When I first started running, I thought that runners were an intimate, close-knit community. My respect for their awe-inspiring achievements had me intimidated from the start.
As I then gingerly threaded the asphalt of Tempelhof Airport, I avoided eye-contact with other runners. Surely, I thought, they can see right through me. All real runners would be able to accurately gauge the extent of my rookiness at first glance. It might have something to do with the way my arms were flailing all over the place, the uneven steps, the ridiculous body posture or the constant look of extreme exertion on my face while I plodded along the runways at barely quicker than walking.
Then, as I got my confident at my ability to perform my “impression of a runner”, I started greeting other runners that I met. The ones I met came the other way, I never overtook any other runners, so I didn’t have to worry about greeting those. I also didn’t have to worry about those that overtook me because they typically flew past at lightning speed without paying any attention to me.
The ones I came across, though, were puzzling. As I enthusiastically greeted each and every one of them most didn’t notice. Worse, I had the impression that they pretended not to notice. eye-contact with these runners rarely, if ever, happened. Only a very few runners smiled and greeted back?
Why would that be? I had thought that us runners are an elite group, bound by our habit, aspirations and lifestyle? As a motorcyclist, I couldn’t understand why not every runner I came across dropped everything to greet me. Among motorcyclists, we have always got time to lift a couple of fingers in greeting to a fellow enthusiast. No matter how tricky our corner is and no matter how crappy, beat up or noisy the other’s motorcycle (and as long as the other isn’t actually riding a scooter), we’ll go out of our way to greet each other. Like runners, motorcyclists share a secret knowledge of a joy that most people will never discover.
I ran on, and, over time, discovered two main reasons why runners might not greet each other, although (and I am sure that all of you utterly agree) they damn well should.
Firstly, there is insecurity. Similar to myself on my very first outings, there is a part within many runners shouting that they aren’t real runners and that, surely every real runners will get wise to their rookiness at first glance. I have found that this might be even more the case with women runners (although I don’t know the reason). Insecure runners avoid seeing (and greeting) others for fear of being “found-out”.
Secondly, some runners are entirely absorbed in their activity. The running takes up 100% of their capacity that they are unable to see in real time, anything that happens outside their own bodies. They notice that landscape and others are passing by outside, but the very concept of the world is deeply abstract to them and seems miles away. This has happened to me on occasions were I ran really hard during training, but also when I had zoned out during running.
I took me some time to realize that running is much more fun, if you actually take in what is going on around you. My first marathon, where I ran through one of the most beautiful cities in the world and hardly saw a thing served me as a great eye-opener in that regard.
This leads me to the following conclusions.
- If you are out there, running, you are a runner. Experience and grace don’t matter, only activity does. That is why you have to earn the label runner all over again every week. But if you run, don’t be silly, wear your head up high and smile and wave at fellow runners.
- If you run, but can’t see what’s going on around you, slow down and open your eyes. Running isn’t about getting there first, but about enjoying the journey and seeing the world from other perspectives.
- Greet each and every runner that you come across, no matter how lean, chubby, tall, old, fit or slow. It doesn’t matter if they wear the latest, top of the line running gear or old shoes. Lift your hand and smile and do it all over again, until all runners the world over always greet each other like the friends they are.