A lot of stuff has been written about how we interact with our fellow runners. Type “runners nod” into Google, for instance, and you’ll be met with a barrage of results, extolling the simple pleasure to be had from acknowledging one another while out on the road. I always thought of the nod as being something unique to runners, but on closer inspection you see it wherever two people who share a common interest cross paths. Bus drivers do it, The emergency services do it, for all I know dinner ladies and sadomasochists might do it. A friend of mine who writes the excellent motorbike blog Low Level Jetpack quoted a tweet he’d read a while back…
“Bikers nod: The split-second bond between two strangers over shared knowledge that you are both awesome”.
The nod is a truly amazing mode of communication, the epitome of efficiency. A slight, almost imperceptible dip of the head coupled with a moment’s eye contact is all that is needed to say “Ah, good day to you fellow runner. How wonderful it is that we, two friends who have never met, are both enjoying this noble pursuit of running, this savage art that unites body and mind. Pity those who lock themselves inside on a day like this, blind to the beauty of the trail, deaf to the sound of their own heartbeat. We, my friend, are the true pioneers of our own destiny; and though our paths may never cross again, for this one sweet fleeting instant, I call you Brother”.
Okay, so if I’m being honest, it’s more likely to say “Me? Knackered? Noooo… I could keep this up all bloody day mate. This is a recovery jog. I’ve already done 30 miles, and you definitely didn’t see me make a huge effort to compose myself and speed up a bit when I spotted you so I didn’t look quite as close to death as I feel”.
Anyway, I digress (but you really should be used to that by now). What I’d very much like to talk about today is not the interaction between runner and runner, but between runner and non-runner. Specifically the rear of the non-runner. Except not in that way.
I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation before: You’re running along happily, only to see someone walking slowly up ahead. Now, they’re oblivious to your presence at the moment but sooner or later you’ll need to get past, so you have to consider the available options. Just running past them would be the most obvious choice, but that’s easier said than done. It’s a little-known scientific fact that in the presence of someone approaching from behind, our primal “hunter/hunted” instinct kicks in and we unconsciously adapt our morphic field to increase our physical presence enough to expand into whatever space is available. This means that under the right circumstances even the skinniest slip of a person will position themselves in such a way that it’s impossible to pass them on a 10ft wide path. This serves to frighten off predators and infuriate runners.
I may have made that last bit up entirely, but certainly in my experience a combination of large bottoms, double-buggies and unpredictable leaping from side-to-side mean that it’s often difficult to simply glide past someone.
The next option on the “things that a normal person would do” list is to simply ask them to move aside. This could be a jaunty “coming though” or even a genteel but firm cough. Except it isn’t that simple, because as a nation we tend towards excruciating politeness and asking someone to move aside for us would be a bit of an imposition. Seriously, our superhuman levels of “don’t want to make a fuss” are so off-the-scale that we’d happily make queuing into an Olympic event (which we then wouldn’t win of course, because gold medals are so very very ostentatious).
I realise that not every runner is like me and in fact I probably represent a tiny minority, but I know I’m not alone. Even if I did decide to be in-your-face enough to ask someone to move aside it’d more likely involve pathetically jogging on the spot behind them while saying something like “ahem… Excuse me… Sorry… Ahem… Could I just… Sorry… Could I possibly just… Sorry… Is there any way… Sorry to be a pain…”, by which time my route would have come full-circle and I’d be back home anyway.
So I’ve gone for option three, and come up with a solution perfect for today’s socially awkward runner. I call it the Footfall Amplification Formula. It takes various factors into consideration (terrain, the person’s age and gender, the time of day, how scary and wild-eyed I look at any precise moment, whether I could just turn around, cut my losses and abort the run) and then tells me what lengths I should go to in order to surreptitiously announce my presence and fool them into thinking that moving out of the way was in fact their idea.
The FAF is something I’ve found myself adopting without even intending to, as if I shift into some sort of embarrassment autopilot the moment I realise someone is up ahead of me. As I draw nearer, my gait changes slightly, and I find myself landing a little more heavily with each step, aiming with zenlike precision so that I land squarely in whichever patch of gravel will make the most noise. As the target of my discomfort draws nearer I silently beg for them to hear me, to acknowledge the fact that someone is running up behind them. The moment they register me, all responsibility for this social interaction falls squarely on their shoulders. They are just a pedestrian, while I (for all they know) am some sort of ultra-dedicated athlete who exists in a plane beyond their understanding in a world of carb-loading and negative splits. I’m not one of those things – I think I should really make that perfectly clear right now for any newer readers; I’m a slow clumsy plodder, but they don’t know that, so invariably they step to one side and on I go.
But what if it fails? What if they don’t hear my over-dramatic approach? That, my friends, is where the lobsters of social-awkwardness start pinching me with their fiery claws*. Because regardless of how long I spend jogging on the spot behind the unsuspecting walker, sooner or later they’re going to turn around and realise there’s a sweaty red-faced murderer looming behind them. A sweaty red-faced murderer who, for some reason, is pounding on the floor with exaggeratedly noisy footsteps.
Do you think…
I know this is a shot in the dark, but do you think that possibly, just maybe there’s a chance that I overthink these things just a teensy bit?
…Ahem.*As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, metaphor isn’t one of my strong points.