A Walker's Guide to Half-Marathon Etiquette
Show up, race, celebrate and go home. Whether you run or walk a half-marathon, that remains the same. Still, here are a few tips with walkers in mind to make your first and your fifty-first half-marathon a pleasant experience for you and fellow racers.
Stay Right - Leave Space to Pass
The ranks of half-marathon walkers are growing, but I haven’t found one yet specifically designed for walkers. Stay to the right, to allow the runners passing from behind a clear path.
Late arriving runners and walkers who’ve warmed up and quickened their pace may come fast from behind. It’s a courtesy to not interfere with their best time by giving them space to pass you automatically. On small parts of the course, avoid walking three and four abreast.
On out-and-back courses, expect the race leaders to head your way. In larger races, motorcycles or bicycles may precede them and ask that you move to the right well before they pass you. In smaller races, it’s our job to stay alert for the fast runners heading toward us and make sure we give them plenty of space. Just a few seconds can mean the difference between qualifying for a prestigious race or not.
Know the Course
Race volunteers switch positions and are reassigned throughout the race. It’s is not their responsibility to know the course. Don’t get upset with the folks who are volunteering their time if they can’t tell you how far along you are, when the course changes or where the next port-o-potty is located. Almost every race has a link to the course on their official website. Find it. Know it.
This is even more important at smaller events when runners are long gone from the course and we walkers may come to forks in the course with no one ahead of us to follow. Give race organizers feedback if additional signage or volunteers would make a difference at next year’s event.
Many races now discourage headphones. They can interfere with hearing emergency vehicles, last-minute race changes and other participants. Some racers try to get around this request by listening to their music on speakers. I’ve watched participants attempt to enliven the race for others with loud songs blaring from their wireless speaker. I’ve also watched the faces of fellow-racers who wish they could just pass the guy and get some peace. We don’t all like the same music.
My worst experience was sharing the same pace with a woman who was listening to an audiobook narrated by the most uninteresting voice in the world. I jogged quite a ways ahead to ensure she couldn’t catch up to me a fourth time.
Race volunteers are amazing. They want us to enjoy the race, get the hydration and carbs we need and move along as quickly as we like. While it is great to strive for dropping your water cup, wrapper or trash into the receptacles, stay aware of the race traffic around you. Better to allow the volunteers to pick up an errant cup or two than break up the rhythm of approaching racers to keep one cup of hundreds from hitting the ground.
In my experience, racers are quite friendly. It’s nice to break up the monotony now and again. Pay attention to the body language of other racers, though. Some prefer to stay in the zone, while others invite company and conversation. The same person may be focused on making a personal record in one race and just strolling along to completion in the next.
Embrace the Cheers
The growing ranks of half-marathon walkers are a new fixture for some of the folks who have cheered at races for years. Sometimes the cheering supporters assume walkers are struggling to make it to the finish line, not realizing we’re on pace, on schedule and full of joy. Expect to hear “You got this!” more than a few times.
When I’m up for it, I give back a smile, thumbs up or thank you. These folks are taking time out of their morning just to show support. Don’t worry about it when you aren’t in the space to smile or reply. They know you are on a journey of thirteen point one miles and understand you’re focused.
Half-marathoners are a community of individuals who love a challenge. We’re a group of both sexes, many races, lots of ethnicities and all ages. Unless this is a one-off challenge, expect to recognize other regulars at different races. Be kind, always. There are friendships to be made along the course.
As I’ve settled into the unique race experience of walking half-marathons, I’ve become an avid cheerer of the runners on out-and-back courses. During my first few races, my focus was just on finishing my own race. As my confidence increased, I discovered that I was in the perfect position to offer encouragement to the runners heading toward the finish line. Now, it’s one of my favorite activities. As I walk toward the turnaround, I love giving a thumbs up or my own enthusiastic “You Got This!!!” to the runners passing in the opposite direction. They may not be able to acknowledge hearing you as the swoosh by, but it makes a difference.
Half-marathons can be a whole lot of fun with the right attitude and information.
Walk That Half!