Don’t be delusional about your speed

A marathoner’s new book explains runners’ rules, behaviour and etiquette to novices

“Sharks die when they stop moving. Runners do not. Please keep this in mind next time you encounter a DON’T WALK sign at a busy intersection. There’s no need to shuffle or bounce or dance from foot to foot like you have to pee,” writes veteran runner Mark Remy in The Runner’s Rule Book. Remy, the executive editor of, has run 15 marathons, including five Bostons. His book is a crash course for the amateur on running etiquette and behaviour. “For Pete’s Sake Stand Still at Red Lights” is Rule 1.46. “Just chill. Wait a few moments then resume running—you will not cool down catastrophically in the time it takes for the light to change.”

On the subject of stretching, Remy tells Maclean’s, “I’m always too lazy to stretch.” Rule 1.42 is “Stretch If You Want To.” “If you’re looking for hard evidence of stretching’s benefits, good luck,” he writes. “Fact is, it doesn’t exist. And if you want to ask other runners or doctors or physical therapists or high school track coaches, go for it. Just be prepared to hear a different opinion from each one of them. If stretching seems to help you run better and feel better, then stretch. If not, then don’t.”

For marathoners, Remy’s rules are stricter. “Line Up Where You Belong” is a must for the slow runner who thinks he’s faster than he is. In bigger races, Remy tells Maclean’s, “you’ll have banners that say, ‘5:00 minutes per mile.’ In other words, if you expect to keep a pace of five minutes per mile, you should line up around that banner.” Behind the five-minute banners are banners for a six-minute mile pace “and so on until the very back where it might be 12 or 14 minutes a mile.”

The idea being, writes Remy, “that the faster people start at the front and the slowest people start at the very back. You run into problems when the slower people decide they’re going to gain the system. They’ll start up with the six-minute-per-mile people, and it’s hazardous. You have people ducking and weaving.” Don’t be delusional, says Remy. “Be honest with yourself,” he writes, “and fair to your fellow runners. Line up where you belong.”

Also, don’t be surprised at what you see before the gun goes off. Remy’s Rule 2.26 says, “If you’re stuck in the middle of a packed corral at the start of a large marathon and you’re about to burst—well, pop a squat or take a knee and do what you’ve gotta do.” That’s his “Pee If You Must” rule. “Be as discreet as possible, apologize to those around you, then stand up and return your focus to the race. And before you race next time, hydrate a little bit less.” And yes, women, too, Remy explained on the phone. “You can imagine you have hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of very high-strung, adrenalin-soaked runners jammed into these start corrals and it’s five minutes to the gun. A) They’re very well-hydrated. B) They’re nervous. When you combine hydration factor with nervousness, what are you gonna do? Make your way out and go find a porta-potty a half-mile away? Of course not!” Remy says if you see someone popping a squat, “shrug and move on. If you’re smart, you’ll laugh because hey, next time, it may be you.”

Expect pre-race dreams, he writes. Most runners experience nightmares in which “joints feel petrified and your limbs work against you. Every inch of every step is a struggle, and it’s exhausting. Or you’re a mile from the starting line when you hear the gun go off.” Either way, he writes, “it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s normal.”

When running for fun with someone faster, Remy’s rule is “The Open Ended Question Is Your Friend.” He explains: “Ask the offending speedster a question so broad he or she could spend 10 minutes answering it. Meantime, the speedster uses precious oxygen for talking while you use it for breathing.” Sample question, “How’s the job?”

In a section on shoes, apparel and gear, Remy cautions “Judge Not The Runner In The Cotton T-Shirt.” “Back in the day,” he writes, “according to ancient cave paintings, runners wore cotton shirts. Some of them enjoyed running in cotton shirts. Strange, but true. Fast-forward a few decades and today we have ‘technical’ shirts, designed to wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and more comfortable. Still, you will encounter the occasional oddball old-timer who runs in cotton.” Treat him with respect, writes Remy. “Chances are good that he has been running a lot longer than you have, and even if he’s not faster than you today, he probably was at some point.”

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