10 Runners You Don't Want to Be At a Race

It’s race season again! Are you psyched? A little nervous? Both?

If so, congratulations! You’re just like everyone else, including me.

I’ve now run three marathons, eight half-marathons, four Ragnar Relays, and a ton of other races. (And I’ve cheered on the San Francisco Marathon four times.) I’ve seen a lot, from runners having a great experience out on the course to runners having a shitty time (literally). These are the ten most common pitfalls I’ve either witnessed or experienced myself, along with tips on how to avoid this happening to you.

1. The Runner Who Weaves

I’ve made this mistake--several times. When you start a race, you will ideally be among people running (roughly) at your pace. But if you get stuck in a crowd and want to just get by yourself, or worse, end up behind a bunch of slowpokes, you may be tempted to pick up the pace and/or weave around these runners in the early miles. DO NOT. Weaving adds mileage and takes a lot of energy that you’ll need later in the race. A better approach is to ease into the first few miles, even if you’re slower than you normally would be. The crowds will lessen. Just give it time. (An exception to this is shorter races of distances like 5K or 10K, during which you can and should totally blow past these folks.)

2. The Runner Who Goes Out Too Fast

Yes, me again! The first half-marathon I ran had a much smaller field than I was used to (only 800 people versus thousands), so I positioned myself in the middle and ended up starting at an 8-minute mile instead of a 10:30. Obviously, I couldn’t keep up that pace and ended up bonking. I had to walk most of mile 8 and felt immensely foolish. To avoid this super common mistake, be sure to check your watch (or however you’re keeping pace) multiple times during that first mile, and slow the f*ck down if you need to.

3. The Runner Who Blows a PR on the Porta Potty

A common nightmare among runners, especially those that have digestive issues. The easiest way to avoid this is to eat something you know your stomach can handle, and to practice your pre-race fueling strategy so you know you’ll be good to go. Also, you can’t have too many visits to the starting area porta-johns.

4. The Runner Who Cuts The Course

Just--don’t. It’s like biking on the sidewalk: against the rules, and usually completely unnecessary.

5. The Runner Who Isn’t Prepared

We all know this person. “I’d rather be surprised by the course.” Or “The wind is supposed to be how strong?” At Your Best Run, our rule is: the longer the race, the more you should know about it. At a bare minimum, take a look at the course map, especially the elevation and the actual altitude changes, and the weather forecast.

6. The Runner Who Has No Race Strategy

As a coach, I work with clients to create both process and performance goals. Identifying the purpose of each race (sometimes it’s to PR and sometimes it’s not) allows the runners I work with to identify three goals that together form their strategy for the race. A race strategy can be as simple as “I’m going to run negative splits”, or “I’m going to take the first half easy and then push if I feel good”, but you should know what you’re planning to do--and why--before you get to the start. Otherwise, you’re runner #5 too.

7. The Runner Who Is Rude

Don’t walk within 100 yards of the start unless you’re in the very last corral. Don’t stop randomly without signalling to other runners (a hand in the air is fine) or better yet, move to the side of the course before doing so. Don’t step in front of other runners to take selfies. Don’t encourage your children to run with you. Don’t blast your music from your phone, bring a bluetooth speaker, or play your headphones so loud that you can’t hear race officials. Don’t be mean to volunteers. Tell your spectators that smoking by a race course is really not appropriate. (Yes, these are all things I’ve seen or experienced.)

And above all else, please, please, please don’t stop at the finish line. There are people behind you. Run through the finish, even just a few feet. Race etiquette is pretty simple. Do what you would want others to do, be aware of your surroundings, and be kind to your fellow runners. And always thank the volunteers and spectators who are helping you out on course.

8. The Runner Who Has To Stop for Cramps

In every marathon and even in some half-marathons, I’ve watched people step off course to stretch out a cramp. Though some cramps are truly unavoidable, most are caused by not warming up or not hydrating enough. Do a full warm-up before your race (Oiselle has a great video here on a warmup you can do inside a crowded corral) and make sure you hydrate, hydrate, hydrate both on race day and the days leading up to it. Two words: pee. lemonade.

9. The Runner Who is Oblivious

We’ve all seen this person who is so caught up in their own world that other people don’t exist. This is the type of person who gets lost, or who ends up stepping on someone else’s foot or who (again) can’t hear anyone else because their headphones are too loud. Be aware that you’re in a race. It’s okay to tune out a little, but no one should have to touch you physically to get your attention.

10. The Runner Who Ends Up Running More Than Everyone Else

My first marathon was nearly 30 miles long because I didn’t run the tangents. Courses are usually measured by someone driving a car or riding a bike, not necessarily by someone running on foot. Therefore, the distance is usually measured from the middle of the road, or even from corner-to-corner. If you watch the elites run any of the major marathons, you’ll see how they tend to either run in the middle of the road, hug the sides, or cut across an intersection diagonally. That’s what everyone should do. Running the tangents (taking the shortest route to get around turns and curves) is a good way to make sure you run the actual race distance and not more than you have to. Obviously, this won’t be possible all the time. But keep an eye on your distance in a race. If your watch or GPS says you’re at Mile 3 but the Mile 3 sign is nowhere in sight, that’s a good indicator that you’re running further than you have to.

What’s your favorite race tip? Which runner do you want to avoid being on the course? Share in the comments!