Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 9 May 2004 22:23:21 -0400

Meet and Greet

RUNNING COMMENTARY 518

(rerun from May 1999 RW)

We met as runners do on a sidewalk, passing briefly within arm's length of each other. As is my habit, I greeted this woman with a small wave and the single word, "Morning."

She looked back at me, from the corners of her eyes and without turning her head, and said nothing in return. This was the look she might have given a homeless drifter gone too long between washings and coming too close as he bummed spare change. It was a don't-bother-me look.

This isn't the way one runner should greet another. Or it wasn't how we used to signal such meetings in a more innocent era.

The custom of greeting every runner who passes, just because he or she happens to run, is almost obsolete. If not already gone, the brief but friendly exchange between runners is fading. And that's too bad.

When runners were few, we all knew each other -- if not by name then by our reasons for running and our approaches to it.

But we didn't stop to talk. That too was part of the custom -- not to interrupt anyone's run for extended chit-chat.

A simple word or two in passing -- or just an unspoken smile, wave or nod of recognition -- would do. A small gesture was enough to say we weren't alone, but shared experiences and secrets with a wider community of runners.

Then the running population exploded. The streets and sidewalks grew more crowded with us, and the runners more diverse in background and purpose. Running now looks more like a city than a community.

Much has improved with the sport's growth. But one unfortunate casualty has been the sense of connection between runners who don't know each other.

Rarely these days does another runner initiate a greeting to me. Eye contact even comes grudgingly.

I'm a creature of old habit, though, and still greet every runner I meet. Nine in 10 respond, often with a surprised look of: Who's that, and how does he know me?

The woman who touched off this story, the one who refused to acknowledge me, is the exception. She and a few others like her cast looks of irritation (usually the men who don't want their focus interfered with) or suspicion (usually the women who wonder why a strange man would speak to them). To give a greeting and receive nothing in return is discouraging and a little embarrassing.

I respond with another comment -- louder than the first in case it went unheard and because I'm now shouting back over my shoulder. It's along the lines of, "And you have a nice day too."

This seldom has any effect on the reluctant greeter. But it lets me feel I'm doing my part to keep alive one of the finer old customs of running.

The greeting of one runner meeting another makes our world a warmer place. It keeps our sense of community intact. It says, I know why you're here, and I'm happy that you are.

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