Running Etiquette: Gender Dynamics Edition
June 26, 2020 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Asking for my (cis) boyfriend: What is the best way to pass and/or overtake other runners on the street -- especially women and AFAB people -- without making anyone feel threatened, patronized, unnerved, or just generally shitty? Snowflakes inside.

He's coming from the world of cycling, where he witnesses a lot of gendered microaggressions and works hard not to perpetuate them.

Being a cyclist, he's well-acquainted with the unspoken etiquette rules that apply when on a bike, but he's new to running and has no runner friends to ask about the Secret Social Rules. He is autistic and very invested in learning Social Rules so that he can be as good as possible to the people around him.

He already keeps plenty of distance for COVID-19 reasons and general politeness reasons, but wants to know if he can be doing more to not be a Shitty Runner Guy.


- 27y/o fit-but-not-buff white cis man, shaved head (due to early-onset balding, not white supremacism, but appearances are appearances), runs shirtless with headphones and a phone-armband

- runs ~3 mornings/week, early mornings, on residential streets in semi-downtown Toronto (Harbord Village area)

- encounters ~10 runners/run, mostly women and AFAB people, usually solo runners


Is it more polite to greet people or ignore them/leave them alone? More polite to give warning ("on your left!") or not, when passing with a wide berth is impossible? Does etiquette change when he passes a person who is walking mid-run--is it patronizing to say "good morning" in that context, like, is it a "hey look at me still running, unlike you, you weak person who needs a break" kind of a thing?

Is there anything else he could be doing to be more nonthreatening given that he is often the only other person on the street, and people may feel extra-vulnerable in that context? (Wearing a shirt is not an option, it's hot even at 6am and overheating is probably his biggest autistic-sensory-overload issue.)
posted by some_kind_of_toaster to Health & Fitness (25 answers total)
If somebody is passing me from behind I strongly appreciate it when they duck into the street (or the grass or whatever) to give me some space (like actually six feet), but otherwise I don't need them to say anything. The person passing from behind is the one obligated to get out of the way, imo. If passing with a wide berth is impossible (during a pandemic!) then you maybe gotta find somewhere else to run, or wear a mask. It's not cool to get close to strangers right now.

If someone is coming toward me I like a little nod or wave or smile! I usually give people a little nod and (very brief) eye contact. I think it's friendly. Nowadays I usually do it before I divert into the street or whatever. Actually saying "good morning" is too much work for me, but some brief wordless acknowledgement is nice.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:25 PM on June 26, 2020 [19 favorites]

I used to live in that exact area and am a woman.

My personal preference would be for him to give me a smooth wide berth from quite a distance - including curving smoothly off the sidewalk if that’s safe, or at least just to one edge of it - and using his body language to telegraph in advance that that’s what he’s planning to do... and then pass with minimal eye contact and no words (Friendliness can be creepy).

If he were approaching from behind in the dark I would LOVE it if he dipped down onto the bike lane or up onto the grass for about 5 metres, giving me 6 feet of distance while passing me. I think that’s really the only respectful way to pass someone from behind while running, especially in the dark and especially during a respiratory pandemic.

In return for either, if I felt safe in that moment, I’d probably smile and call out “thanks!” and think he was a super lovely, sensitive, respectful guy.

I would also feel safer with a guy whose clothing displayed a lack of toxic masculinity, so, for instance, a fun, slightly “feminine coded” style choice like pink, baby blue, or orange sneakers, or pineapple patterned shorts, etc- would make me feel safer.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:25 PM on June 26, 2020 [25 favorites]

As a 52-year-old cis white guy, here's what I generally do:

If I cross paths with a runner coming the opposite direction, I usually just smile and wave briefly. If it's someone I know, even just from seeing them out on the road regularly, I'll sometimes say "Good morning" or "Hi."

