Running etiquette: dos and don'ts to make your route a happier place

Male and female runners running and laughing
If everyone practised good running etiquette the world (of running) would be a happier place (Image credit: Getty)

It feels like we think about running etiquette nearly as much as our times. Should you say hello, nod or wave as a fellow runner approaches? How hidden should you be for a wild wee? And is it ever ok to spit or snot on the sidewalk? So many questions. Erase all doubt from your mind once and for all – here are the top 10 rules for running etiquette, the ones you can follow and never be thought of as rude, boring or downright disgusting. 

Read on, stick to the running rules, and your self-respect will remain intact forever.

1. You say hello, they say…nothing

Obviously, some running etiquette can be relaxed when racing. If you’re running in a busy race it’s nigh on impossible, nay sheer lunacy to attempt a cheery “Hi!” to every runner you see, but in a park or on the pavement it’s good form to give fellow runners a friendly smile and nod of the head. A wave or friendly “Hello!” can be a little too energetic if you are struggling for breath, but these are also excellent options, and even all four maneuvers can be deployed if you’re super stoked to be out running. If they don’t stick to this rule, don’t take it personally – they may have been making so much effort they weren’t able to or running to escape a stressful or sad situation in their lives and not been in the right place to acknowledge you. Don’t let it put you off smiling cheerily at the next runner that comes along. 

2. Overtaking not trampling 

If you find yourself in the enviable position of overtaking a runner, dog walker or a group of people, try to give them a wide enough berth if the path allows, so that you don’t scare them with your sudden panting and thumping up close. If they’re taking up the entire path try to resist the temptation to barrel onwards yelling, “INCOMING!!!!” until they scatter like frightened bunnies into the hedgerow – be polite and maintain runners’ good reputation. Proclaim (nicely), “Coming past on your left/right!” – this gives them an instant side to flock to, or a simple “S’cuse me!” may well be enough information for them to form a gap quick enough for you not to slow your pace too much. If there are kids or dogs around looking perilous, just slow down and walk, life’s definitely too short to get caught up in a lead or trample a youngster.

3. Wild wee worries

We all need a pee or more during a run at one time or another, and if you can find a public toilet or pop into a café mid-route then that’s fine and dandy. But what if you’re in a huge park or out on the trails and really need to pee? For men, wild wees are way more simple – simply turn around or hide behind a tree. But for women and men that need more than a pee, you will have to find some protective foliage for privacy. Pop into some bushes, and for poops, it’s best to dig a small hole first with a stick, then cover it up after. Cleanish leaves also make good loo paper and you can leave them in situ, but you must take tissues away with you. 

Runners race along path, in mountains

Running etiquette should be practised even in the mountains. Ask fellow runners where you can pee in peace (Image credit: Getty)

4. Spitting and snotting 

Spitting and snotting is pretty gross and not really something you should do in company unless you’re in equally disgusting company or don’t care what people think (in which case, why are you reading this?). We get it, you do need to clear your nose and throat sometimes and you might not have a tissue with you, but just wait until you have a bit of privacy, or ask your running companions if they mind first. And the prime rule number here, check the wind direction so you don’t snot or spit on them! 

5. What to wear 

You can wear whatever you like to run and no one should judge you for it, but specifically here we’re talking about men who think they’re all that and run topless. The basic rule is that if you look good without your top on, you’re showing off, save it for your beach or your partner. If you don’t look good without your top on, we're sorry, no one wants to see that. There’s also sunburn to consider if you’re pale-skinned. Ouch. Check out our guide to the best running tops.

6. Headphones  

This ties in with rule one about acknowledging people while you’re running. It’s one thing not to say “Hi” back to a stranger if you’re in a bad place, but if you’re playing music so loudly you ignore a marshal’s safety instructions or motivating cheers, that’s pretty rude and darn right dangerous whatever headspace you’re in. Luckily we have a buying guide containing the best running headphones that still allow you to hear what’s going on in real life around you – check it out. 

7. Sweatiquette

A known thing especially in offices where there might not be showers and people like to run at lunch or commute-run. We’re totally with you there, use your precious time effectively and go running, but take some wet wipes and deodorant if your workplace doesn’t have showers, and then petition your workplace to install a shower. If they won’t, disregard the above info and make a point of scheduling afternoon meetings with the big boss when you’re at your ripest. That’ll teach them.  

A group of women spending the evening running out in the city together

No one minds sweat on a run but when back in the office, running etiquette directs you to shower first (Image credit: Getty)

8. Sponsorship

Hmm…how often is it ok to ask friends, family and colleagues to part with cash so you can enjoy yourself running yet another race? You might have a certain charity that’s really close to your heart, but if you’re popping up asking for sponsorship every single month it’s going to make people start avoiding you or suspecting you of a Ponzi scheme. It’s all down to personal preference here, and how rich your friends are. Some people will be fine sponsoring you once a year, for others it’s more every decade, and only for a truly heart-breaking charity reason personal to your lives or a race so hard they don’t believe they’ll ever have to stump up the cash…

9. Running poles

One for the trail-focused ultra runners here – when you use running poles in races there are certain rules you must observe unless you wish to take someone’s eye out or trip them up. Firstly, make sure there is enough space around you, front, back and sides, to flaunt your poles without stabbing other runners in the foot or creating a trip hazard. Secondly, before you suddenly drop your poles and lean forward to climb a fence or scramble up a steep or rocky section, take a quick backward glance to ensure there’s no one right behind you before you poke them in the eye or inflict a head wound. Sounds simple, but it’s amazingly easy to forget when you’re on a mission.

10. Running bores

Lastly, the final rule for running is not to be a running bore. Not everyone is into running so if it’s the only thing you talk about or post on your social media, you might find people outright yawning in your presence or at least secretly muting your Instagram feed. Imagine your mate harping on about your least favourite sport. ALL. THE. TIME. Would you like that? Nope, thought not. Pick a few other topics and enjoy some cross-training in your conversation as well as your running.

Claire Maxted

The co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire now runs the YouTube channel Wild Ginger Running, creating films about trail- and ultra-running advice, inspiration, races and gear reviews. An award-winning journalist, writing for outdoor and adventure sports magazines and websites, Claire's first book, The Ultimate Trail Running Handbook (5k to 50k), is out now. Her second, The Ultimate Ultra Running Handbook (50k to 100 miles), is out Autumn 2024. Claire also speaks and presents at events and races.