How to avoid being a running “bully”

Earlier this week I was doing an easy recovery / tapering run the day before a race. I was really concentrating on not pushing it too hard and just staying loose. Near the end of my run, I came across an older runner with a gray beard wearing sweatpants and a thick shirt against the chill.

He was moving slowly, and leaning precipitously ahead, each stride seeming to catch him before he pitched forward toward the pavement. He looked like he may have been recovering from a stroke, but despite his slow pace and precarious form he was out there getting it done, and he kept running steadily along.

I felt a little sheepish as I approached, and even though I wasn’t running hard, I slowed down even more, smiled, and gave him plenty of room as I passed. I felt kind of guilty for being in good shape and running with little effort, while for him simply putting one foot in front of the other was a major undertaking.

It made me think how lucky I was to be able to run, and I thought about other contexts in which I felt a little like a running “bully”.

I first began to feel like a running bully at small town races where I would sometimes find myself being the only one really “racing”, while most of the group was just out for a community fun run. On those occasions, the intensity and focus required to run really hard suddenly seemed out of place, even though that’s how I have always approached “racing”.

The only way I’ve found to dispel that feeling or dilute that perception is to be polite, friendly, and encouraging to everyone else. And to be honest, I don’t think most people see me as a bully in those situations; it’s mostly something in my own head. But it is still an uncomfortable feeling.

Another way to avoid feeling like a running bully is to be appreciative of the volunteers and thank them whenever you get a chance. I cringe whenever I see runners complain to volunteers about something. Sure, things can go wrong at a race, but for the most part the volunteers are doing their best to ensure things go as planned, and they deserve gratitude much more than grousing.

Also, sometimes walkers or slower runners will settle in right at the front of the pack before the start. That goes with the territory. They may be new to running, or they may be caught up in the excitement, or occasionally they may just be selfish or clueless about race etiquette, but you’ll feel much better if you approach them politely or just quietly move around them rather than act like a running bully and get angry at them.

In the end, the best way to avoid feeling like a running “bully” is simply to be friendly, polite, and encouraging, and show some humility and modesty. If you do those things you should be able to run as hard as you can guilt free.

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