If I need to pass someone, it depends on the circumstances. I usually run on country roads, so there I will cross the road so I'm running on the opposite side, wave or say hi when I come abreast of the other runner, then wait until I'm 25-30 feet ahead of them to cross back. If I need to wait for traffic to clear before passing, I'll slow down and wait 25-30 feet behind them until it's safe to cross the road for passing.

If I'm on a narrow path or sidewalk where it's not safe to run in the street, I will call out something like "Excuse me, passing on the left" (or right), then pick up my pace so that I pass quickly and get some distance ahead before returning to my previous pace. I haven't done this in the age of COVID-19, though.

Of course I carry a mask and put it on if I have to get any closer to another person than the width of a two-lane road.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:27 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Smile, show open hands, and try to go out into the street or cross to the other sidewalk to make it clear you're not chasing someone is what I do, as an averagely intimidating cis guy. I don't know if that's the right answer. If the sidewalk is crowded and full of shops, I'll just go past people without worrying. If there are two people in an alley, I try hard hard not to scare people.

Greeting people on the street always seems creepy to me. But, I'm not from around here.
posted by eotvos at 1:29 PM on June 26, 2020

I'm answering this form the point of view of a cis-woman who has run in central Toronto for over 20 years.

>Is it more polite to greet people or ignore them/leave them alone?

Greet oncoming runners with either a nod or small wave. In my experience, this greeting will happen early in the morning when there are fewer people out. Once there are more people out, just ignore other people.

>More polite to give warning ("on your left!") or not, when passing with a wide berth is impossible?

I used to trail run. Saying "on your left" was common on singletrack. If this is a narrow sidewalk, and stepping onto the road is not an option, then "on your left" is also appropriate. But if this is early morning, he should be able to step into the road.

>Does etiquette change when he passes a person who is walking mid-run--is it patronizing to say "good morning" in that context, like, is it a "hey look at me still running, unlike you, you weak person who needs a break" kind of a thing?

If they look like a runner and it's early, then the wave or nod would be appropriate. Or ignore.

>Is there anything else he could be doing to be more non-threatening given that he is often the only other person on the street, and people may feel extra-vulnerable in that context?

If possible, he can cross the road, away from the person. If he is concerned about a situation, then keep an eye on from a distance, but approaching the person to comment on their vulnerability is a no-go (yes, that happens).
posted by TORunner at 1:31 PM on June 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

In terms of what you say, things vary so much place to place that you really need to ask other Torontonians in particular. A greeting from another runner, especially when we were alone together, would be unnerving here in Boston, where nobody would acknowledge a stranger if their hair was on fire. It would have felt pleasant in Texas when I lived there.

Beyond that, yes, keeping distance is good. To put it brutally bluntly, I'd like other walkers and runners to stay far enough away that they'd have to make a visible change in course to put a hand on me. When that isn't possible, that's not the end of the world. When it is possible but someone makes a point of staying closer, that's when I get worried.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:32 PM on June 26, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'll also add that if he's running along Harbord and he's avoiding stepping in the bike lane because he's used to hearing cyclists grumble about runners in the bike lane, then he should know that it's fine to step into the bike lane temporarily to go around someone as long as he checks for bike traffic and doesn't block anyone. If there's bike traffic, then he needs to slow up for a bit. Right now the six feet thing is important.
posted by TORunner at 1:46 PM on June 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

I agree that it depends on the culture where you are. I run through the suburbs of my town in New Zealand and in my experience if someone is coming towards you it is strange not to acknowledge them (unless you are in a really busy place). I'm constantly waving, nodding and saying hello to oncoming runners when I'm running.

In regards to passing people from behind, if I were you I'd just run around them and give as wide a berth as you can without seriously inconveniencing yourself. Generally, I (cis-het woman) wouldn't even notice you unless you brushed closely past me. I don't think there is any need at all for you to cross the road or anything like that, but again that is probably because I'm a product of the very safe-feeling environment that I run in. If I lived somewhere that felt more dangerous I would obviously feel different. So yeah, ask others in your area would probably be my advice.
posted by thereader at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2020

Most important by far is that he keeps a wide berth when passing in either direction, preferably 2 meters, which generally requires going into the street a little or crossing the road. Lots of people pass way too close and it's so annoying, and occasionally startling.

