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10 etiquette tips for trail runners

Editor’s note: This is part three of a four-part series on trail running for new runners.

In the first two parts of this series, I covered the basics on how to get started with trail running and offered some guidance for when a new trail runner ventures out.

Hopefully by this point in the series you have become inspired to try out trail running. While it is similar to road running, there are some key distinctions. You will likely encounter fewer humans out on the trails, but proper etiquette is important. So, too, is understanding your obligations to keeping the trails in good shape for future generations of runners, hikers and cyclists.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you share the trails with others.

Let faster runners pass

I have read references from various running publications on this topic and there is little consensus. However, the overarching theme in trail running is to let common sense rule the day. If a faster runner is behind you, let him or her pass. If a runner is coming toward you, do your best to judge who is moving more quickly. If it is you, let the other runner pass by as efficiently as possible. When it comes to hills, generally whoever is heading downhill is likely faster so they should have the right of way.

Stay on the trail

Many trails are well marked, or the path is easy to follow. It may be tempting to go explore elsewhere but that is not appropriate. By heading off the marked trail, you may end up on private property, disturb a wild animal or get lost. At the very least, your transgression is affecting nature, possibly wreaking havoc with the vegetation. This is especially true for trails that are marked off or closed. There is a reason for that which may not appear obvious. As trail runners, we must be good representatives of our community and stay on trails and obey closures.

Pass on the left

Runners should stay to the right of the trails. When approaching hikers, slower runners or others, let them know you are about to pass, with a pleasant, “On your left” greeting. If they do not hear you or move, try another greeting like “Good morning (or afternoon, or evening)” or “Excuse me.” Be prepared to have startled walkers instinctively move to the left or turn around, rather than clearing space for you. It’s happened to me countless times so I have learned to announce my presence in plenty of time, and to repeat pleasantly as often as needed.

Get muddy, wet and dirty

There will inevitably be mud and standing water on the trail at times. Newer trail runners may be inclined to go around mud or water. However, by veering off the side of the trail, even temporarily, it damages the trail by widening it beyond its design. This increases erosion and harms flowers, plants and trees. That said, be careful when going through water on an unknown trail — it may be deeper than you think or have hidden rocks or roots.

Don’t litter

On longer runs, you may have a gel or other nutrition, or finish a bottle of water or other hydration product. The trail is not your trash can. Whatever you bring into nature, be sure to take it back out.

When nature calls

While we are required to stay on trails, sometimes we need to make an emergency stop. When nature calls and there is not a bathroom nearby, it’s permissible to get well off the trail to relieve yourself. Keep in mind that you should not relieve yourself within 200 feet of a water source. And after a bowel movement, bury it in a hole at least six inches deep, cover it, bag whatever you used for toilet paper and carry it with you until you can deposit it in the trash.

Be friendly Exchange brief pleasantries with fellow runners, hikers, cyclists and others. A simple greeting, smile or wave goes a long way. But be respectful, especially when it comes to men encountering women. All too often women are harassed when they are simply out enjoying a run. They may not be interested in engaging with a stranger in a remote location. Don’t take it personally, guys, just respect it and move on.

Keep your music or podcast to yourself

Some people will recommend not listening to podcasts, music, audio books or other recordings while out on the trails. The reason is that the runner needs to be able to hear what is happening nearby. That is true but I have found that with Aftershokz, I can have the best of both worlds — I can listen to my favorite podcasts while keeping my ears open for any sounds of danger lurking.

No horseplay

Horses can get easily spooked, which could turn dangerous for the animal, rider and you. When approaching a horse, stay calm and walk until the horse is a safe distance away.

Maintain awareness

Overall, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to be aware of your surroundings. It can be easy to lose yourself in the serenity of a quiet trail but that can be when danger lurks. One time during a peaceful mid-afternoon run in San Diego, I was bounding down a trail when I noticed a rattlesnake in the middle of the trail. Since I was able to process the situation quickly, I was able to turn around and head back without disturbing the snake or endangering myself.

In the final part of this series, I’ll highlight some gear and other products that will help you on the trails. Among the gear will be some of my favorite trail shoes. To get a head start on learning about trail shoes, check out the collection of reliable reviews at RunningShoesGuru.

I appreciate you reading this! Stop back next week for the final installment.

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