Running Etiquette: Passing Another Runner

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Sometimes just running past another runner on the street can induce a mini panic attack.

Do I smile? Do I wave? Say good morning? Is it even still morning if it’s almost noon? Oh no! Here they come! Avoid eye contact!

Alas you end up squinting vaguely into the distance with a stupid smile on your face as they continue past you with a puzzled look on their face.

That was awkward. Glad it’s over. Now I can continue happily. Oh no… here comes another one…

If this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. This encounter can be so awkward that many runners have adopted strategies to avoid it altogether.

The Go-To Strategies

First is the classic “headphones-in-the-zone” look.  You’ve seen it, and probably used it. The runner has their earphones in, they are breathing hard and focusing on some point in the near distance. They are not going to interact with another human being once they put on their headphones in and step outside their door. It would be useless to try to gain their attention.

Another strategy is to not interact with anyone you see. You suppress natural human curiosity to glance at runners and the scenery around you and solely focus on running. Maybe if someone has the audacity to say “hi” you can muster up the humanity to flash a forced grin. But otherwise, you are out on the streets to run, and only to run. This attitude is totally acceptable, just be sure not to overdo it and come across as blatantly arrogant.

You can also make things less awkward by deciding that you will only acknowledge other runners or people that acknowledge you first. That way you can focus on your run, not worry about what is appropriate to say or not and still come across as a friendly human being.

What You Should Do

  • All the above strategies are socially acceptable. But I don’t think they are the best ones. I have enjoyed runs where I wave hi to others much more than runs where I keep to myself. If you normally keep to yourself on runs, I challenge you to make the effort to interact with others.  Here are a few tips on interacting with other runners.
  • Don’t freak out if you see a person running towards you in the distance. Acknowledge that you see them, but don’t creepily smile or wave at them from an awkwardly long distance. Wait until they are within talking voice earshot (15 feet or so) to interact.
  • Let’s say you are coming up behind a walker or runner and you are about to pass them. I have startled a number of people doing this, and I have also been startled by someone doing this to me.  Instead, say something like “on your left” or “excuse me” when passing someone who might not hear you coming.  I’ve noticed that people tend to appreciate the warning and it eliminates confusion or the possibility to edge someone into the street.

 

  • A simple nod is common between runners, especially if they seem to be running hard and don’t want to break concentration for too long. But don’t be afraid to add a smile! Just don’t overdo it.  You might send the wrong message to a stranger with a giant smile on your face while running.
  • Another non-verbal gesture is the raised hand. In this scenario, one runner will raise their hand up, sometimes with a gentle nod, sometimes with a curt “hello” or “hi”. Personally, I love the hand wave because it signifies comradery between runners – as if we were in some secret exclusive club.
  • If you are running before noon, you are safe to say, “good morning!” or “morning”. Nine times out of 10 I get a positive response.
  • If you are not sure of the time, a simple “hi” is a safe bet. “Good evening” is a mouthful.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just saying hi to runners.  People walking their dogs, watering their plants, even cyclists are fair game.

What Not to Do

Unfortunately it is still a fact that many women avoid going for a run alone in certain areas and at certain times of day for fear of being verbally or physically assaulted. For this reason, it is important to be aware of how you may come across to others. That is not to say that men shouldn’t say hello to other women.  Just be respectful.

A final tip is that different countries have different customs. For example, in London, people generally don’t hold conversations on the street so the most interaction you will get is a smile or nod. In Berlin, runners almost never even make eye contact. However in most U.S. cities, it is acceptable to greet passersby.

In a perfect world, everyone would be friendly to each other and there would be no confusion or awkwardness between runners. But I must admit even I have days when I don’t feel like interacting with any humans. I am not a morning person so usually when I go for a run in the morning, I feel like a zombie. I still make the effort to appear as cheerful as possible and say “morning!” to passersby. Usually what happens is I come across someone who really is a morning person and the enthusiasm in their response rubs off on me! By the time I get back home, I am in a great mood. But don’t take it from me.  Multiple studies have shown that human interaction boosts your mood. You should already be in a good mood since you are running, but imagine multiplying it simply by interacting with others outside. So for those introverts (like myself) I encourage you to take advantage of the short moment you have when you cross paths with another human on a run and make it a positive one.

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