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To Wave or Not to Wave: What's the Proper Running/Walking Etiquette?

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
I still remember my first runner's wave. I'd just started dabbling with the run/walk training method, feeling a bit like an impostor, when a woman came running purposefully toward me. Judging by her gazelle-like form and fluorescent gear, she was a "serious" runner, on a completely different level than my experimental jogging. That's probably why I was a bit shocked when she lifted one hand in greeting and said a breathless "Hey." Caught off guard, I turned as she passed, but it was too late to reciprocate—the running wave has a very short window. Blink and you'll miss it.
The event, however fleeting, made an impact. I'd been recognized by a "real" runner as one of them, a member of the club. That two-second greeting gave me the boost of confidence I needed to stick with my run/walk program, gradually decreasing the walking segments until I was running a full mile, then two, then three, up to distances that had seemed unfathomable just a few weeks prior.
In the 16 or so years since that first wave, I've passed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of runners and walkers. There's always that decision point a couple seconds before we intersect: Will we or won't we? I usually make it a point to greet other road warriors, whether it's with a wave, a nod or even a quick "Good morning." And if the other person greets me first, there's still that quick thrill, the surge of flattery.
The wave is a way of commiserating without conversation. It might carry an unspoken complaint about the ridiculously hot, cold or wet weather, or appreciation for a stunning sunset. It can express amazement that we're out exercising at such an insanely early hour. The wave can say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Sunday" or "How about those Reds?" Even during the most ordinary runs, it has the power to remind us that each mile, each step, is extraordinary in its own right.
I'd estimate that eight out of 10 runners and walkers respond to waves, but there are always a couple who stare straight ahead and zoom on by without a hint of acknowledgement. These non-wavers probably aren't being rude on purpose. Some people go into sort of a trance or meditative state as the miles peel away, and may not even realize someone has greeted them. Or maybe, like me when I was on the receiving end of that first wave, they're not accustomed to being saluted by strangers and are too rattled to reciprocate. Even so, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't the tiniest letdown when a wave or greeting goes unreturned, the sense that my request to enter an exclusive club has been denied.
Mizuno, manufacturer of the popular Wave running shoe, recently launched a new ad campaign showcasing "the power of the wave." Obviously the primary goal is to sell shoes, but the campaign is also designed to encourage runners to wave more often. "Running may be perceived as a solitary exercise, yet it's an activity that brings people together, even if just through the unspoken bond created by the simple wave of the hand," Kim Hoey, Mizuno's senior director of brand marketing and management, said in a statement. "When runners wave to one another, it can indicate support, camaraderie, gratitude or simply a mutual appreciation for one another as athletes."
I asked a couple of seasoned runners for their thoughts on waving versus non-waving. They identified a few different factors that determine the likelihood of getting an on-the-go greeting:
  • Location: Kyle Kranz, a running coach in Rapid Hills, South Dakota, says he almost always waves or says hello if he passes a runner on a quiet sidewalk or bike path. "In those scenarios, I often feel a bit flustered if I get nothing from the other runner," Kranz says. "But if we cross paths somewhere like the Elliot Bay Trail along the waterfront or Pike Place in Seattle, it's just far too busy to greet everyone."
  • Type of Training: Beth Weinstein, an ultra marathoner in New York City, points out that greetings vary based on the type of training. "If you’re doing intense training like speed workouts, fartleks or hill repeats, waving would be very annoying and near impossible—and no one I know would bother doing it during speed work." Same goes if you're running on a track, she says.
  • Familiarity: Weinstein points out that waving becomes more customary among runners and walkers who see each other regularly along their routes. "And if you’re with a running group and pass another group, it’s very good sportsmanship to wave or say ‘hi.’" 
I will always default to waving when running or walking. Ironically enough, I'm not inclined to greet strangers in other situations—I zoom through the grocery store with blinders on and stick my nose in books in waiting rooms. But during runs, the wave serves as a form of encouragement. Each raised hand or one-syllable greeting carries whatever message the recipient needs to hear in that brief passing second: Keep at it. Looking good. It will be over soon.
