It is unlikely champion trail runner Jim Walmsley has ever seen the back of someone’s head. For Kilian Jornet, three people within 10 minutes of him probably constitutes a bottleneck.
But for us mere mortals, nose-to-tail crowds on trail races are just part of the experience.
It can be frustrating as you are left with no option but to move at the crowd’s pace. It can be liberating as you get a chance to chat to those around you, tapping into trail running’s famous community spirit.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are a conscientious runner, so you have the best time possible and do not ruin someone else’s day.
Be mindful of your poles
Poles are a great tool for runners. But be aware, in the mid-pack crowd you could poke someone else. Particularly on a steep hill, the head of the person behind you is at the same level as the bottom of your poles. If you are not using your poles, do not just carry them. Fold them up and put them away. If you are using them, be extra careful not to swing and plant them like you are claiming a new-found island – there are others around who you may end up claiming instead.
Be aware of runners coming up behind you
On narrow paths, it is hard to overtake people. Try to remain aware of who is coming up behind you, so you can step to the side and make more room if someone is storming past. You never know, you may unwittingly be causing a bottleneck. Absolutely do not try and block someone’s way – the battle for 189th place is not a thing.
Conversely, if you are behind a runner who is going slowly, be patient. They might be struggling and fail to notice you desperately trying to get past. A polite “excuse me” should suffice, but it is dangerous and rude to bustle past people. We all have our own goals on the trail, but aggressive overtaking is unnecessary in the mid-pack.
Be careful about when you plug into your music
Trail tunes are a great way to give you a boost. But when you are on a particularly busy part of the trail, with lots of other mid-pack runners jostling for time, consider taking one of the headphones out. Others might be right behind you politely asking “excuse me”, and as you blast ABBA on repeat, you are unable to respond and let them past causing a bottleneck. When you have a bit more space, by all means, get those headphones in and be the dancing queen you know you can be.
Never play your tunes on a loudspeaker
There is a special place in hell for trail runners who play music on a loudspeaker. In Dante’s seventh circle, you are blindfolded, put on a treadmill and forced to listen to other peoples’ worst favourite songs forever.
It can be particularly frustrating for a mid-pack runner because the whole group moves at the same speed, so you may be stuck with one of the outdoor boom boxes for hours unable to break away from the culprit. There is no reason to force your music on everyone around you. It’s just selfish. If you are so desperate to feel like you’re in a YouTube video, make a YouTube video.