A Trail Runner’s Confession: Five Things Trail Runners Need To Do to Be Safer and More Polite Trail Partners

I’ve been running on trails a lot lately, preparing for the Stillwater Half Marathon, which is mostly on the Gateway Trail. Along the way, I’ve been reflecting on whether I could become a better trail citizen.

We runners and walkers are an awfully self-righteous breed. We love to criticize the manners of cyclists on area trails, with some justification. But maybe, just maybe, we should look in the mirror before we start hating on others.

What could pedestrians on trails do to be safer and more civil? Let me count the ways.

  • Ditch At Least One Earbud. I know that I should ditch my earbuds completely, but I honestly feel like I can’t run without music to distract and motivate me. But there is no question that wearing two earbuds isn’t safe for runners or those they share the trail with. With two earbuds drowning out most of the sounds of the world, you can’t hear things like the sound of approaching bikes, “on your left,” or “help!” Using one earbud is a reasonable compromise, but two earbuds is completely unacceptable. Unplug, people.
  • Acknowledge Passers. When faster moving bikers or skaters approach from the rear, the responsible ones announce their approach with the ring of a bell or a verbal “on your left.” Runners who are being passed should give such responsible trail mates a non-verbal acknowledgement, such as a thumbs-up sign to a) assure them that you heard them, know they’re coming and will not be moving into their path at the last second; b) reinforce their responsible behavior so they continue it; and c) encourage them to announce themselves sufficiently early, since bikers won’t see the high sign if they announce themselves the moment they are passing a runner, as many bikers do.
  • Move To Far Right. Runners frequently gripe when bikes buzz within inches of their shoulder, even though the bikers still have abundant empty trail space on their left to use. But I also see plenty of runners doing the same thing, insisting on running in the middle of the trail, as opposed to the far right edge of the trail. I’ve accidentally done this myself when delirious at the end of a long run, but to do it regularly and intentionally is rude and dangerous.
  • Single File. Similarly, runners love to vilify bikers who insist on riding side-by-side. This needlessly takes up about two-thirds of the trail, and therefore significantly reduces the margin of error for collisions. But runners are every bit as guilty of this. So, sorry lovers and chatters, when you have company on the trail, you need to run single file.
  • No Trail-spitting. Spit happens. I get that. Exercisers sometimes need to expectorate. But runners who continually spit on pavement that others have to use are no more civilized than the horses with whom we sometimes share trails. All of nature is an acceptable spittoon, people, so please spit off-pavement.

It’s a glorious time of year in Minnesota. So, runners, let’s play nice, stay safe and practice what we preach.


About Joe Loveland

Joe Loveland operates Loveland Communications (lovelandcommunications.com), a sole proprietorship that provides marketing, public relations, and public affairs counsel and services. He previously held communications-related positions with U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, the Minnesota Citizens League, Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, Allina Hospitals and Clinics, the Minnesota Department of Health, and Weber Shandwick public relations. He blogs at wrywingpolitics.com, and also has blogged at thesamerowdycrowd.com.