The runner’s salute

Essential running accessory?

Essential running accessory? (Image: Wikimedia Commons/InverseHypercube)

Do you greet or salute other runners while you’re out on your run?

I find myself doing it instinctively. Any runner coming towards me, I will invariably make eye contact and give an upward nod. I might add a greeting like “How are you?” (the Irish “How’r’ya!” which isn’t really a question) if I’m back home in Ireland or “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” if I’m hurtling around my French neighbourhood.

However, I find that the response rate isn’t high. A few weeks ago, during a long slow run of around 10 miles one Saturday morning, I decided to keep a mental note of how the runner’s salute was received. Out of 5 runners, three men and two women, with whom I made eye contact and to whom I offered some kind of greeting, one man responded. None of the five made the first move and saluted me first.

Why do I do it? Perhaps out of some sense of fraternity – especially on a long run before a marathon, when the other runner is probably training for the same race. Then, the simple upward nod of the head expresses some mix of encouragement, understanding and gallows humour along the lines of “These bloody long runs, what?”

I don’t look for conversation when I greet other runners. I run alone and that suits me fine. No one has ever pulled up alongside me and started a chat – and you can’t very well stop someone coming against you just to have a quick word. Do any runners chat with others at random? Perhaps that’s the limit of my running sociability.

In one sense, I can understand why some runners would be wary of anyone who salutes them – no doubt there is the occasional running Casanova hoping to hit onto someone and use the old “We have so much in common!” line. And big city living has made us all wary of strangers who break the glass wall and communicate with us, perhaps with good reasons.

Another factor might be the mp3 player. I don’t wear music while I run or even while commuting – I prefer a mix of natural sounds and whatever random tune happens to pop into my head. But as well as being dangerous when you’re running on the streets, do earphones cocoon you from human contact? Maybe, maybe not. Of the four runners who didn’t greet me during my brief experiment, perhaps only one was wired for sound. And even without music machinery I’m usually wrapped up in my own thoughts when I run, but I still stay aware of other runners.

Anyway, if you’re out running and see me heading towards you, don’t worry. I’m not sleazing onto you or craving conversation or looking to be your new best friend. I’m only saying ‘hello’ and then moving on. And hopefully that’s all you’ll do too.

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22 Responses to The runner’s salute

  1. I live in the South. We always “salute” each other. I like the unspoken encouragement of “We’re in this together. We are both crazy…..” etc…

    • Run and Jump says:

      I’ve been wondering if it’s a cultural thing, if it’s more accepted in some parts of the world than others. As I said, perhaps big city runners are less likely to greet strangers.

      Keep up the ChiRunning, it did wonders for me!

  2. Ani Danelz says:

    I don’t know why runners don’t greet each other. Whenever I am running, I always at least smile or wave! Why do I do it? Just in case they are having a bad/tough run (boy do I know the feeling), maybe my greeting will help them get through the remaining miles.

    • Run and Jump says:

      You’re probably more considerate than I am! I think I do it more as a reflex than out of any thought for whether my fellow runner is having a suffer-fest. But if it makes me look kind-hearted then that can be my secret!

  3. I do this sometimes. It depends on my mood and how I’m feeling during any given run. But, I can honestly say that when another runner does it to me, I always find it to be a kind and friendly gesture.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Me too, I always find it welcome and have never been spooked if another runner gives me a nod or a greeting. And of course not everyone is always in the mood for interaction if their run becomes a hard slog! But I noticed that a fellow runner’s greeting now seems so rare to me that I find it noteworthy when it happens.

  4. Red Hen says:

    It`s a cultural and personality thing. When I`m most of the way through an LSR and conscious of just plain slogging along, it`s really great to have a fellow runner wave and smile.

  5. It’s not just a running thing it’s a community thing. People seem to more afraid then ever to acknowledge another person. I always make the effort to say hi to people to be friendly and for safety – it means someone has seen me if I have a fall or (i read/watch too many crime things) disappear.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Certainly in cities and large towns it probably reflects a loss of community. But I wonder if those same fears of crime that make you greet people also make other runners and people reluctant to engage with strangers…

  6. I love this post an am happy addressed this issue. I use to be on of those nice people who said hi during runs and in the morning at work, but after being ignored for so long I don’t even bother greeting anymore. On thing caught me off guard was on my last run a biker said good job you’ve got this. I have found bikers are more friendly and say hi back. Caroline @ iheartrunning.com

    • Run and Jump says:

      Interesting: I would have thought people on bikes would be too preoccupied (or going too fast) to greet others!

      I can see how people get demoralised when no one returns a greeting, and it spreads. This is all sounding like something symptomatic of a general loss of community spirit.

  7. I try to make eye contact and give a nod or a wave. Often I get no response. I run in the Boston area and there are a lot of runners and a strong running culture.
    I try not to take it personally. Maybe they’ve all ready waved to 1,000 runners by the time I see them. 😉

    • Run and Jump says:

      Good point – perhaps their nodding faculties are already as tired as their legs! Although if runners really are greeting each other that much then chances are I should be getting greeted, rather than always being runner number 1,001 🙂

  8. Jenn says:

    Great post! I agree that it might be a cultural/community thing. I’m a DC runner, where there is a large running community, so the runner salute (nod, wave, smile, etc.) is fairly common out here on the trails. Even in the darkest moments of a LSD, I will still manage a weak wave. Imagine my shock last November when I traveled to Miami and went out on a six-mile run where maybe two or three people (of dozens?) barely made eye contact! Such a disappointment.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Thanks for the DC report, glad to hear you’ve got good runner friendliness there! I live just outside Paris, France so you can imagine the stereotypical Paris waiters and fashionistas I must be meeting on every run!

      Still no consensus on whether this is a city-country thing, as some cities still seem to have a culture of runner greeting runner. Perhaps trail runners are more aware of the difficulties and the dangers in forests or open country, hence more greetings.

  9. Nick says:

    I salute/acknowledge everyone I pass, whether runners or not, but there is some “etiquette” – as a man running alone, I try to make enough noise so as not to startle women I approach, and I will alter my path to give wider berth if they appear nervous; I never approach too near strangers with dogs, as they may not have trained their animals to handle fast-moving targets. But generally most people will respond, if not initiate…Texas is hospitable, but Houston is big-city, it balances out more or less.

    • Run and Jump says:

      Yes, I’m also aware that as a man I must make sure I don’t startle any woman (runner or pedestrian) who’s by herself. Steering clear of dogs and their owners is a whole other subject!

      Anyway, glad to hear that you’re getting responses when you greet other runners – enjoy running around Houston, especially if you do the marathon there!

  10. valerietoth says:

    Hi!

    I always say hello to fellow runners, dog walkers, walkers etc. sometimes I find myself a bit miffed that people don’t say hello back. I wear my earbuds and may not know what exactly what you said to me but if I saw your lips move I will always say hi! If they make eye contact with you and saw your lips move, they should extend the same courtesy! Geez! It boggles my mind sometimes especially because we are a wonderful running community, regardless of location!

    Bye! Have a great run!

    • Run and Jump says:

      Judging by my Twitter feed, the recent sad events of Boston have renewed a sense of community among runners. But out there on the street it’s the same as before – this morning I said hello to a runner coming towards me, and he just stared at me in bewilderment. That said, I should emphasise that I’m in Paris – not renowned as a friendly city.

      Anyway, enjoy your run too Valerie!

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