Over time, us runners have gained a bit of a PR problem. Every year people complain about how our races shut down their streets and make too much damn noise, but this year is different. In 2013, someone attacked the whole of the sport– mostly just for attention– but still. They say we preen too much, and they’re not talking about the verb for a bird’s cleaning protocol. If anything, they’re giving us the bird.
Some of the complaints are nonsense, but some have real substance. I’ll offer my top seven suggestions for how we as runners can salvage our PR image and make peace with the haters of the world.
Public Relations, people! Not your Personal Record. Listen up.
1. APOLOGIZE PROFUSELY.
It’s been shown time and again that a truly heartfelt apology can stave off litigation, or end it where there was no hope of settlement. Why not incorporate it into your daily life as a runner, apologizing to every car you slow at a crosswalk and every hiker you startle on the trail? I offer a trio of atonements in the following order: “Excuse me!” (from behind the person, etc.), “Sorry!” (breathless and passing), “Thank you!” (barely audible, because at this point you’re about to pass out from having to talk so much on the Wildwood Trail).
2. SAVE THE GROSS FOR THE HONEY BUCKET.
Ok, so you pissed yourself at the 15k for lack of privacy, patience, or porta potties. Your non-runner friends don’t need to hear about how you thought you were going to get away with it until your shoes filled up and you squish-squished your way to the finish line. Keep those little war stories for your running soul mate or 1,000+ readers on Run Oregon (cough). Same thing goes for any story involving feces, black (or lost) toe nails, crusty sweat, bloody nips, or epic skin loss. Non-runners are already convinced that we’re a bunch of freak shows: no need to strengthen their convictions with unfortunately unforgettable anecdotes.
3. STOP HUMBLE BRAGGING.
It was just an easy five miler. It was just a slow 8:26 pace 10k. I can only have one beer tonight, I’m running twenty miles tomorrow. Yeah, I ran a marathon, but it wasn’t that fast. STFU, runners. We live in a country where less than 5% of adults are physically active for thirty minutes or more each day. If you’re out there running five miles or a marathon, you are KILLING IT. Your falsely conciliatory words can only damage your perception of your strengths as a runner, demotivate you as a result, and alienate your non-runner friends
My girl Rachel says it like this: “I can’t run. I have bad joints and exercise-induced asthma. If you’re running at all, you’re impressing me. […] Be proud. Flat-out brag!”
This “just” speak is also injurious to your fellow runner, as Running the Edge pointed out yesterday. “Runners are infamous for using the terms “just” and “only” when describing their runs. Sometimes I cringe when I catch myself saying it or when I hear it being used, because someones “just” might be another runner’s “best”. I watch runners finish races, sometimes hours after the front of the pack runners cross the line and their joy is “just” as euphoric as the one that broke the tape. This sport of running is the best because of the people that make it up and the fact that the definition of winner is not defined “only” by who finishes first.” Well said.
4. LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS.
My first running partner came to the sport at the tail end of an incredible weight loss journey that took him from 100 lbs overweight to the fittest guy I knew. At first, when we traveled from 13.1 to 13.1, from Portland to Little Rock to St. Louis to Oklahoma City in four months, people “liked” our posts on Facebook. Our friends cheered on even the most mundane, early-morning images of race bibs and disembodied outfits laid out on cheap hotel comforters. Then something happened– or rather it didn’t. People stopped “liking” our images and updates. We had overloaded and exhausted our friends’ interest in and patience with constant posting on the singular topic of running. We’d hijacked our friends’ News Feeds with a veritable diary of mileage, meals, and meteorological conditions– something no less abhorrent than mommyjacking or similar, self-absorbed phenomena.
As Jimmy Kimmel quipped earlier this year: “Did you know it’s illegal to run a marathon unless you tell eighty people about it all day every day for three months?”
It’s a pandering exaggeration, but still. Instead of just hashtagging “#humble” or “#blessed” after your third Instagram 5k selfie, consider being actually humble. Limit your posts. Wait for the big moments to brag on yourself.* Your friends will thank you– with likes, follows, and you know– actually being willing to hang out with you in real life, too.
*CAVEAT: Rule does not apply if you have a running-themed blog, Instagram, or Facebook Page– all great outlets for your enthusiasm.
5. TALK TO YOUR NON-RUNNER FRIENDS ABOUT THINGS THEY LIKE
Man, sitting on a couch is pretty sweet. Dude, the new season of Dexter is up on Netflix! Whoever invented pizza is a GD genius. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little and being mean while I’m at it, but you don’t spend your entire day running. On a typical Monday through Friday training day, you probably aren’t spending more than an hour running, tops (i.e., 4.17% of your day). Let’s say you sleep another eight. That leaves fifteen other hours in the day in which you are experiencing LIFE. You have plenty of material to pull from– don’t runnyjack your conversations with friends.
Erica from Bend, Ore. offers this: “As a massage therapist, I don’t mind when clients tell me about their running. But when friends/clients outside of work talk about their running like its a child… [e.g.] “My running is progressing really well” or relating everything to […] running, internally I’m thinking “You must have a really fulfilling home life,””– meaning, you must not need any friends, because you’ve completely nicked this conversation.
6. BE PATIENT, NOT PUT OUT.
So how far was your marathon? Did you win? Are you fast? But what about your knees? Be patient when non- or newbie runners ask you so-called “idiot” questions. You’re an apostle of your sport, a missionary to the world– and you’re doing no one any favors (including yourself) by rolling your eyes in response. Out of all of the foregoing etiquette suggestions, this is honestly the only one I’m any good at. For instance: the friend who finally convinced me to move to Portland, whose tiny apartment building I live in, who has traveled with me to marathons, STILL asks me “so how far is your race tomorrow?” (Hi, Joel.)
I always cheerfully respond “13.1” or “26.2,” or whatever the distance may be. When people ask if running isn’t bad for my knees, I inform them no– my knees only hurt when I can’t run. Running has solved my knee problems, especially the part related to being overweight in my past life. When grandma can’t understand why I want to run a half-marathon the day I get married, I explain that it’s no different that standing all day at a chicken plant. You get used to it.
With practice, you can become as patient with these questions as you already are with the miles.
7. WILD CARD
When all else fails and all the non-runners of the world hate you, may I suggest the wildest clothes you can manage and crazy hair– as crazy as you can get it. If you can throw in glitter, a tutu, or a costume in any way, the more the merrier. Men, don’t think I’m not talking about you.
The way you look does effect how others perceive and treat you out on the sidewalks and trails. I used to dye my hair red/brown. Now it’s blonde, and the street populace is 100% more tolerant of my annoying zigs and zags. As another example, earlier this fall I went out with the Portland Marathon Clinic on their 18-mile run, prior to which I literally got dressed in the dark. I ended up with one knee-high neon green and one neon pink sock; purple shorts; a glittery headband; and some shirt that didn’t match anything. As I limped a mile home from lululemon in the Pearl, bleary-eyed and wild-haired, I noticed something I’d never seen before on one of my training runs in any state or country, at any distance. Everyone around me was smiling. It wasn’t a holiday, and I hadn’t said anything funny. Nonetheless, pedestrians and motorists the entire way home smiled, nodded, gestured that I should go ahead, it was okay.
And you know what? You’ll be okay even if you do ignore every word of my advice.
(But I don’t suggest you do.)