The rest doesn't really matter as long as he's not actively doing anything creepy. I strongly prefer no interaction at all, verbal or nonverbal, and while I know some people like friendly communication, it's probably safest to ignore people completely. But I also don't think he would actively offend anyone with a wave, making eye contact and then saying something extremely bland like good morning, or a nod. I wouldn't suggest he do anything more "friendly" than those, and definitely avoid noticeably slowing down or otherwise looking overly interested in lingering.

If he has a resting....intense face sometimes, it's probably best if he avoids eye contact (and other interaction) completely to avoid giving someone the impression that he's giving them a threatening look.

(female, elsewhere in Canada, not a runner but I'm passed by them frequently when out walking my dog)
posted by randomnity at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m a walker, and I hate it when people yell “on your left” or whatever at me for several reasons.
A. My hearing, while technically fine, can be slightly wonky - like I can’t understand people in noisy bars at all. This may be an aging thing. By the time I figure out what this yelling stranger said, the person is well past me. This is even worse when the person is on a bike.
B. This seems like it’s meant to obligate me to do something, but I don’t know what. Veer to the other side? Stay where I am? Slow down so you can pass? It’s like the runner thinks I can read his mind.
C. This all happens way too quickly for me to figure out how to respond.

I love it when people coming from behind give me a very wide berth. Once a man coming toward me crossed the street until he was well past me, and I still am happy when I think about that kindness.
posted by FencingGal at 2:14 PM on June 26, 2020 [15 favorites]

this is my neighborhood! since social distancing it's become very common for people to dip onto the road to avoid having to walk/run too close to each other, especially on the less busy streets like euclid or ulster. The most people tend to acknowledge each other is a nod or half-smile, but that's pretty rare. The vibe is mostly a friendly leaving everyone their space.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:52 PM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Cis female runner just across the border in Buffalo. Running toward, friendly nods/waves/good mornings are common here and very much a part of the culture. Where I grew up, outside of Philly, none of those things would be ok. Passing from behind, definitely a wide berth/cross the street situation, especially on pandemic times.

(Also, I’d like to gently push back on your use of the term “AFAB” in this context - do you maybe mean non-traditionally-male-presenting? A runner’s gender isn’t necessarily always obvious; the designation they were given at birth likely less so.)
posted by okayokayigive at 2:53 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

okayokayigive, I chose that phrasing to reflect the experience of the other runners who might be particularly prone to be alarmed by a man based on their own gendered histories—so (cis and trans) women, and [the rest of the set of people who have ever been perceived as a girl]. It wasn’t meant to be about how they look but about what they’ve been through. The idea is to adopt best practices in interactions with all strangers while running, with an eye towards not triggering anyone’s gender- or sex-based trauma.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 3:19 PM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Count me as another person who finds "on your left!" a bit presumptuous and irritating. If the path isn't wide enough for you to safely overtake me, you goddamn wait until it is. Also, I find "excuse me", or "sorry" literally just as informative, but for some reason far more polite.

I am a runner, and my rule is to give people as much room as I can - especially, especially when there are fewer people about. This includes dipping off the path where practical. Something else I try to be aware of is not running too close to women for longer periods of time as it can come across as creepy (especially behind them, dogging their footsteps so to speak). If this means I need to put a little burst of speed on to get past them and put some space between us, I do so.
posted by smoke at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

I appreciate a 'passing on your left' on the bike trail when running, whether cyclists or other runners.

It's understood that it might not be heard (person in front of you may have headphones, etc.) but it's just nice to make the effort not to freak someone out unnecessarily.

Greetings while oncoming is just a buzzkill, like having to say hi to everyone in the supermarket.

