What to Talk About When You Talk About Running
There’s a light that comes into the eyes of runners when they meet kindred spirits. Descriptions of trail runs are told in wild-eyed wonder. Conversations about chronic aches and pains shift to nostalgic reminisces. Running is such an all-consuming activity that everything from food to friends are snatched within its complex web.
Our enthusiasm for this lifestyle can seem like crazed evangelism to the uninitiated. Or worse, arrogance that compels some pointed eye-rolling from our audience. Discussing training methods, reporting race times, and raving about new gear are the love languages of the modern runner, but, to many non-runners, they are about as interesting as a dramatic recitation of the phone book. The prevalence of “I hate running” memes make it clear that enthusiastic runners are a rare breed, up against a wall of skepticism. In the shadow of this skepticism, unfiltered chattering about our running commitments and achievements are a sure-fire way to make our dinner companions signal for the check. In a society where poor health is prevalent, this is a problem. Not just for health reasons, but also because the barrier between runners and non-runners is high.
For several of the past few years, I’ve lived in extremely rural areas, where I was known as “the guy who runs.” In each case, I was dedicated to creating a running community – as much for my own sake as for the sake of others. Talking about running is the first step to enlarging the running community. It is also how we can reframe the sport for the inexperienced. Finally, communication is vital if we want to have open channels for honestly discussing our own struggles as runners.
In this post, I offer some pointers that will help you make running into a topic of conversation in the most skeptical quarters.
Get a running companion.
If you are running on a fairly regular basis with the same person, chances are you can talk to them about anything, from gastrointestinal issues to race goals. This is the person with whom you discuss the nitty-gritty, day-to-day process of running.
Focus on stories.
Since most of us get up at an ungodly hour, or venture much farther away from our homes than others do by foot, we sometimes bear witness to strange scenes. I enjoy telling about the time a grouse blocked me from passing through his territory, or the time an old homeless man started racing me on his bicycle. Or, there’s the time I got lost on a run in a big city and showed up to a conference still soaked in sweat. Each of these can be stretched into a humorous story, which is actually a story about running in disguise. Also, check out these cool books that could help you acquire some stories to retell.
Be positive about pain.
When you get to a certain age, pretty much everyone is dealing with some ache or pain – runner or not. When I was managing my chronic struggles with plantar fasciitis, I discovered that many of my coworkers had similar symptoms, though the causes were unrelated to running. Instead of continuing to complain about the needling pain in my heel, I committed myself to being a resource for anyone I knew that struggled with foot problems. It allowed me to vent about my own pain, but also (and more importantly) make sure that myself and others had some solutions we could discuss. As a runner, you have a tremendous incentive to conquer the pain, since it prevents you from doing what you love. For others, they may just resign themselves to a more sedentary life. Use your experience and your solutions to help others stay healthy.
One of my most memorable runs was a short jaunt with two others – a man in his sixties and a teenager. Both were beginning runners trying to run a 5K in under 30 minutes. Coaching and encouraging perseverance among runners less experienced than ourselves can give us the opportunity to share a lot of our own successes. Not only are you helping others achieve their goal, you are also granted the chance to talk about running.
Participate in running forums.
Sometimes, the incessant need to talk about running comes from a feeling that you are the only one experiencing it. It could either be a “big fish, small pond” kind of isolation or a “lone wolf” situation, where you are forced to go it alone. Online forums and blogs can reveal just how common your concerns and challenges are. Additionally, it can be a way to check in with other runners to see how your progress stacks up.
It is easy to fall into the same exasperated stance when a fellow runner begins complaining or bragging. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just need an ear to bend. Ask them questions about their runs, their problems, and, especially, what advice they have for you.
Running, like travel and adventure, is a deeply personal experience. We’ve all been in the situation where we must endure a friend’s endless narration of a recent trip. The experience pales in the retelling. So it goes with running. More than anything, it is important to understand that the true benefits of running can only be experienced by the runner. Endless reports on our runs can try the patience of even the most supportive partners. By gently reminding ourselves that this running life is, to others, just a hobby, we will help bridge the gap between runners and non-runners.