Trail Running Etiquette – The Rules Of Play

With more and more people switching over to trail running and the rapid rate at which participation in trail running races has grown, I have been pondering what it must be like for a newbie runner coming into the sport. Surely those new to the trails turn up to an event and see hardened trailites looking completely at home with “Their People”, speaking in sometimes strange language, wearing the oddest of outfits, looking very unlike an extreme athlete and then 5 minutes later they trot off up the side of a mountain at a pace that would make a mountain goat look disabled.

These newbies are coming into what has been for a long time, almost a secret society. One where you are expected to know the “rules of play” and one where if you play by the rules, you get to be part of something amazing.

So, to help the uninitiated, I felt it may be useful to give some of the basic guidelines and sub-clauses to follow.

Rule #1 – Everyone that steps foot on a trail is awesome, and should be treated as such. Unless they display a lack of respect for the trail and its people – then they will be ignored until they go back to their treadmill.

Rule #2 – It is completely acceptable for a trail runner to eat whatever he or she likes while running. The ability to consume fried chicken, a Big M or even egg straight from the shell while running should not raise eyebrows, but instead should be regarded with respect for the intestinal fortitude of the runner in question.

Rule #3 – It is NOT acceptable for a trail runner to begin a long run or race without self-catering. Expecting aid stations to provide a variety of food choices to suit each individual is naive. To expect aid stations to provide food at all is naive. To expect aid stations, is also naive.

Rule #4 – The shoes a trail runner has chosen to wear may be commented on once, but then never mentioned again. For example “Hey Bob, what’s with those funny looking clown shoes? What are they called again? Hiccups? Hoky Poky’s? Hoka Doodle Doo’s?” Every runner has specific needs and if the shoes they choose to wear work for them, then a single teasing comment is allowed but no more. If they have chosen to wear VIVOBAREFOOT’s, you are however, permitted to compliment them as often as like.

Rule #5 – If you see a trail runner flying along the trail shirtless, you must assume they are an extremely good runner and are just managing their core temperature appropriately. If that same runner is also wearing an arm band containing their iPhone and/or has more product in their hair than a member of One Direction, you can assume they are a tool or they were on their way to Fitness First for their monthly cardio session on the treadmill and got lost. If the shirtless/topless runner is a female, assume a mental illness and run in a different direction (after getting a selfie with them).

Rule #6 – Our trails are our Church. If you see someone drop rubbish on the trail, don’t call out to them. Simply pick it up and run along behind them until they ask what you are doing. Tell them you are carrying their rubbish for them as they are obviously too weak to carry it themselves. Advise them that you are dedicated to keeping our natural world free of garbage and you refuse to leave them alone until you both arrive at their house and you can deposit the rubbish in their bin for them. They will be so disturbed by what is happening that they will either never drop rubbish again or they will be too frightened to set foot on a trail at all. Also, if you twitch violently when you speak to them, this will add to the impact of the gesture.

Rule #7 – Wearing earphones and listening to music while running alone is acceptable. Wearing earphones while running in a group or on single track in a race is frowned upon. Connect with nature. Connect with your fellow trail runners. If you refuse to follow this rule, the second part of rule #1 will come into effect.

Rule #8 – If you are in a trail race and you see someone fall or hurt themselves, you are no longer racing – you are helping. If someone needs assistance, you are that assistance. End of rule #8.

Rule #9 – When you see someone on a trail, you MUST smile and you MUST say hello. Asking them how they are going and/or commenting on how great the trail is, is encouraged. If the person refuses to acknowledge you, assume they are an idiot, a non-trail runner or delirious from being in the last part of their first hundred miler. Only the third excuse will be accepted, only just.

Rule #10 – You don’t need arm warmers.

Hopefully this will help to give the new-to-trails runner a head start on things. If nothing else, remember rule #1 and you’ll be fine.


Run long,

Shaun Brewster.

Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)

  1. Henry Au-Yeung
    3 years ago

    I like rule no. 2 🙂

  2. Bernie Larsen
    2 years ago

    This cracked me up!!

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