But that's the culture in the area I live in. Not the same everywhere.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:57 PM on June 26, 2020

This varies a lot by city/culture/area.

I am a female runner. In my conservative, outdoorsy urban area right now, mid-pandemic:

1) yes, alert when passing. I don’t have any problem with “on your left” but as a runner/biker/skier/skijorer on trails I have more success with a cheerful “Coming up behind you!” My goal is to get around somebody without surprising them and to let them make whatever choice they’re going to make around that, and sometimes if someone is wandering engrossed in their phone or whatever, they hear the word “left” and panic and...go left. After/as I pass, I say “thanks.”

2) I give a wide berth as I pass, going off the path if I need to (most people in my area are not doing this, because...lazy + MAGA, I guess)

3) I do not follow someone closely; if I’m the same speed as them I need to get ahead with a little burst of speed or fall back far enough that they don’t know I’m behind them. Many men are not aware that plodding 10 feet behind for a mile can freak someone out, and I wish they were.

4) Oncoming greetings on a path- a nod and smile is fine and is what I do, but no one cares if you just buzz on by, and no one needs a verbal greeting

5) visible signs that he is Runner Guy and not Erratic Troubled Angry Trail Resident Guy (a concern on some trails in my city), especially around dusk/dark would help me relax around him. So- running shorts that look like real running shorts (not cargo shorts or whatever), or a heart rate monitor (probably not for him), visibly friendly clean neon shoes or something.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:09 PM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Female erstwhile runner. I also hate “on your left!” because... ok? So? I have no idea what you’re about to do, I might be distracted or not hear you... just give me space such that unless I dive dramatically to the left we won’t collide.

I generally don’t overtake someone unless there’s room, even if that means I go into the street a bit. I consider the sidewalk for public transportation use, not personal training use, if I’m worried about my speed or time I run elsewhere.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:29 PM on June 26, 2020

I like to hear “on your left” or “coming up behind you” because otherwise you might surprise me. But that was mostly for narrow trails or sidewalks in the age before social distancing. Now I expect passing runners to give me a very wide berth, in which case they don’t need to say anything.

I‘m a woman who runs in a pretty quiet suburban neighborhood, usually in the dark. I completely cross the street any time I encounter anyone — runners, walkers, people watering their lawns or getting into their cars, whatever. I’m creeped out by any male-presenting person who doesn’t allow at least that much distance between us (but not usually creeped out much at all by female-presenting folx, so there’s a bias there).

I wave at most other runners and I say good morning to anyone who verbalizes at me.

Again, quiet suburban neighborhood in Texas, so YMMV.

Also agree with an earlier poster about men who are running in not-obviously running clothes (at night in particular) — they REALLY creep me out. I mean, running in jeans and boots in the dark? Especially during the summer when it’s hot? I don’t like to make assumptions about people, but... sorry, you still make me super uncomfortable.
posted by liet at 6:07 PM on June 26, 2020

Cis woman here and on the what to say/do aspect, I have noticed that, at least in my city (Vancouver) people are not super smiley and don't return my smile when I pass by them (from far away!) when facing them and it makes me a little sad. Smiles and/or nods right now are appreciated because I think we're all a little lonely and any (even far away!) human interaction is just really nice (as long as it isn't creepy but it sounds like he's probably okay on that front). Say nothing when coming behind though, just give as wide a berth as humanly possible and wait to pass if that berth is less than 2m (needle threaders who cut between two people otherwise passing each other at this point in time are among my biggest pet peeves).
posted by urbanlenny at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just to pick up on what charmedimsure & smoke said, NOT following me (cis female) at a constant distance for more than about a minute will take care of 80 percent of my personal concerns. "I'm a runner" clothes/behavior maybe another 10, and everything to do with passing and greetings is a blip on top of that. Coronavirus has added more...annoyance/aggravation when people are not giving space than fear of male-presenting people specifically.

