Runners v Walkers: Who’s Right (of Way)?

  • Dean 

A Lockdown Survival Guide

One thing that must have become increasingly obvious to every pedestrian during the Covid-19 pandemic is the frequent difficulty of maintaining social distance on busier than usual pavements and footpaths.

There’s undoubtedly more people running. The NHS recorded almost one million downloads of its Couch to 5k app between March and June of last year, a staggering 92% increase on the same period in 2019. There’s also more people rediscovering the pleasures of taking a constitutional walk for physical health, mental sanity and to enjoy their dogs (or maybe just plain spoil them – I’m guilty as charged on that front!). Throw in the added pressure of very real health anxieties and we get a hotbed of potential conflicts over personal space and our perceived claim to it.

Without wishing to take this off into completely anecdotal territory, I have witnessed numerous, thankfully minor verbal clashes between runners and walkers over the last 10 months. My own personal experiences? As a walker, I have felt occasionally affronted by careless runners passing much closer than I am comfortable with (often from behind, on narrow trails). As a runner, I have suffered the ’10 yard stare’, even after courteously stepping way off the kerb from a 20 metre distance – or stopping completely and jumping in a verge to concede graciously!

The pressure of increased foot traffic and very real health anxieties has created a hotbed for potential conflicts over personal space and our claim to it.

Runner vs walker is undoubtedly not a new phenomenon (remember the shocking Putney Bridge assault a couple of years back?), but sentiments are most certainly on the rise. A quick Google or social media search will reveal the current status quo on that front.

The key takeaway for me is that we can all be a bit more respectful of personal space and underlying anxiety during this time of elevated stress and lower tolerances. So, with that in mind, I’ve put together a 10 point ‘Runner’s lockdown survival guide’.

The interesting thing is, we already adopt most of these behaviours as a walker: they are the same principles. This is not me soapboxing, or looking to fan the flames, just a personal framework I apply for each and every run and walk. It helps keep the day sweet and everybody happy. We all need some of that!

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings and make eye contact. “Have they noticed?” Uncertainty creates stress.
  2. Smile. Runners, walkers, dogs, birds, trees, what the hell, give ’em a wave!
  3. Assess each situation. Yes, bikes should not be on pavements, but if it’s a child, or someone perhaps less confident of riding a bike on the road, then give way (I appreciate the second example may be contentious, but try imagining the cyclist is an elderly relative, if that helps).
  4. Give way (method 1): If it’s safe to do so, step off the kerb in good time and maintain social distance. Runners should always concede – and try and give three metres of personal space to compensate for added perspiration and expiration. It goes without saying, NEVER run out into the road with your back to the traffic without checking. This is the #1 cause of running fatalities involving cars. Hey, I’m just covering my a* here!
  5. Give way (method 2): Stop and pull aside to maintain social distance until the other person can pass you.
  6. Prepare to be disappointed. Don’t expect to do steady tempo runs entirely on pavements without interruption. Accept reality.
  7. Apply common sense. Running on busy, narrow, off-road trails with limited passing space? Duh!
  8. Adapt. Find a nice, quiet stretch of road to do your speed work or hill repeats. Roads are still much quieter than usual and you’ll enjoy more space to focus on hitting your objectives
  9. Relax. Get in a good headspace and enjoy your exercise. Does that PB really matter?
  10. If in doubt, give way (methods 1 or 2, above)
  11. Enjoy. Okay, I cheated with an extra one, but it goes without saying… ENJOY! 😊

About the author
Dean is a full-time fitness enthusiast and a qualified personal trainer in Godalming, UK


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