I’d like to think of running as a gentlemans sport. Not often marred by news of poor behavior or cheating (aside from the doping on the pro level), there is a certain level of respect as countless individuals toe the line for a chance to race each other, and the clock, worldwide. I have personally experienced one instance of terrible behavior by a team, and a few of course cutting or disrespectful conduct while racing. It definitely mars the sport that is competition at its most basic level and often ends with handshakes and high fives seconds after fierce competition.
Recently I played a little cat and mouse at a 5K, losing to a younger competitor after 2 miles of exchanging the lead. It was fun and refreshing to square off against someone, but the experience was clouded somewhat by what I saw as his lack of deference for the unwritten rules of racing. This is something I have gleaned from 12 years of competitive racing, from track in high school to marathons, and I’d like to share it to see if others feel the same way.
- Avoid physical contact: Running is not a contact sport. Always be aware of elbows and stride length to avoid contacting others. I have taken my fair share of elbows and even was knocked down from behind at a cross country race with such force on a rocky riverbed that I ended up with a literal gouge in my shin. Nudges and stumbles can happen, but it is optimal that the battle is mental, not physical.
- Be aware of space: This is a hard one and really depends on your respect for the competition. If there is a turn, barrier, or another runner to pass and I am neck and neck with someone, I will allow them room to continue their path and maintain their location in relation to me. I will avoid cutting them off or forcing them to slow. This of course takes a back seat in trail races, as there is generally room for only one runner.
- Don’t cut corners: Even in more informal races, especially when fighting for the lead, don’t run tangents across sidewalks or yards when the race signage is on the street. It may not be a matter of Olympic gold, but honor and respect decrees that we should all be running the same course.
- Always acknowledge the competition: After the run has finished, a high five or fist bump makes even the roughest races end on a high note. If thoroughly wiped out, even a simple ‘good job’ or head nod does the trick. The best part is making friends that we can look forward to racing again in the future.
Some of my favorite running friends stemmed from the fiercest competitions. We walked away from these battles for a healthy respect for each other and a desire to arrange the next meeting. Sportsmanship is key to maintaining and creating these kinds of partnerships and ensuring that we as runners maintain our image as dignified athletes.