Or, most importantly: We're in this together. We are runners.

Do you wave to other runners and walkers? Do you think non-wavers are breaking the rules of road etiquette?

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I'm a walker, but encounter runners when I am out early. Usually there's a wave or a nod between us, but I don't fret if I don't get any reciprocation b/c you can tell when they're "in the zone"! At least that's what I think, but I suppose they just might be being rude. If that's the case, I didn't perceive it, so no hurt feelings on my part anyway! hehe Report
I usually default to a head nod and slight smile. Report
I've never heard of such a thing. I live in a town where, when out for a walk, everyone greets each other, whether they know each other or not... except runners. At least, when walking and I say "hi" and wave, like I would with any other person, be they walking or getting into a car, or gardening at the end of their driveways, the runners ignore me. I always assumed it was because they were so focused on running they didn't notice, and maybe it is, but now I'm wondering if it's because I'm not a runner, I'm walking, and I'm not supposed to use a "runners" wave to them unless I am? lol! I'd honestly had no clue this was a "thing". Report
Yes, I wave, smile and say hello. It makes me feel good and connected to like-minded people. I hope it does them too. I don't recall any other person not reciprocating. You often run into the same people and begin to feel a comradrie of sorts. Report
I don't think that people who don't reciprocate are necessarily being rude. They may just be in their own world or just very focused. I don't run, but I have already worked out in the gym on my lunch hour and a co-worker later in the afternoon has come up to me to tell me that they said "hi" to me and I did not acknowledge them. They find it somewhat amusing because at work I'd "hi" to everyone, but at the gym I just was hyper-focused to get in a workout before I had to return to work that I would (unintentionally) just "blot out" people in the gym. Report
I always acknowledge the other person. I don't think everyone that doesn't is rude (well, a little part of me does), but there are a lot of types of people in this world that I can't stand. They don't instantly turn friendly or even tolerable once they tie their shoes up. I DO appreciate when I pass someone on an empty trail that they nod or something. Helps give you a sense of whether you need to get the whistle out or not;) Report
I live in a suburb with a strong running community in the Midwest and runners wave, say hi or give a word of encouragement - especially if we are running in a group. We are currently training for the Naperville Women's Half Marathon, so on our Saturday morning runs we greet a lot runners and get a lot of greetings in return, but the same goes on my solo runs. Report
I wave, but I don't want to. I'd rather be invisible. Report
In my smaller town people more often than not acknowledge each other on the trail. Practically never in the big city nearby, there are too many people. On a smaller less traveled trail they still do though. Texas is a friendly state. Report
I live in a city that has a LOT of runners. I don't wave or nod to every single one, and it seems to really have to do with the time of day. If it's summer and I'm out walking really early to beat the heat, there's more camaraderie at that time versus walking in the afternoon when more people are out and about and not just for exercise. Love feeling the connection with the greetings though! Puts a bounce in my step! Report
One of the comments referred to "a Southern thing". I tend to agree. Reactions? Do more people wave in the South? Are wavers more prevalent in the country or the city? Could you do a poll? I don't see polls on your site as often as I used to--am I missing them? Report
I wave, nod or smile to others on the trail. It feels like we belong to the same club with a mission to improve or maintain our health and it makes me proud to be a member. Report
I don't usually encounter others when I am out. I walk and use a rollator. But when I was in NC visiting, a young guy went by. On our second pass, I guess he realized I was out for the exercise and very nicely said "Good for you!" I cannot tell you how good that made me feel. Report
I didn't even know this was a thing...granted I usually only run at the gym or the park trails so don't usually come across people often. When I walk down my road (very rural area) I wave at my neighbors since I've known them forever but I've never waved at another runner. The next time I see someone I will though. Report
I'll usually give a wave, good morning or hello. Most runners and walkers either respond or beat me to it. It's those that are just walking from point "A" to point "B" that are the non-respondents. Report
