me to bring mine. She even asks me to borrow it when she races solo. At what point can I tell her to get her own? —Krista

LP: This is a classic case of when lending hits the limit. Remember, when someone asks you to borrow something, you can always say, “No.” If you tell your friend, “Sorry, I’d really rather not lend my watch out this weekend,” she’ll likely get the point. If that doesn’t work, you can simply say, “I love running with you, but I feel like we’re sharing my device. If you’re going to use a watch this often, I’d appreciate it if you just bought your own.” Leave it at that.

What do you do if you’re running with a big group and you have to umm pass gas? —Michaela

LP: It happens! When you’re running, your body is working stuff out of its system. Back away from people if you can—but sometimes there’s nothing you can do. “Excuse me” always works. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it or get embarrassed. Runners understand!

My favorite trail often hosts local races. When I’m running on the trail while a race is taking place, the runners give me death stares if I don’t fall over myself to get out of their way. It’s my trail too! What should I do? —Luann

LP: It’s unfortunate that your favorite spot to run is heavily used for races. Nonetheless, you have to respect the fact that a race is taking place. Even if you were running the race, it would be customary to get out of the way of faster runners. Try to do the same as a non-racer. Can you adjust the time of day you run so as to not interfere with the race schedule? If not, you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that you’re ticking people off if you don’t move to the side of the trail.


My friend asked me to pace her for a few miles during the middle of her half marathon, but I’m not registered for the race. Should I disappoint my friend or is it okay to bandit? —Jane

LP: You should never go against the race regulations by running without a bib number. It’s not appropriate for you to jump in and run just a portion of the event. If she wants you to pace her, you need to register for the race and run with her from start to finish.

I can’t stand talking during races. What’s the polite thing do when someone tries to strike up a conversation? —Nicole

LP: Say, “It’s nice to meet you, but I really want to focus on my run.” If you can’t get the sentence out, smile politely and keep your eyes forward. A fellow runner should understand, but you can always explain yourself at the finish line.

Spitting during a race. . .okay or total faux pas? —Kate

LP: For some people, spitting helps prevent stomach cramps or rough breathing on the run. It’s okay as long as you don’t spit directly on a path where people will be walking. Be as discreet as possible, make sure no one is behind you and move over to the side of the road to ensure it lands on the grass.

I love running during lunch breaks, but I just started a new job. How soon is it okay to start my lunchtime running routine? —Stephanie

LP: Open communication is the best way to handle this. Ask your manager if running at lunch is something that is acceptable in your new office’s environment. Technically, it is your lunch break and you should do with it what you want, but you should ensure that this fits in with the norms of your workplace. Even if a mid-day run is okay with your boss, it’s still important to spend the first week or two getting to know your coworkers over lunch. After that, feel free to run during your break as long as you get back to work in the appropriate amount of time and return to the office with a respectful appearance.

Is it okay to tell someone walking on a trail to put out his cigarette where others are running? —Ann Marie

LP: Unfortunately, no. Breathing in cigarette smoke when you’re running is unpleasant, but in the same way that you can’t tell someone who’s grilling in a park to put out her fire if you’re choking on charcoal, you can’t ask a smoker to put out his cigarette. The best thing you can do is move to the other side of the path. I wish the answer could be different. ■



LIZZIE POST is the author of How Do You Work This Life Thing? and coauthor of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition. An in-demand source of modern etiquette advice, she has appeared on The Today Show, The Tyra Banks Show and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Lizzie lives in Vermont, where she’s currently training for a 10k.