One of the great things about the running community is that they’re a pretty inclusive bunch. Each race features participants of every age, race, creed and speed. You don’t have to be fast, you just have to get out there and give it your best. Choose a pace and cross the finish line… eventually.
For the most part, I agree with this ethos. The more the merrier. However, as I’ve run more races and experienced more events, there is one subset of people who have begun to wear out their welcome with me: race walkers.
Let me start by saying that, in theory, I have no issue with people who want to walk a race. Can’t run the entire half marathon or 10K? Feel free to walk. Want to participate in a race and not run at all? Feel free to walk.
But do everyone else a favor and move it on over to the side of the road.
Obviously, there are many considerate walkers who understand basic race etiquette and hug the side of the road. However, there are others (you know who you are!) who meander in packs that stretch 3-5 people wide, marching side-by-side and leaving little room for runners passing them on the left.
I recently had to deal with some of these walkers during the Rave Green Run. There were two courses, a 9K and 5K, that merged to share the last mile or so. This meant runners and walkers sharing the half of the street that was allotted us. Unfortunately, walkers were practically blocking our path with their collective girth. Volunteers implored these folks to move to the right so runners could get through, but group after group of them made no effort to alter their path.
After the race, my wife reported that these 5K walkers were just as bad at the beginning of the race. Before the starting gun, the announcer instructed participants to line up in order of their expected pace. Yet despite these guidelines, walkers crowded the front, making it difficult (if not impossible) for 5K runners who positioned themselves appropriately to get off to a decent start. Rather than establishing a decent pace, Adrienne found herself weaving through walkers for the first half a mile or so.
And this race was hardly an outlier. I’ve seen this behavior time and time again. The first half marathon I ever ran was a small affair with no corrals or staggered starts. Everyone left together. Less than a hundred yards from the starting line, I found myself crawling up the rear ends of some women who were walking the race. As stated above, I’m down with this race day strategy provided you STAY IN THE BACK OF THE PACK AND LET THE RUNNERS LEAVE FIRST!
This isn’t rocket science, it’s common courtesy. But if we cannot engage in such social niceties, race organizers should look into applying some kind of punitive consequences in order to relegate courses.
Perhaps event staff could collect the bib numbers of offending walkers and withhold their bagel and banana rations as post-race punishment. Maybe sheep dogs could be brought out to herd walkers toward the side of the road. And while it may seem extreme, I’d also be willing to consider arming volunteers with cattle prods so they could shock walkers into their lanes.
Look, I don’t really want it to come to this. I want the races I participate in to be fun and free of oppressively strict rules. But I also don’t want to take a tumble during a 5K because an unfettered family of five is stretching across my running space.
Come on, walkers! Help us out here. Do your part.
And if you can reign it in a little, perhaps us runners would be willing to consider cutting down on the amount of snot rockets we launch onto the course.