For many runners, their fitness journey begins as a result of entering a race. Others will learn to run and build distance and confidence before parting with cash and committing to toeing the start line. However you get there, it’s almost inevitable that your running career will eventually lead you to pinning a number on and joining the masses waiting for the start gun.
So, what can you expect from your fellow racers? Running is a broad church, and it brings a rich and varied mixture of characters to races of all types. Some you’ll identify with, others will drive you bonkers, but with this guide you can at least prepare for some of the folks you’ll encounter on race day.
1. The shover
Don’t be alarmed, we’re not talking about a bolshy lunatic pushing their way through the crowds, knocking runners over like ninepins. The shover can be more subtle, applying pressure to your back or arm with enough force to ease you out of their path and get past you, hell-bent on getting to the finish in their desired time. A friendly word or, if you like, a more forceful rebuke for their tactics, is not out of the question.
2. The water stop dweller
This person can be particularly annoying when you’re in your own zone and enjoying your race. You’re approaching a water station and all set either to sail past or swiftly scoop a cup or bottle and be on your way. What you’re not expecting is for the runner in front of you come to a complete standstill to skull their bodyweight in H2O. It can cause a sudden concertina of humans behind the stationary runner and disrupt your race in a particularly irksome way.
3. The music listener
Plugging in your earphones during a race is sometimes prohibited by organisers, or at least discouraged on the grounds that you are less aware of your surroundings and fellow runners, and it’s particularly hazardous if you’re taking part in a race that isn’t on entirely closed roads. However, a large proportion of runners depend on their music to get them through long runs and races, and you are guaranteed to see plenty of them wearing their music tech during the race. Just be ready for them to lurch in front of you if they can’t hear your footsteps behind them.
4. The plodder
We all have our own pace and our own aspirations in races, and for that reason many races ask you to log a predicted time when you enter. They’ll position you in a start ‘wave’ or ‘pen’ to ensure you’re among runners of similar speed. The problems come when slower runners either tell fibs on their entry form or sneak up a few pens on race day. Once you get going, you’ll spot them, because you’ll be slaloming around them as they labour along at their pace, totally out of sync with the runners they started with. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
5. The fancy dress wearer
We’ve all seen them on TV at races like the London Marathon and Great North Run, and you may well come across some interesting outfits in the race you enter, like this funky bunch! Those with larger, more elaborate costumes will usually start at the back of the field to avoid clogging up the flow of runners, but wherever they are, they’ll get extra cheers from the spectators and plenty of comments from fellow runners. Give them some encouragement, they are often wearing something outlandish in the name of a chosen charity.
6. The chatterbox
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of casual conversation during a race, and sometimes it will help regulate your pace and take your mind off the mile markers. But what you don’t want is someone constantly nattering in your ear for a prolonged period. If you see someone chewing the ear off a runner in front of you, give them a swerve and find a quieter bit of the road.
7. The over-eater
In longer races, nutrition plays a key role in getting you round. There is a danger you can overdo it, though. Spot the over-eater with a belt stuffed with energy gels, pockets overflowing with jelly sweets and an energy bar clamped in each hand. If you’ve trained properly you will have practised your fuelling strategy and you’ll know how much you need. Don’t let nerves get the better of you on the day and start stashing emergency foodstuffs about your person.
8. The singer
Some people give air to whatever their earphones are blasting at them, others simply sing of their own accord. This happened to your correspondent during a night-time trail race once, when the gentlemen up ahead began belting out Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls in the pitch black. In a way, it was a comforting and uplifting way of coping in a gruelling race through the darkness. If they’re reciting one of N.W.A’s greatest hits, on the other hand, they’ll quickly run out of breath or be disqualified for undue profanity.
9. The crier
No judgement here from us. Completing a race can be a hugely emotive experience for many runners. You only have to look at the torrent of human emotion unleashed down the home straight of the big city marathons we see on TV. If you see someone in tears after a couple of miles, however, ask if they’re OK. They might have pulled something.
10. The walk-runner
There’s nothing wrong with this as a strategy. Indeed, you can complete a sub-four-hour marathon with the right run-walk plan. So as you power past a walker, try to keep the smugness to a minimum. They are likely sticking to a game plan, and there’s a strong chance they might come clipping past you a little further down the road during a run phase of their race.