Essential Etiquette for the Runner: Post-Race Sportsmanship

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An oft-ignored aspect of racing etiquette is the aftermath. Once the finish line has been crossed, many runners have a tendency to abandon all pretense of civility and behave in a manner befitting that of a tavern at last call. What should never be forgotten is that maintaining proper conduct in times of duress is the true mark of a gentleperson. We must, each of us, aspire to these ideals, lest the world fall into uncivilized ruin.


Regardless of the position in which you have finished, your first objective will be to reestablish the equilibrium of your respiration. This is, of course, providing that you have put forth an honest effort. If not, you have already failed to behave in a satisfactory manner and should escort yourself to the nearest quiet place for honest reflection on why you neglected to try.

© Sport the library/Tom Putt Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games Athletics – Patricia Flavel (AUS) at finish line

Depending on the severity of the effort put forth there are a number of positions that you can take while restoring regulated oxygen intake. The standard methodology involves placing one hand upon each hip whilst allowing the shoulders and head to sag every-so-slightly forward. This positioning conveys the internal strength of character required to remain standing despite the fatigue that the body is experiencing.

An equally acceptable methodology is to place each hand on the apex of the head whilst interlacing the fingers in a tight lattice. At the same time, the shoulders should be raised while each knee buckles outwards. This stance displays the vulnerability that you are experiencing as well as the willpower it takes to hold yourself up. Historians will note that it was the observation of this post-race stance that lead law enforcement officials to begin requesting that criminals, “spread them.”

USA’s Mebrahtom Keflezighi does push-ups on the finish line of the Men’s Marathon athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNISADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

Going to ground or “eating it,” as it is referred to by less savory individuals, is to be avoided unless you are physically unable to remain standing. To have put forth an effort that requires collapse is highly admirable. However, to collapse when you have not put forth an effort that induces such a loss of control is bad form. In the event that you must collapse, do so with as much dignity as is possible. Whilst falling, hold both arms perpendicular to your torso such that your hands strike the ground first. Once your hands have made contact, bend your elbows and allow your body to move into the lowered position of a “push-up.” Be sure to halt the fall before coming fully into contact with the ground. Failure to do so can result in injury and, even more seriously, embarrassment. Landing in the way of another competitor is also to be given careful consideration as you plummet. When possible, fall away from the finish line to minimize congestion. Once on the ground, focus your efforts on regaining control of your body such that you may stand as quickly as is possible.

Please note: any stance that involves bending at the waist is unacceptable, as compromising the linear, or semi-linear, plane of your legs and torso suggests a weakness in character.


After your breathing has returned to manageable rates, sportsmanship requires that you offer polite congratulations to those that have put forth similar efforts. The following is a list of acceptable forms of congratulation from most acceptable to most detestable.

The Handshake

The pillar of societal interaction, a proper handshake is the best way to convey earnest congratulations to another individual.

The Hi-Five

A traditionally informal gesture, the hi-five may be used for an expedient congratulation when the number of competitors to be congratulated is in excess of fifteen individuals.

The Fist Bump

A modern phenomenon, the fist bump has yet to become an acceptable physical interaction and is to be avoided unless you have used the inside of your hand as a substitute for a handkerchief during the course of the race or, in the case of cross country, if enough mud has accumulated for the opposing runner to wonder at whether or not the residue on your hand is actually mud. Either reason is easily avoidable though, and a true gentleperson will store a handkerchief in his or her waistband to ensure that proper post-race etiquette may be followed.


If physical contact must be avoided, a strictly verbal congratulation is acceptable providing that the requisite standards for eye contact, volume, and pitch are met.

Once the preceding steps have been followed, you may attend to all other post-race formalities at your leisure.


If you have exerted yourself to the extent that a violent expulsion of the contents of your stomach becomes inevitable, move your person away from other individuals and return only when assured that further expulsions are unnecessary.

If you have finished in the lead, there are a number of rules that should be followed in order to maintain good form. Should you wish to learn more, a later post will be issued that includes guidelines for the proper manner in which to win.

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Will has been running competitively since high school, and is currently running with the HOKA Aggies, a post-collegiate club here on the central coast of California. With a preference for the humorous and the verbose, he enjoys playing the wordsmith almost as much as his daily runs.

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