Saturday, May 25, 2013

Runner's Wave

There is a little discussed phenomenon that happens between runners out on the trails. I call it the runner’s wave.  It’s similar in physical movement to the boater’s wave in that you put a hand up and move it in the direction of a stranger (for those unfamiliar with the boater’s wave, I encourage you to take advantage of this weekend’s wonderful weather, get out on a boat, and get to waving).  But the runner’s wave is totally different in meaning.  The boating wave has a feeling of, “Hey there, isn’t this fun?”  But the runner’s wave, it means, “I see you, I am here with you, and I feel you.”  This one wave, from a person you’ve never met and may never see again, it can get you up that last hill or through that last mile.

In all of my runs through neighborhoods, along city trails, and around running tracks, I have never, ever had another runner pass me, (let’s face it, they are almost always passing me) point, and laugh.  I have never encountered another runner who rolled their eyes, frowned, sighed loudly, or shot me the bird.  Runners are always trying to encourage other runners.   Even with only a small wave, nod of the head, or smile.  We feel each other.  We are in it together.  We are going to get through it together. 
 So, why does it all change when the sneakers and spandex come off??  Why do we forget that we are all on this long run together and that we have to all get through this long run together?  Why do we do away with the runner’s wave just because we aren’t running?
And what would happen if we didn’t?  What would happen if we all started saying to each other, “I see you, I am here with you, and I feel you?”
 Several years ago, I was complaining about something someone had done to set me off (probably something as unforgivably offensive as weaving into my lane or taking too long to check me out at the pharmacy-- but seriously, why are they always SOOOO slow at CVS??).  In response, my mother stopped me in my whiny tracks by saying, “they were probably doing the best they could.”  After my initial, “are you KIDDING ME WITH THAT?!?” I realized, my mom was (I say through gritted teeth) right.  They probably were just doing the best they could.  Why do I get that with the running shoes on?  Why do I see someone barely shuffling their feet in a motion that could hardly be considered real running and think, “You go girl!”  But when the shoes come off, and I encounter someone falling short of my expectations of them, forget it.  No friendly wave from me.  Unless you consider the one finger wave friendly.
We need to realize that, in general, people are just doing the best they can.  Maybe that waiter who keeps forgetting to fill my glass is preoccupied with the bad news he just got from his doctor.  Maybe the lady who cut you off on the freeway was just dumped by her boyfriend and “their song” came on the radio and she can’t see her through her tears (damn car radios during break ups!).  Maybe that annoying person in the theater who keeps getting out their phone and checking it is expecting a far away call about the results of a loved one’s surgery.  There are all kinds of reasons every day that people can’t live up to our expectations.  Maybe the real problem is not those people, but our expectations of them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made excuses for my own behavior.  “Sorry, I didn’t get any sleep last night.”  “Sorry, I am super stressed out.”  “Sorry, I am going through something right now.”  I’ve asked for forgiveness a thousand times for falling short, but I have failed a thousand more times to realize that everyone else is capable of falling short for those very same reasons. 

 What we all need to realize is that this long run isn’t easy for any of us.  We all struggle up those hills and around those last turns.  We may struggle for different reasons (unhealed injuries, not enough training, pure exhaustion, bad shoes), but we are not alone in the long run and we are certainly not alone in the struggle.  Sometimes the only way we can get to the finish line is with a little encouragement from our fellow runners.  Be that encouragement to those around you.  The finish line is a lot less fun if there isn’t anyone around to celebrate with you. 


 I say, next time you pass a fellow runner who is struggling and maybe even slowing you down as you try to pass them, think about why they might be struggling and throw up your hand (all five fingers together) and let them know, “I see you, I am here with you, and I feel you.”

My version of a runner's wave. Okay, so this probably didn't encourage anyone except maybe to call the EMS for me. But still, I'm waiving.

1 comment:

  1. Hi J.J. I just wanted to tell you that I love this blog! (I didn't see any other comments on here, so I thought you could maybe use the feedback.)

    I only just started running a few months ago, and so I really have no idea what a long run feels like. (For me, a "long run" is a 30-minute 5K!) But I do relate to so many of the things that you write about, and this post especially struck a chord with me. I wish I'd read it when I first started running! Back then I was way too embarrassed to acknowledge other runners on the trail. I felt like such a fraud out there, struggling through my Couch-to-5K intervals, and I was sure the other runners were all thinking, "Who's this out-of-shape chick shuffling along pretending she's one of us?"

    And then, after a few weeks (after I was finally able to run for 5 minutes straight) something magical happened. I saw a runner in the distance, coming toward me from the opposite direction, and I didn't look away when we got close enough to make eye contact. And then, when we were maybe 10 feet away, she smiled and waved, and in that moment I felt strongly connected to this complete stranger. Such a brief interaction, but it was amazing, almost spiritual. And I had been so wrapped up in my own self-consciousness that I'd never realized that this was a thing.

    Since then, I've shared many waves with fellow runners, and every time I've felt that same connection. I've been struggling to find a way to articulate the feeling, but this blog puts it into words so beautifully, and has inspired me to seek that same connection when the shoes come off.

    Thanks! I feel you back.