10 Tips for Marathon Etiquette – Make Sure Everyone Has a Great Race!

Written by Charlie

Before you run your next race, make sure you check out these 10 tips for marathon etiquette! Even if you don’t do these things, you may want to share this post with someone who does. 🙂

I have run over 60 marathons and ultra-marathons over the last 10 years or so. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I have witnessed a lot of things that have caused problems for other runners trying for PRs, Boston Qualifying times, and just a generally good time. So, here are 10 tips for marathon etiquette to make sure you are doing your part in keeping the course safe and fun for all.

10 Tips for Marathon Etiquette

1. Line Up In the Right Corral/Position

tips for marathon

Make sure you start in your correct corral or pace area!

This can be extremely annoying right from the start! Many marathons do a nice job of giving signs to show where runners should line up for their hoped-for finish time/pace.

But, that doesn’t stop a lot of people who know they are going to run a 10:30 minute per mile pace from lining up in front of the runners that are planning on running a 8:00 minute per mile pace. Once the runners cross the line, those runners that got in the wrong spot start running their planned pace – much slower than the people they chose to start in front of!

I see this in every single marathon I run! Most recently, I ran the Stockholm Marathon and I cannot remember a race that is more clear with who goes where. You go to a corral based on a previous race time and there are volunteers checking your bib. But, even this still didn’t stop runners from pushing their way forward, running a blistering pace for the first 500 meters that they knew they would never keep – and then running 2 minutes per mile slower than everyone around them (because that runner ignored the rules and jumped in the wrong place).

Except for the winner, everyone in a marathon has someone running a faster pace than them. That’s fine! We need to run our pace and enjoy it!

But, watch out for the signs so you start with the correct group for your planned pace!

2 – Leave Your Boom Box Home

I get it – it can be a fun thing to run with your friends and to have a little party out on the roads. But, carrying a portable boom box blaring your tunes for the 200 closest people to you is just really, REALLY annoying! 

Not only is it annoying, but it is very rude to the providers of entertainment along the course to have you blaring your music while they are playing for the runners themselves.

I had this happen again in Stockholm. There were these two guys that had their running backpacks with loudspeakers in them. It was one of the most annoying things I have experienced in a race in a while. Not only could we not hear the actual bands/groups that were playing music for us, but we could also not hear much of anything else, including safety instructions. They were facing it behind them so I knew I had to let them get far ahead of me or go quickly to keep ahead of them. Neither was in my race plan but it was essential for my sanity. 🙂

If the race allows earbuds, wear them. If you want to share music, there are earbuds that let you do that. But leave the boom box at home!

3 – Step Aside for Water Stops

tips for marathon etiquette

Grab that water and get out of the way! | Courtesy of Shutterstock

You are so thirsty and you see the water stop with waiting volunteers stretching out their arms with water ahead on the right. Grab a bottle/cup/glass and keep moving! It is not just annoying but dangerous when runners grab a water and then just stop to drink right there.

The best thing to do, if you do need to stop, is to grab the water and keep moving until you pass the tables/water stop. Then, pull over to the side of the road and take your drink. This will keep traffic moving and help you to not get run over.

4 – Step Aside If You Need to Walk

This goes along with the one above but needs a separate item number because so many people do this. There are many times that we runners will get a cramp or need to stretch along the course. That’s fine, we all need to do that at some point!

But, make the effort to move off the road or to the side of it out of the way of runners to attend to your needs. Don’t stop in the middle of the road as you will cause big problems.

5 – Watch the Gab

I like to talk with people during a marathon – it helps to move time along and I have met some very interesting people! But, be sensitive to your fellow runners. If you start talking and you are not getting any real response or it is labored, it may be better to just stop talking to that runner – or at least ask them if they want to talk.

a man with finger on lips

Serious good looking male with trendy hairdo, keeps fore finger on lips, tries to keep conspiracy, looks aside, says: Shh, make silence please. Isolated shot of attractive man shows silence sign

For many people, they are really focused on running their race and they don’t want the distraction. Or, they may be struggling and not have the energy to carry on a conversation. If you keep talking and talking, it can be annoying! So, be aware of whether or not the person you are trying to talk to wants to carry on a conversation.

6 – Look Before Switching Lanes / Spots

One of the downsides of listening to music during a marathon is you may not hear others around you and you may drift or not pay attention.

Even if you aren’t wearing earbuds – look around you before switching lanes or lines in a marathon! It can be very dangerous to just move over without taking a quick glance to see who may be near you. Be thoughtful and look all around before sliding to your right or left.

7 – Make Sure You Throw Your Bottle/Cup Out of the Way

After you are finished downing or dumping your water at a water stop (or past one), give that container a good chuck to get it to the side of the road or near the garbageAgain, it can be a safety thing when you just drop it in the middle of the road as someone else could step and slip on it (or trip on it, depending on the type of container it is). It is even better if you can get it in a dumpster or collection container on your way by!

Plus, it can be a help to the awesome volunteers when you get it as near to the garbage as possible. If you have bad aim, at least get it out of the way of the runners.

8 – Don’t Go to the Bathroom in the Middle of the Road

You may be saying, “Whaaaat?!” But, I have noticed that in some marathons (especially some foreign ones), people feel more comfortable about going to the bathroom wherever they feel they should. In some cases, that means the middle of the road. Yes, I have seen this happen a few times! 🙂

I realize that most of us would never do this but I put it in here anyway just in case – and to also give everyone at least one that we can save we have never done. 🙂

9 – Make Sure You Thank Police Officers and Volunteers

I know it can be hard to talk at certain stages of the marathon, but still try to at least give some sign of thankfulness when you take water, energy drink, gels, etc. Those volunteers may have gotten to that station before you were even at the race and will be there for a long time cleaning up after all of us after we are pass. The most they may get out of it is a t-shirt. Make sure you thank these dear people for their help and support, which if they didn’t provide, most marathons could never happen.

As for the police officers, yes, they are paid to be there (most of them) but still give them a word of thanks. At busy intersections, they are getting yelled at for a while by angry motorists who just found out that there was a marathon taking place! Taking a moment to say “thanks” or give a wave can be a nice boost for these men and women.

10 – Don’t Stop for a Finish Line Photo

The Chicago Marathon

When you are coming to the finish line, don’t stop for a photo at the line! | Courtesy of Max Herman, Shutterstock

The finish line is right ahead, you are about to get a huge PR, and you want to make sure the photo catches that sweet moment with the clock in view. Don’t stop for that photo! Chances are very good that there are runners that are making their finishing kick and may be cruising in to the finish line and they have no intention of pulling up right at the line. You may find that precious photo has you on your face if you stop if front of someone!

Believe me, these cameras can capture some fast action and they will get that shot of you that you are hoping for. Don’t stop and cause a dangerous situation at the end of a fantastic race!

What about you? What tips for marathon etiquette would you add to this list? Has anyone ever done something really annoying or dangerous in a race you ran?

Featured image Courtesy coronado / Shutterstock

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.