When Passing Another Runner in a Race, Should You Offer Encouragement?

Your “encouragement” is soul crushing.

By Scott Martin


I was a little more than three kilometres into a 5K race and I was hurting. As I crested a small hill, I fought to maintain my pace, hoping to PB, and I was failing miserably. While doing my best to fight off the pain, the urge to quit, and the urge to throw up, I had my soul crushed in six words:

“Nice job, sir, keep it up.”

I looked around first for my father because I still can’t believe anyone would call me “Sir”. Then I looked for the person who made the comment as they went blazing by me. I had to look down because that person was a young boy, probably no older than 11.

Soul. Crushed.

This kid was making my 5K pace, which I was fighting so hard to maintain, look like an easy jog. My hard effort looked like a recovery run to this little guy.

And there you have it, the reason I do not think it is okay to encourage a stranger as you pass him or her during a race. It’s bad enough to get passed during a race; it’s so much worse when the person passing you gives you the ole “attaboy” as they make you look like you are standing still.

If you are a spectator or a runner who has finished the race, feel free to cheer all you want. If you are still racing and make me look fat and slow (that’s not hard) don’t make it worse by verbally bringing it to my attention that you are passing me. And if you do, not be surprised if I mutter something ugly in your direction as I gasp for breath.

You passed me, and I’m not happy. No words are going to help me get over that, unless they are, “Hurry up, I’ll buy you a beer.”


Be friendly. Cheer ’em on.

By Jeff Dengate


Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age. But, I’m a waver. I like the camaraderie of other runners, even if it’s just a fleeting moment passing somebody on an otherwise lonely 16km training run. But, I also enjoy the shared experience of racing the clock, so I’ll cheer on other runners mid-race and gladly take the encouragement when I need it most.

I’ll admit this wasn’t always the case. I was once a competitive little jerk. When I toed the line, everybody was the enemy. I once elbowed a guy in a cross-country race. I whacked another runner with the baton in a 4 x 800 relay on the track. But those bad-boy antics are long behind me.

Maybe that’s in part because I’m no longer racing “boys” my own age. These days, I’m as likely to be chasing down a woman 15 years younger than me or to get passed by a man my father’s age. In the end, none of us is really competing for the win, and thus not directly competing against each other. Instead, we’re all racing against the numbers on the clock and challenging our own physical and mental limits.

In 2009, this magazine tackled the issue of waving at passing runners. In that essay, author Robert Sullivan summed up what I’m experiencing: “Older runners are more likely to wave than younger ones. Which ought to say something to younger runners about how priorities change as our running lives go on.”

Yes, my priorities have changed. I still want to run “fast” – each of us has our own definition for that word – but I also want to see everybody around me perform their best, too. In just about every race, no matter the distance, our resolve is tested at some point. We hit a deep, black hole mentally where our minds tell us to stop before we hurt ourselves, even though our bodies are generally able to withstand the abuse. During those moments, a friendly gesture can be a ray of hope, a small positive signal capable of rescuing you from a mediocre race or rallying you for one final push to the finish line.

Just this past weekend at the Big Sur International Marathon, I was closing out the 42.2km course, using it as a long training run with a buddy, and we were speeding up with every passing kilometre. Ahead, I recognised another friend swerving toward the final water station. As we roared on by, I gave a loud shout of encouragement. We never saw her after that, but I got tweeted at a day later: “Thanks for the extra push at kilometre 40. I couldn’t catch you.”

See? Doesn’t that feel good?

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