I think it can be easy to zone out and start pacing against a nearby runner, but when it's a guy and they are right behind me, it feels very creepy, and the fewer people around, the worse it is. If I was prioritizing things to focus on, that would be it.

Mechanics: Don't panic if you find yourself right behind a female runner! Instead, judge your speeds, and your options are basically to go fast and pass (at a safe distance) slow/stop and tie your shoe, or cross the street to the other sidewalk if you can't manage either of the first two. Basically, if you find yourself matching pace, do something to move yourself away from the other runner. I notice and appreciate when male runners do this.
posted by heyforfour at 6:59 PM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

As a cis white woman who runs and walks a fair bit, I feel most comfortable around male runners who:
- are clearly dressed for running (i.e. his shirtlessness would be a plus here). This way I don't worry they are running at me, or away from something bad.
- smile, nod or greet me. If they have headphones in or are breathing hard, it doesn't bother me if they also do a blank stare or have a grumpy expression on their face as I assume they are just concentrating. But either way, some kind of friendly human acknowledgement makes them seem safer somehow.
- be loud when coming up from behind. Whether that is heavy footfalls in a running pace, and/or breathing like a running and/or calling "on your left" or "excuse me" or something. It at least means I am not going to get startled by someone suddenly next to me when I didn't see them coming.

COVID-19 specific bonus content. It's annoying, but I now do this myself too: if there is no space to pass a walker or a slower runner without coming within 1.5m of them, drop back to a walk, take a different route, or otherwise find some way to wait until you can safely pass. If you are coming up to a narrow point in the path and someone is coming towards you, wait to enter that narrow place until after they have passed. If there are going to be long narrow stretches and lots of foot traffic such that this is impossible, I'm sorry but you need to find somewhere else to run. It's not okay to put people at risk, or to give them the perception that you are doing so, just because a location is convenient for your workout. (Even though I don't actually think there's any real risk here now from having a runner briefly pass you, since our community transmission is almost zero, there are definitely walkers, particularly elderly ones, who I have seen panic about people coming too close. And their feeling of safety is important too).

For a while I was thinking it was equally on the walkers to find somewhere else to walk or to stay at home if they were worried about risks from runners, but I've changed my thinking on this. If everyone in a park was walking, there would be no problem, as they could all pace themselves so that no one had to pass anyone. If everyone were running, on the other hand, there's a problem, because people run at different paces and to not pass the slowest runner, you'd need to drop to a walk. So runners are causing the problem, not the walkers.
posted by lollusc at 7:23 PM on June 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

cis white woman here. I run in Queens, NYC.

I am most comfortable when men nod hello, when running towards me.
Passing me from behind, I prefer just giving me a wide berth. No need to say they are passing.

I do slow down a lot if it looks like I can't pass someone without getting too close. My run isn't so important that I am going to compromise ppl's health and comfort. I get kind of mad when others don't do the same.

I also run in a mask 100% of the time. I would guess that 90% of the runners I see at the very least have a buff that they pull up when passing someone. But that comes from living in the early epicenter I suspect.
posted by gaspode at 9:21 AM on June 27, 2020

What seems to be the unspoken, accepted etiquette around here is when two walkers/runners are approaching from opposite directions, the one who is able to dip into the street and still see oncoming vehicle traffic, does so.
posted by xedrik at 8:30 PM on June 27, 2020

Oh, I should add, when two walkers or runners are approaching from opposite directions around here, and one is a woman and the other a man, the vast majority of the time it seems to be the woman who they expect to detour around the other. And if several male runners are running abreast, they never go single file to let me by, but always expect that I will move into the street or off the path for them. UGH. So if your boyfriend is running towards a woman and detours to go around her so she can carry on straight, he is signalling all kinds of good things just with that one action.
posted by lollusc at 10:07 PM on June 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thank you all so much for your input! This is all great information to have. Extra thanks to the locals who added relevant local-runner-culture info!!
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 4:37 PM on June 28, 2020

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