Last week I was chatting with someone on Twitter about the relationship between runners and walkers in parks. The person I was speaking to (tweeting to?) had been bemoaning the runners who career around the park yelling at walkers to get out the way, especially during Park Run. I could see where they were coming from, some runners can be aggressive and self-centred but it’s the minority, but sometime walkers (and dogs, and bikes, and children) can be unpredictable. There’ve definitely been times when someone has walked in front of me or changed direction suddenly and it’s not always easy to navigate around them and I have shouted a quick ‘watch out’. I don’t see anything wrong about this, communication is important in shared spaces and I really would rather shout than run into someone because I don’t have time to stop/move when they’ve appeared out of nowhere. However, the person I was chatting to was very much of the opinion it’s a runner’s responsibility to accommodate walkers at any cost, this was not a shared space with shared responsibilities. Runners were not pedestrians, and as such walkers had the right of way and runners should be limited to park speed limits (5mph).
Personally I’ve always assumed a pedestrian was anyone travelling on their own two feet. Runner, walker we are all the same, sharing the same space. In my mind runners had a responsibility to look out for other pedestrians and vice versa, I’d never thought that runners might not be pedestrians. So I thought I’d look into this claim. Digging around the internet I couldn’t find anything that suggested definitively whether a runner was a pedestrian or not. There was a general consensus that, as far as possible, runners should give way to walkers - something I totally agree with - and this article from The Guardian which considered some interesting research from Plymouth University about the interactions between runners and walkers in terms of both values and actions. Simon, who wrote this article, is an urban geographer with an interest in running and run-commuting (another fascinating run nerd!), and I found it interesting how he talks about hierarchies, how runners interact with urban spaces and the accommodations that runners make for pedestrians. Essentially cities aren’t designed for runners, so we have to adapt, and because of the pedestrian hierarchy which priorities walkers culturally (which is arguably reflected in some of the more negative responses to runners which Charlie chats about here).
While many runners might see places like parks as shared spaces it seems fairly clear that this isn’t the broader consensus, and while there’s nothing to say that runners aren’t pedestrians, society definitely gears priority towards walkers. This isn’t likely to change any time soon, so what can runners do to avoid animosity with walkers?
You should always try to give way to walkers if you possibly can. Try to make eye contact to suss out their intentions, a friendly smile helps and if you can bring your pace down a touch and give a wide berth so you don’t startle anyone.
remember where you’re running
OK, it seems obvious, but try to remember that a park isn’t a running track. You’re sharing space with lots of other people (runners and walkers) and it’s only polite to be considerate. Most of the time there’s no need to run like you stole something, so don’t.
take out your headphones (or at least lower the volume)
Part of sharing space responsibly is being aware of what’s going on around you, and listening is a huge part of that. Ditch the noise cancelling headphones, turn down the volume or try running without the cans full stop (anyone else call headphones cans, or is it just my Dad?) so you can hear what’s going on around you and respond to it if you need to.
get on the treadmill
I’m not saying do all your workouts on the treadmill, that would be so dull and isn’t necessarily the best race prep, but if you want to do some very fast flat out runs then the treadmill can be your friend. I do my weekly interval sessions in the gym and really love it, getting on the treadmill encourages me to really push myself and I find it much easier to switch up and down the gears. It also means that I’m not trying to dodge other park users while also trying to push my limits, a balance that is really tricky to strike.
It goes without saying, but if another park user makes way for you then smile, say thank you and generally be a decent person. Likewise, if there’s a group crowding the path in front of you I think it’s ok to slow and politely ask if you can slip past, following up with a genuine thank you afterwards.
There’s a fair amount of dislike for runners out there (this article really doesn’t paint us in the best light), but I really don’t think this is fair. Most runners are pretty considerate and are just trying to go about their day. I would love it if we could find a way to share space harmoniously with everyone else who uses parks and pavements, and I really don’t think divisive comments (or suggestions that the Park Run should be capped at 250 runners) help. For now I’m going to do my best to share the spaces where I run considerately and hope that everyone else does the same.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Are runner’s pedestrians? How do we find ways to share space with other park users? Let me know in the comments below…
*images: Anna Rachel Photography