I really thought that here on the first Wednesday of October, I’d be waxing poetic about the joys of autumn, like the fabulous pumpkin chai I recently discovered at Caribou Coffee. (It’s really awesome, and if you like pumpkin or chai, you’ve gotta try it.)
Instead of writing about the delightful fall, though, I find myself astonishingly grateful for air-conditioning and an order from my doctor to take a week off from running. After all, a run right now would be more like swimming, only without the refreshing water part.
Many of us southern runners love autumn because it lacks the main summertime ingredient that causes us to struggle: humidity. We’ve survived the awful stuff all summer, and in many cases, fall is the time of year that we ramp back up with our running. We can add in more miles and even change up the time of day we run, simply because we’re no longer trying to dodge suffocating heat and humidity. But this week has felt more like late August or early September. Yesterday was so humid outside that the windows of my house fogged up (from the outside). With the start of fall, I thought I was done with tracking sweaty footprints across the floors, not to mention the drenched shoes and running clothes.
While out with my dog this morning, I found the humidity to be overwhelming. So I tried to turn my thoughts to a topic I’ve been working out for my most recent book chapter: hospitality. Do you mind if I revisit the topic?
How we give and receive hospitality
We offer and experience hospitality in a host of ways, not just as individuals inviting others into our homes, but also as communities. Runners can easily tell you which communities are most hospitable toward road races and runners in general. Those are the ones that make a big deal about welcoming the runners prior to the event, getting up early to cheer them on during the race, and then inviting them to come back again to visit. You can pretty easily find a great running store and training programs nearby, too. If you’re a runner, can you name your favorite places to run because of their hospitality? (Duluth, Minn. has a special place in my heart for this reason.)
Sadly, runners can also easily tell you which communities are inhospitable: those that sleep in instead of cheering on, grumble about road closures and display plenty of other inhospitable behaviors. Sometimes whole races can die if the community doesn’t support hosting them.
As runners, we bear a responsibility to receive hospitality well, too, however meager the welcome may be. We also have the power to turn hospitality sour by our behaviors. Do we park where we are supposed to or somewhere we shouldn’t (like somebody’s yard or in every single space in front of the Dollar General that’s trying to stay open for business during our race)? Do we strew used Gu packets and other trash behind us for someone else to clean up instead of carrying it with us to dispose of at the next aid station? Do we act as though a safe road during a race is our God-given right? Or do we thank the police officers and other volunteers out on the course ensuring that cars don’t run us over.
Humility reinforces hospitality
How we receive hospitality has a lot to do with our own humility. Think of it this way: if I’m a guest in somebody’s home and trash it because I’m arrogant or self-centered or insensitive, am I likely to be invited back? If I’m a humble guest, one willing to help with the cooking or dishes, and one who leaves my space as clean as possible, I can expect my hosts to renew their offer of hospitality.
If we want communities to continue to show hospitality, those of us who run need to stop and ask ourselves, “How can I be the best guest of this community so that it continues to support runners and races?” Our humility forces us to do better, because there’s no expectation that someone else should come along behind and make things better in our wake. We have to do our part or be prepared to suffer when trails close or communities stop supporting runners.
I’m coaching Girls on the Run this fall, a running program for 8-12 year old girls to teach them not just how to run a 5K but also how to think positively and maintain their voice and self confidence through those tough teenage years that are fast approaching. I want them to learn how to run well, not just in a physical finish-the-5K way, but in a way that demonstrates to the community that these girls honor the hospitality and support that make this program possible. I want them to learn confidence but also a healthy dose of humility as they run.
They’re the next generation of runners who will be out racing on the roads and trails, and I need to make sure I’m a good guest of the trails I run so that they’ll be available for this group of girls coming up behind me.
So for you runners out there: What are you willing to do to make sure our trails and roads and communities stay open and hospitable to runners of the next generation?
For you non-runners: has this topic sparked an idea about how to make your own community more hospitable, not only to runners but to other guests, too?
I look forward to hearing from you!