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Trail etiquette: Colin's code of conduct

Lopwell Dam with Run Venture

Dearly beloved runners,

We are gathered here today on the many trails around the globe in ever increasing numbers. The trails are busier now than ever, as finally the benefits of exercise combined with the natural environment are being heeded. Hallelujah!

The attractions are obvious, and if you're reading this, you probably don't need me to labour the point, you already know!

However, this mass exodus to the trails means the path once less travelled is now becoming an often busy community of traffic. And it's not just trail runners who we encounter. Mountain bikes, for example, have been using the trails for many years. Add to this horses, 'dry dog sleds', walkers, Cani-cross, Segway, trampers... I've even seen a uni cyclist... the trail can become a crowded highway.

As with any highway, a rule of conduct or code is often adhered to and in most cases, enforced. If not, accidents and potentially hostile confrontations between users ensue, leaving a bad taste and often bad feeling between user groups.

As a trail runner, I run to escape rules and hostility, but also understand that a degree of etiquette must be used, for all sakes.

Etiquette is not about set rules but more about common courtesy and good manners.

In recent experience I have had the misfortune to encounter 'poor form' on the trails by all user groups:

  • Runners discarding energy gel wrappers like confetti; running over sensitive environmental areas despite signs saying to the contrary

  • Horse riders galloping up tracks they are prohibited from

  • Mountain bikers tearing up new dirt trails, riding on pedestrian-only routes, and not giving way to said pedestrians

  • Dog owners of all groups, if not failing to remove the poop, even worse bagging it and hanging it in a tree or unbelievably this week dropping it outside the door of a cafe for the poo fairy to collect! (Breathe and count: 1... 2... 3...)

I am sure we have all at some point been in the wrong, but as a committed trail runner, I would like to establish a set of 'Rules of Etiquette' to guide us by. Feel free to add your own:

  1. Right of way: As much as we like to think we all have the best argument to have right of way, as runners we are in the best position to slow down, move over and even stop. Horses are unpredictable, as are dogs to a degree. Bikes can take longer to stop and are only as good as the rider! As a rule of thumb, bikes should yield to both horses and pedestrians, and pedestrians should yield to horses. Of course, all parties can be antagonistic but my wife's motto has always been 'kill with kindness' which brings me on to the next point.

  2. Be courteous. A smile costs nothing and a friendly attitude or greeting gives a positive vibe if not reciprocated. For example, moving over to the side of the trail to give dogs or horses space, or even stopping if either look flighty or aggressive. What's two seconds off your pb time? Better that than an unseated rider or dog-chewed trail shoe! Understand the needs of others.

  3. Respect other trail runners regardless of speed when passing. Passing another runner coming the other way is always a great experience, without exception. They are your kin and so should be treated as such. Edge to the side of the trail and acknowledge. When approaching from behind and you want to pass, make a few subtle noises such as a sniff or cough to alert them considerately. If they don't give you room they might not have heard you so say hello or greetings to that effect. If they still don't move, say "sorry can I just squeeze past on your left/right", thanking them. For those being overtaken, try not to be offended. Smile and be clear that you are fine with being passed, even if you aren't. If running in a pair, side-by-side, and someone approaches you, move to a single file formation until they pass.

  4. The call of nature. Get out of sight of the trail and away from any water sources. If running in a group, let someone know you are going to see a man about a dog so they don't leave you behind. If your 'call' is more chicken nugget than lemonade, then it's more complicated! Get even more out of sight and at least 50m from a water source. Remove topsoil with a stick and do your thing, avoiding your expensive twin skin £50 shorts! Seal toilet paper in a bag and take with you! If none is available, use a broad smooth non toxic leaf, or grass. Snow is great if available and acts like a bidet! Bury well!

  5. Honour trail signs. These are posted for a reason, whether it be for preservation or private land. Disobeying risks the trails being closed to all.

  6. Stay on the designated trail wherever possible to prevent undue wear and damage on the environment. If you must stray, try to avoid fragile flora, etc which can take many years to grow back.

  7. Pack out what you pack in. In other words, take all litter home.

  8. Pack out what others have packed in. Yep that means take their rubbish home too if they have not had the good courtesy to take it with them or failed to read this blog. Shame on them.

  9. Don't be tempted to feed the wildlife. Feeding the Dartmoor ponies for example, only helps decrease their natural fear of humans, meaning they are more likely to congregate around humans at places such as roads and become more aggressive when not given handouts!

  10. Leave nature where you found it so it remains for others to notice and enjoy too.

This is not definitive by any means, and is not meant to be contentious.

As a trail runner, the trail and who/what I encounter is part if not most of the attraction. It is one of the few places for me that, as yet, is relatively unspoilt by rules and regulation. It is also the place where in general, most people I encounter are like-minded with a common goal of enjoying and looking after the trails.