Running is a social sport, believe it or not. This plays out on many levels.
It starts with warm greetings as runners pass each other on the roads. These range from an enthusiastic “Good morning! Isn’t it beautiful today?” in the early miles to a withered smile and a grunt as fatigue sets in. All are equally sincere and understood.
At most every organized race, participants are given a commemorative t-shirt. Wearing one anywhere in public almost always prompts a conversation. “I see you ran the Bay To Breakers Marathon in 2012,” some random stranger in a restaurant will say. “I did it last year. It’s an amazing course.” And the spirited dialogue begins.
Several kinds of more subtle communication also exist. Certain jackets, shoes, bracelets (like the popular Road ID), and other forms of runners’ secret handshakes abound. I once had a bonding experience with a woman while we were waiting in line to use the lavatory on an airplane. It started when I saw her 140.6 pendant, indicating that she had completed an Ironman Triathlon. We do spot each other from across the room.
Perhaps the pinnacle of social engagement is the running club. Most cities have them, usually sponsored by a local running store. They are inexpensive to join and have group runs throughout the week accommodating all levels from beginners to speed demons. Even if you take part only now and then, they’re well worth it and add a dimension of community.
My running friends are a significant part of my life. A few of us have formed deep relationships. Rubbing shoulders for ten to 20 miles on a Saturday morning will do that. We talk about everything as we run. Parenting rebellious kids, workplace challenges, marriages (present and past), even politics, religion, and sex. Nothing is off limits when you’re sweating and trying to divert your mind from the difficulty of the effort. And where else could a guy my age hang out with so many lean females!
So to anyone looking for a great group of peeps, my advice is simple. Head out to the nearest retailer of running shoes. Get the pair that suits you, ask about a running club, and by all means hit the streets. Soon you’ll experience the many variations of the runner’s “Hi.”
(P.S. – Of course running alone brings its own benefits as well. Those are explored in my article “On The Road To Peace.”)