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How to Deal With Crowds at Races

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Updated February 25, 2013

As the sport of running becomes more and more popular, runners are finding that races are much more crowded. If you've had some trouble dealing with crowds at races, try these tips to help ease your frustration and improve your race performance.

Line Up Properly

Marathon Start
Getty Images North America
Faster runners should line up at the front of the starting line, slower runners and walkers at the back. Some races have corrals based on estimated pace or post pace signs. If not, ask runners nearby about their anticipated pace; if it's faster than yours, move further back. Most races use timing chips, so the time it takes you to reach the starting line won't count in your final net time.

Get to the Race Start Early

Runners stretching before race
Photo by Gary John Norman
Part of lining up properly also means getting there with plenty of time to spare. I'll sometimes talk to runners who complain about getting stuck behind a huge group of walkers at the start. But then they'll confess that they got to the race start right before the gun went off, so they didn't have time to get a good spot. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the race start, especially if you need to pick up your race packet there. Head to the starting line and find a good spot for your pace.
Also see: Tips for Your First Road Race

Use Extra Caution at the Start

Marathon start
Getty Images
Even when you've lined up properly, crowds at the starts can be a real headache. I've seen a lot of falls, as runners stumble trying to pass slower runners, get jostled by the crowds, or trip over a water bottle or piece of clothing that someone discarded at the start. When you line up at a race start, make sure that you don't get distracted by the excitement of the race. Pay close attention to other runners, and be on the lookout for discarded items.
Also see: Starting Line Tips

Have a Plan for Water Stops

Runners at New York City Marathon water stop
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Many runners get frustrated at the crowded water stops, but if you take the right approach, you can keep your frustration to a minimum. First, don't go to the first table at the water stop. That's where all the rookies stop and, if it's a big race, it's going to be very congested. Keep running to one of the tables farther down. Run through the middle of the road, since people are more likely to stop suddenly at the tables along the sides. If there are tables on both sides of the course, go to a table on the left side. Since most people are right-handed, the tables on the right tend to be much more popular.

More: How to Run Through Water Stops

Keep Moving at the Finish

Woman Running Across Finish Line
Yellow Dog Productions
Practice good race etiquette, and keep moving through the finish line or in the chute. There will be runners coming in right behind you, so keep going until it's safe to come to a stop. If you keep moving, hopefully other runners will do the same and you can avoid congestion.
More: Finish Line Tips

Stick to Small Races

Race spectators cheering
Dream Pictures/Ostrow
If you really, really hate dealing with huge crowds at road races, there are still plenty of smaller, local races. Look on sites such as Active.com for races in your area. Once you find some races, you can always check the results from last year's races to see how many finishers they had.

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