Rules of the Road: 10 Unwritten Rules Every Runner Should Follow

Respect your fellow runners by following these road rules

Cars have traffic laws they’re required to follow, and even cyclists are expected to abide by those same rules, too. But for runners, well there are no official laws that detail what we can and can’t do while out on the road.

OK. Well actually, if you want to get really technical, yes, there are laws that pedestrians must follow when sharing the streets with cars and bikes; like in New York City pedestrians are required to “use sidewalks whenever they are safely available,” “walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible” when sidewalks aren’t available, and “obey traffic signals and/or traffic officers.”

These are all totally reasonable laws that help keep pedestrians (whether walking or running) and drivers safe. But what about runners who take their workouts elsewhere? Say, on a trail, in a park or around a track. No governing body has decreed a list of rules to be followed. However, that doesn’t mean your outdoor running workouts are a total free for all.

Especially in public parks and urban areas you’re likely to encounter other runners and pedestrians during your runs, which means there are a few rules all runners should follow so that everyone can have an enjoyable experience.

What all of these rules really come down to is: don’t be a jerk. Maybe our mode of transport is a little less involved than devices with wheels, but runners must still be respectful. 

To make sure that you’ll be super courteous and considerate in any situation you may encounter, be sure to know and understand these 10 unwritten rules of the runner’s road.

-10 Unwritten Rules Every Runner Should Follow-

1. Run facing traffic.
OK, so this one kind of is the law, but unfortunately runners don’t always obey this rule, and for safety reasons it’s worth repeating. If you have to run on a street with cars and there is no sidewalk, run on the side of the road so that traffic is coming toward you. Stay as far to the left as possible, keep your music off and pay extra careful attention to the traffic and anything else going on around you.

2. Don’t pass without giving notice.
This is similar to using your blinker when driving a car. Hopefully you wouldn’t change lanes and cut in front of another car without first letting them know your intention, so use the same logic when you’re running. “I can't stand when someone comes up behind me real fast without saying something like ‘on your left’ or something like that,” Katie Collins commented on Instagram. “I've gotten shoulder checked a couple times, which completely throws me off.” A simple little shout is all you need to let runners ahead of you know that you’re approaching from behind and will likely pass. This is especially important on secluded trails and crowded park paths. When in doubt, follow in the footsteps of Captain America.

4. Be respectful of other runner’s paces.
Vanessa K. said: “The other night while running with a large group a guy passed me up. I jokingly said, ‘I'm being overtaken!’ To which he replied, ‘It wasn't that hard.’” Don’t be that guy.

5. Don’t stop in the middle of the road or path.
This might seem like an obvious no-no, but apparently it’s not that clear to every runner. “Recently in a race someone in front of me stopped mid-run to tie their shoe,” Sarah said on Instagram. If you need to stop, whether it’s during a race or just a recreational workout, make sure you move over to the side of the path or trail so that other runners (especially those who might be right behind you) won’t have to treat you as an unexpected obstacle.

6. Don’t judge.
I mean, this is basically just a rule you should follow in all areas of your life, but it also applies specifically to running. “It bothers me when fellow runners criticize what others wear,” Cathy commented on Instagram. “I like wearing pretty, fun tanks and skirts. I overheard two people say, ‘is she running or in a fashion show?’” This, my friends, is a great example of what you can do in order to be a total jerk. You can wear whatever you want while you run, and if anyone else has an issue with it, well, that’s their problem, not yours.

7. Move out of the way at the finish line.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle that builds up just beyond a race’s finish line. There’s a reason officials and volunteers stand at the finish line with the sole job of telling runners to move along.

“I had to yell 'move' to a family who was standing between me and the finish line, as I was one of the last runners to finish,” Jay said on Instagram. Every runner deserves the joy of sprinting through the finish line, hands in the air and a huge smile on their face. No runner should have to worry about whether or not they can even get through.

8. Pay attention when running with pets.
“I'm more of a 'to each their own' type of runner, but I do get peeved at people that are inconsiderate of their four-legged friends,” one Instagram user commented. “If you decide to run with your pooch, which I think is fantastic, look out for them by keeping them safely at your side. I often see pups zigzagging all over a bike path just waiting to get hit, while their owner is safely tucked in at the shoulder.” Pay attention to your pup, and it’s a good idea to always keep them on a leash, too.

9. Stay to the right.
This simple tip comes from fitness blogger Jen Rawson. In America, you wouldn’t drive on the left side of the road, so be courteous to your fellow runners by applying the same logic on sidewalks and paths. If all runners follow this basic rule, trails and paths will be more organized and safer for everyone.

10. Say hello.
Several responses on Instagram mentioned this extra-important rule. Ultra-runner Jason Bahamundi was the first to mention this unwritten rule and then many others chimed in to agree. “Runners should always acknowledge each other! Like bikers do,” Vanessa K. commented. It’s not like you have to ask every runner you pass how their day is going. A simple wave, smile or head nod will do. It’s not that hard to do and it will make both parties involved have an infinitely better day. Just try it. You’ll see.

Are there any other unwritten rules you would add to the list? Let us know by tweeting us @TheActiveTimes or leaving a note in the comments section below!

Running Safely: 8 Things Every Runner Needs to Know
The 20 Best Running Shoes of 2014
A Quick Guide to Safe City Cycling