Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
I am a helplessly habitual runner. I run the same roads, at the same time, day in, day out. And I know that I am not alone, because I see other people, day after day,doing the same thing I do, only in the opposite direction. It makes for some quite interesting conversation.
My loop is about a mile and a half long. If I run it at a 9 minute pace, and someone else is running the same loop the other way, that means that every 6 3/4 minutes or so, we bump in to each other. And you just gotta say something, each time you pass.
The first time around, it's usually "Hi" or "Good morning." With a smile, mutual pleasantries are exchanged. Then it's on. What are we going to talk about next time around. Let's face it, time is limited talking this way, so the idea is to say as much as you can in as short a time as possible. This is known as efficient communication.
As the other runner comes in to view for the second time, I usually come up with a cleaver idea of how to direct this intense conversation. "Sure is warm!" I say. The other runner nods in agreement. And we are off and out of each other's sight for the next few minutes. What next? Should I just run by next time, and not say anything? That would be so rude. But there is only so much to talk about. The moment of truth is at hand, as our next meeting becomes imminent. The other runner decides to control the conversation this time, and I am off the hook. "It sure is." He says, and I have to think for a minute about what he is even talking about. Then I remember. Must be the weather.
Shoot. Now we've exhausted our little chat about the atmospheric conditions. What other small talk is there? Maybe I'll just run off the designated route so I won't have to deal with it. But I can't. My watch has started, and I need to know exactly how far I am going. Splits to the 1/100th of a second are mandatory. Now, I'm sweating, not due to the heat, but due to not knowing what I'm going to say next. The intense moment arrives, and it hits me what to say next. "Looking good." I cleverly state, even though he really looks like a wet hen by now. I'll bet he knows it too. Darn, did I just say something stupid. In less than 7 minutes, I'll know.
Sure enough, next time around, he says. "You're too nice, I feel trashed." I yell "No really, you look great." But he is already out of earshot. So, as I continue into my next loop, I start to go in my own little world. I imagine what it would be like to actually know this guy's name, and where he lives, if he has kids, and maybe even run in the same direction some day.
I slip into a reverie. I'm imagining our neighborhood block party. There he is, standing in to beer line. At last I can talk to him, and have a real conversation. As I pass by him, I say "Hi" and he says "Hi." And then I keep on walking. Actually, I don't have any idea what else to say. About 20 minutes later, as Harriet and I are getting ready to get some of the grilled chicken and potato salad, , I see him again. This time, he is walking our way. As we pass, he says "Sure is hot today," and Harriet and I nod in agreement. And we all keep on walking. I guess he doesn't know what to say either. About a half an hour later, we cross paths again, and as we pass, this time heading for the ice cream. I ask "Having fun?" and he says "Yep."
Suddenly, the daydream ends, as we approach each other on the next loop. He asks, "What did you say?" Again, by the time I process the question and try to remember what I actually DID say, he is too far down the road to hear my reply. I don't even respond with "No, really, you look great." In reality, he looks awful. In this type of environment, it is better to make statements than to ask questions.
Finally, I am into my last loop, and my last glimpse of my fellow runner for this run. As we pass, one last time, I say "That's it for me," and he says "Me too." And we both know, as we return to our homes, that we will be meeting same time tomorrow, to continue our conversation. Or maybe, to have the same one over again.
To the skeptics, I can assure you there is such a thing as "Runner's Hi." Try it some time. After all, runners are the greatest people in the world to talk to. Don't you agree?
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.