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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MAREE1953 9/30/2019
I was surprised how many people we meet on the bicycle trail that don't waive or otherwise acknowledge our presence. I acknowledge others; that's just me Report
FIINALEE 9/25/2019
Amen!! Wave—Hey—Smile—Fist up Report
There are places that everyone waves, when I go to the island that my husband grew up on, which is quite large, even drivers wave to other drivers, runners or walkers, it is amusing to count waves on a long walk, gets into the hundreds fast lol Report
RAMSEYSJ 6/22/2019
I love this. When I started jogging I would do it at 5 am. There always was this guy running and another guy walking his dog. We always waved to each other Report
GOANNA2 6/18/2019
I always smile. Report
KACEYSW 6/2/2019
When in doubt, be friendly and kind! It does no harm to anyone to spread joy in this world! Report
PICKIE98 5/25/2019
I smile or say, "Happy run"! Report
DMEYER4 4/18/2019
I wave Report
SXB990 3/17/2019
Smile Report
KHALIA2 3/16/2019
I greet them by saying, Good morning. I take my walk in the early morning. Report
TOMORROW-C 3/15/2019
Not anymore, stalkers take any form of acknowledgment as an invitation. Report
REJ7777 12/8/2018
When I first started walking in nature, I was pleasantly surprised to see how friendly people were. A quick head nod or greeting, just acknowledging each other's presence. When I was obese and trying to climb up a steep hill with my sister on a hike, what seemed like a gazelle sped by us and I exclaimed to my sister: "Wow! She's really in shape!" The gazelle replied: "What's important is being out here!" I was so encouraged by that quick remark! As you wrote, it was like I was being included in the exclusive "club" of hikers. Thank you, Gazelle, whoever you are! Report
CHERYLHURT 10/23/2018
I nod my head Report
This article is not making it a thing, it's been a thing for 40 years. You don't have to acknowledge every single runner that you cross. Depending on where you are, that could be impossible. But many time runners eyes meet, you should signal hello in some manner if you can. Being a polite human is always a good thing. Report
I'm a fan of the thumbs-up, myself, especially if I'm kinda breathless! Report
interesting. thanks Report
Loved this from MACDOOGAL1059!
"Why is this a thing? Wave, don't wave.. who cares? No one wonders about should I wave at people I pass in the grocery isle."

...and w/ that re-quoted from above I will add, "It's a personal thing. To do or not to do. To be or not to be."

If you feel like it, do it...or don't. LOL -- Otherwise, don't made a THING out of it! Report
Thanks. Report
I didn't know not waving was an issue until I started seeing articles on here and people's comments. It never occurred to me that people wanted me to wave and say hi! Apologies, not trying to be rude or dismissive, I just didn't realize it mattered to people. I mean, if someone waves or greets me, I try to reciprocate if I notice in time, but generally I just go about my business in my own little world. But to be honest, I do wonder if I'm being offensive or other people are just being sensitive. There is no maliciousness behind my non-greeting, so why take it as such? Report
I often wave or say “good morning “ when I’m out walking. I often wave at people driving too. But sometimes it seems I might get a wave from someone driving past and I can’t actually see them. That sun gets bright! So, Ijust try to wave all the time! Report
I greet/acknowledge everyone I pass--walking, running, shopping--where ever I am. The exception is probably crowds--but if I make eye contact, at the very least I smile. Report
I live the wave...or the half nod. I get it even from cyclists when I'm not cycling. Report
When I first started running I couldn't wave, I was too busy trying not to die. Now I wave, I also run in a rural area, so I wave at every vehicle I see. Just to make sure they are aware of me. If they don't wave back I usually get closer to the ditch. Report
Excellent share....THanx! Report
I think a nod and a smile is never out of place. Report
wave -- I think it's a nice thing to do. Report
Great article! Report
I generally just say good day. Report
I wave no matter what. Report
I find the comments very interesting because in my neighborhood when we walk I'll give a quick wave and nod. I am not offended if someone else doesn't return the gesture either, I see it as they are busy thinking and are in their own world. But when I'm running I don't like to be interrupted by anything. When I'm running I am concentrating on running, breathing and not tripping on anything. Report
I just walk but I wave or say hi if I see anybody our running or walking Report
I say hello if I think the other walker is going to or at least give them a smile. Report
I wave or say hello Report
I will either nod, wave or thumbs up when walking in my neighborhood. On trails, I always say hello. 😊 Report
After reading this article, I think runners are strange. I don't want to be in that group. Why is waving even an issue. If I know someone, I might wave if we make eye contact at some point before passing; otherwise, it seems rather childish. Report
Why is this a thing? Wave, don't wave.. who cares? No one wonders about should I wave at people I pass in the grocery isle. Report
I really appreciate this article. Report
It really annoys me when I’m out walking in my quiet residential neighbourhood and people pass by without even making eye contact. I live near a high school, and more or less expect to be ignored by the students, but when it’s an adult, especially someone alone, as I am, I find it quite rude to just ignore someone. At 74, and living in a small town, I certainly can’t seem threatening. Report
I'm just so grateful to be out walking that I wave and/or smile to everyone - drivers in the neighborhood, people in their yards, even the construction workers! Report
I live across from a high school and a middle school where the track teams always run past my house. I usually wave when I see them, and that is why this article seemed so intriguing to me. I always wondered when I saw people run by... many looking like they about to pass out. Now I know. It is not bad etiquette to wave to a runner, even if they look like they may need cpr. Report
I walk mostly, and jog when I can. If you wave, great, if not , fine. I’m a little cautious in the city, but as a rule I like to acknowledge others, but don’t expect a respose. If someone is focused , I get itand move to the side of the trail. Mainly, I want to be safe. Report
I'm currently only walking, but I'm usually still pushing myself as hard as I can. If it's someone I've seen before, I'll acknowledge with a nod or smile, but most people are doing their business and I'm doing mine. Report
As I'm not a walker in places where others walk, I don't pass people to wave at. Must be like a JEEP thing. When I owned a JEEP, all other JEEP drivers would wave. It was an acknowledgement of the fun we have in common. Now I know if I pass another walker to wave. Report
I know that we motorcyclists all wave to each other, except at rallies, when there are way too many to wave to all of them. Report
Yes. I wave!! Report
I try to wave. I bike more than run/walk but I always push myself so hard that sometimes taking the next step in my run is seeming impossible much less using that effort to wave or greet a passer by. I appreciate the waves and greets I receive but I also feel guilty when I receive lots and don't return them. I hope people can tell by how soaked I am that returning the gesture isn't me being rude it is that I just can't. Report
I have to admit..I live in a city that has a whole golf cart community--we go every where on the cart paths--schools, stores, neighbors, church, you name it--so I do take affront when someone goes past and I with my dog are the only ones on the path-I give a smile and "hey" with hand wave and they are so much more important they cannot even nod or there are a runner or two coming up behind me while I'm walking with my dog and they are too busy to give a courtesy audible" on your left or right"..I just shrug and tell my dog, Maile.."guess the endorphins haven't kicked in" or as I like to explain..they have been out running so long the reverse endorphins have been activated and they no longer have that feel-good feeling but have shifted into the "I hate everyone" mode. In our community where the cart paths are used for everything--bikes, dog walking, running, golf carts, I truly feel that it only takes a micro second out of your very important training that you can manage a wave, nod, or smile..I don't care if your so very intense training is just so above the rest of us..wave to the lower species just out to be healthy at their own pace. I really dislike "athletes" using their so much more training schedule than we will ever understand as an excuse to not just be nice. Report
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