The New Etiquette For Runners

How the coronavirus has changed the rules of running outside.

These days, the weekly trip to the grocery store can feel like driving through a ghost town. With businesses shut down and stay-at-home orders in place, many areas of my city are emptier than I’ve ever seen them. There’s one big exception to this rule though: my city’s trails and greenways are as crowded as ever.

Over the past two weeks, the number of outdoor runners has actually increased. This is in part due to the arrival of spring weather, but also likely the result of people starting to feel a little stir-crazy. Since contact sports have been banned and outdoor courts have been shut down, running is one of the only options available to get out of the house for some exercise.

With so many people out running though, the risk of spreading the coronavirus begin to increase. In order to mitigate that risk, new rules of running etiquette have appeared overnight:

The number one most important rule of running during a pandemic is too keep your distance from other runners. Maintaining six feet of space has become the universal guideline for social distancing, and it applies even when out on the trails.

Group runs have almost completely disappeared. Some families still run together, which is allowed under most stay-at-home orders.

Running on the right side of the trail and passing on the left has always been a rule of etiquette. The difference now is that most people are actually following it.

Since most trails are barely wider than six feet, it’s important that runners pass on opposite edges of the trail. If you’re breaking rule 2, (hopefully with family members), this means forming a single file line whenever someone is coming from the other direction.

Call outs (“passing on the left”) have drastically increased in popularity. You don’t need to call out every time that you pass another runner, but it can be helpful when the trail narrows or someone is straying too far towards the middle of the path.

On narrow sidewalks, it’s no longer safe to pass other runners at all. A sidewalk simply isn’t wide enough to maintain social distance. Instead, cross the street or run along the edge of the street until you’ve passed.

This is another rule that has always been part of trail etiquette, but is finally being widely followed in light of the coronavirus.

In my opinion, this rule of etiquette is long overdue. Runners no longer spit, cough, sniffle or sneeze anywhere near other trail users.

Water fountains have always been a normal part of my run, but they are now off limits. Bathrooms have also been closed by my city.

Water fountains aren’t the only thing you can’t touch. Railings, pull up bars, and benches are all to be avoided. The trickiest part of avoiding touch is using the crosswalk buttons. I’ve seen runners use elbows, hips, and even feet to press the button — just no fingers.

The guiding principle behind all the new etiquette is to maximize distance between runners, and minimize the chances to spread the coronavirus. To this end, I try as much as possible to run in areas where I don’t expect to see many other runners in the first place. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anywhere completely empty yet.

So far, I’ve been impressed by how many people are keeping their distance. With that said, on nearly every run I’ve passed some people who are just oblivious. I don’t know whether they don’t notice anyone around them or just don’t care. In these cases, the burden is on us to go around them, even if it means stepping off the trail.

Running is a great hobby and I’m happy to see more people doing it than ever. Let’s all do out part to keep our distance though, so that we can continue to enjoy it relatively safely.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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