Fall is a magical season for runners. Cooler weather infuses our daily slogs with speed, and canopies of multicolored leaves beg us to stay on the trail a little bit longer. And with a race of every distance possible held seemingly every weekend through November, it’s hard to find a reason not to don a bib and compete.
The plethora of race options also means it’s an ideal time for new runners to take their first crack at racing. If you’re among them, here are a few tips to help you avoid some common first-time foibles:
1) Line up according to your expected pace. A totally informal survey of DC-area runners determined that nothing annoys experienced runners more than newer, slower folks who line up in front. “Unless you think you’re going to be top 20 overall, do NOT line up in the front,” says Victoria Anderson, a DC triathlete who blogs about her training at Victoria’s Obligatory Triathlon Blog. “If you are running with a kid for fun, line up in the back.”
2) Turn down the volume. Whether it’s ever safe or appropriate to race with headphones is hotly debated within the running community. If your race allows it and you choose to run with them, make sure you don’t turn up the volume so loud you become unaware of your surroundings. “At the Marine Corps Marathon last year, wheelchair athletes were trying to pass someone who had earphones in and was deaf to the world around him,” says Alexandria runner Douglas Boorstein. “Totally inconsiderate.”
3) Keep moving. If you stop to walk, stretch, or tie your shoe, make sure you don’t do so suddenly, without warning, in the middle of a field of runners—not even at a water stop. “If you plan to walk at a water stop, make sure you aren’t in the way of any other runners,” says Silver Spring runner Lori Horwitz. “I have definitely had to swerve a time or two to avoid a pile-up after people stopped short to walk.” Avoid getting trampled by walking on the edge of the course rather than in the middle, and by turning around to make sure no one is right behind you before stopping.
4) Keep moving, part deux. Once you cross the finish line, don’t stop moving forward. “Cross the line, hand over your timing device, get your bagel, and leave,” says Silver Spring runner James Thomas. “Don’t stand around the finish and hang out—it becomes congested after a while.”
5) Ditch the pack. Running with friends? Cool. Running more than two abreast? Not cool. “I hate it when people run three or four across, or, even worse, walk three or four across so nobody can get around,” says Takoma Park runner Liz Krimmel.
6) Watch where you spit. ’Nuff said. Same rule applies to blowing snot rockets, vomiting, or expelling other types of bodily fluid.
7) Respect the lines at the portable toilets. “When there is a line for the Porta Potties, get in and get out like you’re the last one in line and dashing to the starting line” before the race, says Arlington runner Courtney Milam. “Do your ‘adjusting’ outside.” Same goes for the portable toilets on the course—the people behind you in line likely need it as badly as you do.
8) Be nice, and have fun. Sometimes all you’ve got the energy to do mid-race is continue moving forward without getting trampled or vomiting on anyone. But if you’re able to muster the strength, say “thank you” to the volunteers handing out water, say “excuse me” to the people you accidentally elbow in the finish chute, offer a thumbs-up to spectators cheering their hearts out, and slow down long enough to high-five the kids with the outstretched hands.
Amy Reinink is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post , Backpacker magazine, Runner’s World , and Women’s Running . She’s also a marathon runner, open-water swimmer, and ski patroller who blogs about her training adventures at amyreinink.com.