Spoken and Unspoken Race Day Rules

by Karl Gruber
This topic is sure to get many a runner’s blood boiling, especially veteran runners. But it is a very good idea to review these rules before any race, especially if you are new to running.
Some of the faux pas that new runners commit during race day are understandable, with their blood and adrenaline pumping as the whole scene is an exciting experience. They want to run fast and get to the finish so they can get their finisher medal and exchange race day stories with their buddies who ran, too. Plus, the excitement and energy that first-time runners bring to a race are a real joy and adds to the overall experience. 
As a person who has worked as a start line and/or finish line announcer at many, many races, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have witnessed first-time runners crying with joy — while grimacing at the same time — and hugging or high-fiving their fellow runners all in a cloud of sweat, tears and exhaustion. It really is something that you must experience in order to understand it!
Before you sign up for that race first, though, be sure to review the spoken or written rules of running a race.
  • Line up at the starting line in the corral that matches the pace that you anticipate running. When doing so, be very realistic about what pace per mile you think you are capable of running. If you trained at 10:30 per mile pace and never pushed yourself faster than that, then don’t line up in the 9:00 per mile corral. By lining up in the correct corral or with a pacing group, you will not only act with courtesy to your fellow runners but also be help to prevent a traffic jam of faster runners who are queued-up behind you ready to blast out of the start. Additionally, you will save yourself from burning out too soon and not having enough energy to run the race well or finish it.
  • Always wear your race bib on the front of your body. This is a race rule that is almost always stated in registration rules and via the race announcer’s lips. By following this rule, you are a great help to the race officials who can easily identify you if needed and the race announcer who may call you out by name as you finish. Veteran Runner Tip: Don’t pin the bib to any piece of clothing you anticipate taking off during the race, thus saving the time of having to re-pin it to another piece of clothing. 
  • Do not run with someone else’s bib number under their name. Doing so can lead to all kinds of confusion, especially in the finisher results. Basically, using another’s bib number is like throwing a monkey wrench into the moving parts of an engine. What seems like an innocent thing can cause massive damage to the entire engine, or in this case, the race results. 
  • I must also mention you should never run as a bandit — running a race without paying or registering. This shows a lack of integrity and can cause massive confusion. Running as a bandit is literally a slap in the faces of race organizers, volunteers, etc. and the time, effort and money spent on putting the event together.
Now, let us take a look at some of the unspoken rules and etiquette expected as a race. While some of these may seem silly, they really are a big part of races and running culture.
  • Do not wear your race t-shirt until after you’ve finished the race. Yes, this one may seem rather innocuous, but it is the prevailing feeling amongst veteran racers that you must earn the right to wear it by running and finishing the race before you can wear it. Wearing your race day t-shirt post-race is right up there with the proud feeling of sporting that finisher medal around your neck. Wearing that race day t-shirt after the race proudly says, “I did it!”
  • Do not wear earbuds during the race. Sure, it is awesome to rock out to your favorite tunes to pump you up during your run, but there is absolutely no question that it can and does cause issues in almost all races. Again, as an experienced racer and race announcer, I have encountered problems with runners with earbuds who are unable to hear race instructions or commands to move out of the way during emergency situations. If you insist on wearing them, either turn the volume down enough that you can easily carry on a conversation with the runner next to you or just put one bud in one ear and leave the other ear free to hear external sounds.
  • Do not run three or four abreast and block faster, oncoming runners behind you. While some races may now have this in the rules, generally this is an unspoken and much unheeded rule. While you and your running buddies may be having fun and enjoying the camaraderie during the race — which is awesome — you may cause a blockage for the runners behind you who wish to get by. It is generally a good idea to run no more than two runners side-by-side.
  • Do not come to a full stop at a fluid station when taking liquid. It should be obvious why this is important since most of the runners around you are trying to get their liquid at the same time but also want to keep running. If you find it necessary to come to a stop, please make sure to move off to the side, away from the path of other runners, so as to not obstruct or cause collisions.
While there are other spoken and unspoken running rules for both etiquette and safety reasons, these tips should give you a better understanding of how you can make the overall race experience a safe and fun one for yourself and others. Just remember, it all comes down to courtesy with yourself, fellow runners and the race organizers.   

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