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 walk a dog. I always acknowledge others as we pass Report
CECELW 4/12/2021
it's really a nice thing to do. Just be friendly. Report
Well....Us Canadians say * Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening to everyone we pass when walking. We are JUST SO polite that way! LOL Report
LOSER05 2/8/2021
yes Report
JUNETTA2002 1/31/2021
Thanks for sharing. Report
RACHAEL2020 1/27/2021
I wave if I'm walking on the street without sidewalks. This reminds the driver that I am walking. Then, some people who drive will blow their horn, and I'll wave at them too. Report
NEPTUNE1939 1/20/2021
ty Report
JULIJULINN 1/18/2021
So easy to just recognize another walker with a head nod. Report
LOSER05 11/28/2020
thanks Report
CD24069739 11/23/2020
I always wave Report
WALKZWDOGZ 10/28/2020
These days we need any kind of safe friendly human contact we can get! Waves are fine! Report
LEEANTHONY40 8/26/2020
Good to be cordial. Unless you have no strength, always nice to wave or say which direction your approaching someone as common Report
LEANJEAN6 8/13/2020
I wave or say hi-to all--- Report
1CRAZYDOG 8/4/2020
A nod of acknowledgment will do! Thanks for the tips. Report
*Wave*. Report
Of course, I wave or just smile to anybody bikers, runners, walkers Report
Lots of friendly people are introverts and are not "wavers" but it's not because they are snubbing you. I am one and I often struggle with whether or not to greet people and sometimes I'm simply pushing so hard I can't/don't. But in my heart I am waving at every single one of you every time! Report
to wave or not to wave: walk, store, waiting room...? Report
I've actually been wondering about this, because I generally wave, nod, or say hi, and many times it's completely ignored, which is a letdown. Now I that I have a few reasons why, it makes sense. Report
I just say hello and smile. Dumb question Report
I am a walker and I usually say "hi". Not always. Some runners always say "good morning" and some just fly by. Report
I try to wave or smile!!! Report
I wave or say "hello"! Report
I wave (or nod, but usually wave) when I bike and walk/ run. I always appreciate it when people return my wave, or wave first. To every runner who waves at a walker that is struggling to finish a race: thank you. Your encouragement means a lot — seriously. Report
I live in a small town so I wave or say hello to everyone as I know almost everyone. Report
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
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
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
I always smile. Report
When in doubt, be friendly and kind! It does no harm to anyone to spread joy in this world! Report
I smile or say, "Happy run"! Report
I wave Report
Smile Report
I greet them by saying, Good morning. I take my walk in the early morning. Report
Not anymore, stalkers take any form of acknowledgment as an invitation. Report
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
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