Recently, a discussion on Facebook tackled the subject of racing etiquette at a Spartan Race, and when the idea of running for time in an open heat can lead to hazards for other runners. In this case, several runners were observed bombing down a steep hill off trail to get around a slow moving line, dislodging rocks and debris that put those on the trail at risk of injury.
First off, a few points on trail running etiquette:
- Slower runners/walkers should yield to faster runners on trails and get out of their way if it is safely possible to do so.
- Runners should let walkers know they’re coming by saying loudly “On your left” or right, though left is the default passing lane.
This seems pretty simple, right? There are a few factors that make things more complicated at a Spartan Race or similar OCR. The first is that race directors love to make use of single track trails, often on steep hills. This means that it may not be feasible for someone to safely pass. Add in natural hazards like Poison Oak, and it may be very detrimental for them to leave the path and let the runner breeze through. On the other side of things, many walkers often proceed side by side, effectively blocking the path, and are often oblivious of runners or unaware of the etiquette involved.
The comment that really rankled on this post was that, in effect, if you’re not trying to get your best time in, or are only walking the course, you don’t belong at the race. To me, this was a remarkably ignorant and self-centered comment. What follows is my (gently edited) response:
What I really hate about some of the responses to this post is the disdain and condescension towards your fellow Spartan. If you have the talent and training to run fast, that’s awesome. I certainly will attempt to get out of your way and let you pass if you’re going faster than me. Not everyone knows trail etiquette, and that’s too bad; as a runner this is something you need to suck up and accept just like you would a line or backup at an obstacle.
If you’re creating unnecessary hazards by passing or being rude to your fellow racers (and they are, regardless of their speed), I will call you out on it. Hard.
How dare anyone say who should and shouldn’t be on the course? It’s exactly this kind of trash talk that scares many people away from these races because they don’t want to be made fun of. I take my lead from many of the best of the elite runners, who have stated publicly on many occasions that the people who inspire them are the ones that take 10 or 11 hours to finish a Beast. It is likely the hardest thing they have ever done, and the stamina and will to keep going for that long, especially when you’re being passed by so many on the way, is simply awesome. There’s a reason that Spartan makes a point of celebrating the LAST runner to come in off the course, and it’s not just to make them feel better; it’s because they recognize the achievement involved and the barriers that person had to overcome to get there.
A much better way is to occasionally get out of your own head, turn, and give someone else a hand. It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra time for your race, but IMHO it’ll make you a far better human being.
There are a huge number of reasons why someone or a group might do the race slowly. One of the most inspiring things I’ve seen was a large group of adaptive athletes making their way through last year’s Monterey Beast – athletes missing limbs, with spina bifida or spinal injuries, deaf athletes and more. They took nearly 12h to finish the course, and along the way, they were indeed the subject of irritation by people who were bottle-necked behind them on parts of the course that were “running for time”. Many people at the races are battling their own personal demons on the course – injuries, addiction, PTSD, eating disorders, obesity, and more are all fought, and occasionally slain altogether, step by step out there on the course. Others are afflicted with cramps or blisters or are simply pushing themselves farther and harder than they have ever gone before.
I know many people who started a race running “for time”, and changed their minds partway through; they ran into a friend or stranger who was injured or spiritually defeated by the course, and decided their new goal was to get that person to the finish line instead, no matter how long it took. As someone that’s done this more than once, it feels far better than when they place the medal around your own neck. Still others see how long they can spend on the course by helping those who need it at every obstacle, often spending hours longer than they need to between the start and finish lines.
I would argue strongly that their race is no less important than yours if you’re an athlete running for time, and indeed is probably far more significant to them as a personal accomplishment than shaving a few minutes off your time, or moving up in the rankings a little.
The bottom line is that if you are THAT concerned about your time, run elite. That’s what those heats are for. If you run in the open heats, YOU shoulder the risk of bottlenecks or of lines on some obstacles. Putting someone else down because you happen to be faster than them (or stronger, or better at some particular obstacle) is simply pathetic. We should be pulling each other up, not putting each other down, and placing any other racer at serious risk of injury because you are in a hurry means you should be disqualified and banned from future races.
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