Training and Racing Etiquette Tips for the Trails

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In support of our 2019 theme, “Trail Running Responsibility,” I’m sharing my top tips for training and racing etiquette on trails. Learning — and putting into practice — proper etiquette on trails will help us preserve our natural environments, run safer, and find more enjoyment.

Travel Quietly
Run quietly on trails so as not to disturb wildlife and other trail users. Portable music speakers should be left at home because they can be distracting to other trail users and limit the user’s ability to be alerted to approaching wildlife. The exception to the “travel quietly” rule is if you’re traveling where there are bears, in this case, it’s advised to be noisy and wear a bell, which may help avoid bear encounters.

Pack in In, Pack it Out
What you bring with you to the trails you should bring out. Keep the trails clean and free of wrappers, including those from gels, bars and energy blocks. I carry an empty ziplock in my running vest that I then use to put all of my wrappers in so I can dispose of them properly after finishing my run.

Yield to Uphill Traffic
Runners work harder on uphills than downhills, which is why you should yield to runners coming uphill. It’s harder for runners to stop and regain their momentum when gravity is working against them. The exception to this rule is if a runner coming down is moving so quickly they will not be able to easily stop themselves. In this case, I would step aside for the downhill runner.

Be Friendly and Smile!
Acknowledge other trail users and announce your presence. Say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Howdy,” if you’re in the West, and make eye contact. People appreciate these small gestures, and it’s a much kinder way to pass someone compared to blowing by them without saying a word.

Keep Your Ears Open
Stay safe on trails by listening to what’s happening in the nature around you. (Refer again back to Tip #1.)Listen closely for wildlife, horse riders or mountain bikers so you can prepare accordingly. You should run without earphones and enjoying the relaxing sounds of nature.

Pass on the Left (in the United States)
Just as with driving, passing on the left is the appropriate way to pass. If I’m passing someone from behind, I will say “On your left” to indicate I’m about to pass them on their left hand side. This custom may be different in other countries, especially those where automobiles drive on the left side of the road like the United Kingdom, Ireland or Japan. In these countries check with a native to find out about local passing etiquette.

Stay On Established Trails
Running off designated trails can harm the surrounding nature. Stay off closed trails and limit our runner’s footprint on the environment by sticking to the established and/or marked trails.

Be Considerate of Cyclists and Equestrians
Yield to those on bikes and horseback. Although some suggest for bikers to yield to hikers and runners, I’ve noticed that in many circumstances it works better the other way around. On narrow trails it is often more difficult for bikers to find spots to step off the trail. On steep trails, bikers coming down may struggle to stop quickly. Bikers coming up may not be able to stop and start as easily as hikers and runners because of the additional weight of their bikes.

Horses can be easily spooked, so I immediately stop running when I get within about 15 yards of a horse and its rider. For the safety of the rider, the horse and myself, it’s better to stay calm and walk until the horse passes by you.

Don’t Cut Switchbacks
Cutting switchbacks in races can be considered cheating and harmful to trails. While this might not be the standard in other countries, the majority of American trail races discourage cutting switchbacks and can disqualify you for doing so.

Yield to Faster Runners
In out-and-back races, it’s especially important for racers to yield to faster runners. In the Pikes Peak Marathon, held annually in Manitou Springs, CO, roughly 1,000 runners ascend and descend 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. The top finishers fly down the mountain while the majority of runners still have hours to climb. This creates many close encounters where speedy elites almost run over unaware uphill runners. It’s safer for everyone if runners coming up are prepared to yield to top finishers flying down.

Stay Single File
The majority of trails are not wide enough for users to travel side-by-side without blocking the trail, so it’s best to stay single file. Large groups should be especially aware of this rule because it can be quite dangerous for big groups to block trails where mountain bikers could be flying down.

Plan Your Nutrition for Safety
Planning out your nutrition before long runs and races will help you avoid bonking, dehydration, and other serious health concerns. Make sure to carry enough water, bars, gels, electrolytes and whatever you need to go the distance safely. Don’t be the trail runners who calls for a rescue because you hit the trails unprepared.

Volunteer for Races
Volunteering at trail races can make a race director’s heavy workout much easier. Consider asking a race director if he or she would like your help setting up or taking down the course, helping at aid stations or whatever other work they may need. My experiences volunteering have been fun and I’ve always met new friends in the trail running community.

Volunteer to do Trail Maintenance
We have compiled a list of over 200 organizations that help maintain trails so there are many opportunities nationwide to support trail maintenance and improvements. Connect with a park, or trail system in your area to offer your support, or consider taking a course to become a trail captain or a certified sawyer. This is another way to give back and meet new trail running friends.