Because I'm such a fairly shy person, it's very hard for me to wave, say hi and even look at the person. Most of the time whenever I cross paths with someone, I tend to look the other way. In addition, I'm always wearing ear buds so it's hard to hear what anyone is saying to me. However, whenever I hike, walk and bike, there are a good handful of individuals who would acknowledge me and say "hi" or "good morning". In that case, it's when I feel comfortable to return the favor. Report
So good to see acknowledging a kindred spirit is still alive and well across the world and yes it does give a lift to get one back. I don't run any more - old sports injury - but I cycle and always give a nod to cyclists coming in the opposite direction - letting go of the bars in traffic not recommended. Most nod and grunt back (I even say hi to guy with his basket of fish on the back of his bike). As previuosly stated by others, acknowledgement of existance of your fellow man makes for a better day and if you're sharing the same road space and effort even more so. By the way we motorcyclists do it too - I should start a new thread on international wave styles. Report
Yup. I wave or a head nod or a thumbs up is great. Love it. Let's keep those acknowledgments going as long as it's safe. It makes exercise better. Report
LOL! And here I was always thinking it's just a Southern thing to wave or say "Good morning"! I've always given a nod, said hi, or waved at people, cars, and especially a smile for police officers, during my walks. Even without a response, it makes ME feel better! :) Report
I am an elderly walker and I always give runners and other walkers a thumbs up, and the only response needed is a smile. No I don't think a polite acknowledgement that "you exist and I notice you" is poor etiquette, it is the simplest and most basic of human courtesies. I guess we old ladies know what it is like to go through life with the preoccupied people of this world treating us as if we are invisible. Report
I try and acknowledge other runners in some way, whether a wave or nod of the head. Don't often say hi as most people have ear buds in Report
I live in a rural area where waving is the norm - not just runners/walkers, but also drivers, boaters, everyone. My daughter in law is from a city in another country where the crime rate is high, and not only do you never wave to strangers, but you never even make eye contact. Her first time here, we assured her that it was safe to go for a walk while we all headed off to work. She told us later that she met another walker on the road who said hi to her, and she had been SO scared! She just looked straight ahead and kept walking fast. We should have warned her about all these friendly people we have around here! :) So if someone doesn't wave back to you, maybe they just aren't feeling safe about it. Report
I said "yes" while reading this post more than any other on SP. It all rang so true from being a running imposter to the excitement of that first wave. I always wave and am disappointed when I don't get one back. Report
I am "just" a walker, with a cane, but I walk extensively in an urban area. I want to be welcoming to my neighbors and those passing through, so I always nod and smile at others. I also nod as encouragement. However, I'd say only 2 out of 10 runners or joggers ever nod or smile, even when they glance at me and look straight into my eyes. It's discouraging, but eh, I will continue to nod and smile. I understand the exceptions listed in the blog. I am not talking about walking in the bustling downtown core of this capital city, but in the nearby urban neighborhoods, in neighborhood parks, on multi-purpose trails.

I'd just like runners, joggers, and walkers to consider nodding and smiling at folks they pass. You never know whom you might inspire or encourage! If runners or joggers -- and especially those on bikes on the multi-purpose trails -- approach me from behind, I appreciate hearing "On your left" so I can move out of their way. I cannot hear their approach. I have to watch my footing although I am generally walking at my best pace, so I tend to be all over the sidewalk or trail avoiding cracks, bumps, raised bricks, and holes. Report
Yeah, I almost always wave or acknowledge somehow the runners I meet, and almost always get an acknowledgement back. No offense taken if they don't respond. As noted in the article, I don't usually wave when running in a crowded area where waving to everyone would just get ridiculous. I have, on occasion, gone so far as to high/low five a passing runner under very special circumstances. That's the biggest boost of them all! Report
I always acknowledge (wave, saying 'Hey' or chin lift) other walkers and runners, and greet their pets, children, etc. Most I encounter do the same back. Report
I wave or say hello all the time and most do the same back Report
I always wave, say hello or good morning or give a thumbs up. I don't think non wavers are being rude.....I think most of them are in their own world and just don't notice others. Report
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