Tip Your Hat To Trail Etiquette


Racing season has arrived. There’s no better time for those of us both old and new to the sport of ultra running to remember that trail etiquette can make or break a hard-earned race experience. Just last weekend, I was reminded how small things can have a huge impact in even the shortest of trail races. Here are a few reminders of how to create a positive experience not just for you, but your fellow trail runners.

Pass with politeness. When running single track, I learned early on that I didn’t enjoy people haphazardly passing from behind without warning. If you’ve somehow found yourself in front of a faster pack, it’s probably a wise option (and a safe one, at that) to pull over to the side of the trail and let them pass. On the flip side, if you’re the one who’s come up behind a slower runner, use caution and verbalize your intention to pass when the trail allows. All too often, I’ve seen a runner saddle up behind someone and stay glued to their heels, which can not only be dangerous, but makes it harder for others to pass because there are two people neck and neck. Leap-frogging with fellow runners is probably one of my favorite things about ultras, and it’s all because runners can pass one another and have fun while doing it.

Keep it low. I happened to hear a few tunes being broadcast by a lone runner during my race last weekend, along with a few disgruntled comments. Music can be great but keeping it in the buds is ideal. Runners who enjoy their favorite playlists use it for distraction or focus throughout a race. And if you elect to bring along your greatest hits, make sure you’re still able to hear other runners. Being out on the trails can be isolating, but the ability to stay alert is key when it comes to safety. Finishing a race is important but getting through it safely is the goal. Keep the volume down and leave the loud music to the aid stations.

Practice gratitude. No matter how many races, no matter how tired I may be, I remind myself to say thanks. Talking to the race director last weekend, I could tell exhaustion was hitting him as packet pickup moved into full swing. RD’s lose a lot of sleep before runners ever cross the finish line, so let them know you appreciate all the work. If we didn’t have great race directors, we wouldn’t have great races. And don’t forget the volunteers. I definitely wasn’t vocal enough with my gratitude last weekend, but quickly reminded myself to do so at future events.

With all of these reminders in the hidden pocket of your hydration vest, go forth and conquer a new season of ultras, knowing that time on the trails is key to reaching your goals for the year. And whether you’re in the front gunning for a win or a back-of-the-packer digging for a finish, make sure to enjoy each and every moment this year along side your fellow runners.


About Author

Amy Clark is the Editor of UltraRunning Magazine. She began her career at a small advertising agency in Bend, Oregon, where she enjoyed the fast pace and creative environment. For over 15 years, lunch hour runs were a ritual. Amy also joined the board of the local running club, became a race director and finished her first ultra. She has completed over 35 marathons and ultras combined, and continues to run long distances while encouraging both kids and adults to ignite their own passion for running.


  1. Amy –
    Good concise summary of a some thinks that are increasingly relevant.
    Your points one and two are related….it is hard to pass politely if the runner ahead is blasting tunes into their ears. More and more I come across runners out on the trail running with two earbuds in, somewhat oblivious to anything that is not in their field of vision. When passing, I always try to give them a good verbal heads up, but with their earbuds in often they can’t hear me. And I’m not about to try to yell over their music. So I go around them, and I get the startled/annoyed look because I caught them unawares. I don’t feel bad about startling these folks – they do it to themselves by closing themselves off to their surroundings.

    To all who run with music in your ears – please either a) only use one earbud, or b) keep the volume low so you can hear your surroundings (not just other runners, but also vehicles, dogs, etc). Plus – I think it’s really nice to just be alone with yourself and nature during a trail run….it frees your brain up to wander wherever it wants. But that’s personal preference.
    Please do not compromise and run with your cell phone speaker blaring music….that is the worst solution. No one wants to hear your music but you.

    Sorry, I had to rant, but I appreciate the topic. Good article.

  2. I would add mountain bikes to the trail etiquette discussion. Some bikers do not understand they are at the bottom of the who has the right-of-way list, after horses (#1), and runners and hikers (#2). But I also think trail runners need to think about that in some situations. If you are running downhill on single track and meet a biker working hard coming uphill, it is much easier to step off the trail and let the biker keep going and maintain her/his momentum. And no one gets pissed at the other user.