Running cultures

I’m a southern girl living in a growing city. When I go out for a run in the morning, I know at least half of the runners I pass will greet me in some way. A nod or a wave, a “hello” or “mornin'” (we mostly drop that last -g around here).

I know a handful of cars will stop to let me cross roads, a few more will even move over to give me room to run along the shoulder, but I know that most cars’ drivers will not even notice me.

On my weekend runs, if I meet a Galloway group, I’ll hear a chorus of “Runner up! Runner up! Runner up!” trickle down the line of runners as we go by so the runners in back will move over to allow me room to run by. If I’m overtaking them, I’ll hear, “Runner back!” This practice amuses my husband, and he says it reminds him of the quacking of a mother duck and her line of ducklings. In addition to being amusing, it’s also really darn considerate.

What’s the running culture like where you live? Do runners greet each other and how? With a verbal greeting? A wave or maybe a thumb’s up?

Do cars stop to let you cross the street? Do you already have to be in the crosswalk for drivers to stop? Or do they stop if you’re waiting on the side of the road to cross? (Of all the places I’ve ever been, Maine is the best for this practice. Pat yourself on the back, Maine drivers.)

I ask you these questions because I’m still pondering different running cultures after a week’s vacation in New England. My husband and I visited three New England states and talked with each other about the different reactions we got while we were out running.

The first few days of our trip, we were in a coastal town with an asphalt path running along the edge of ocean cliffs. Our waves and “good mornings” were largely greeted with blank stares or stony silence. Some of the walkers and runners we passed seemed perplexed to hear our voices. A handful of folks we passed would respond in kind, but they were definitely the exception (and to be honest, we started to wonder if they were also visitors).

I met a Galloway group that Saturday morning running along the cliff path in the opposite direction from me, and instead of the usual “Runner up!” I hoped to hear, all I heard was the pounding of feet. Were they on some sort of death march that they could not acknowledge a fellow runner? I’ll admit it: they made me homesick. (In fairness, they may have preferred I stay home or at least stay off “their” path.) I passed them a second time on the way back to the beginning of the trail. Same silence.

Cars were kinder in this town, though, and even though not all stopped for me as I waited at a crosswalk, there were more who stopped for me than would have at a crosswalk in my own city. I waved as I crossed, probably branding myself as a tourist.

Ah, Boston
My husband and I stayed just outside of Boston proper for the next leg of our trip. Again, a few confused stares at our greetings, but I also had what almost qualified as a conversation with one runner (a sudden sound of rushing water had startled us both as we turned to the source thinking “Large animal?” It turned out to be a large drain dumping water into the river, and we laughed at our own jumpiness and wished each other a good run.). The few more responses I got made the run feel less lonely.

The community of runners may simply be more bonded together in Boston because of Boston’s history with running, and so running camaraderie may be more welcomed or expected there.

Next stop: the green state
In the final days of our trip, we headed north and stayed in a small town that boasts a national park and brushes up to the Appalachian Trail. I’ll admit that my sample size was pretty small on my run here, but the folks I passed mostly just gave me sideways glances as I ran by and called out “hello.” One woman with a dog smiled as I went by.

As my husband and I walked around the town later that day, we met an extremely friendly couple whose automatic garage door we stopped to admire/gawk at (it opened out instead of up!). We chatted for several minutes with them about the garage doors, the town and its must-sees, our own city. Their warmth took some of the sting out of my silent encounters on the morning’s run.

The next day, I was chatting with a doorman at the hotel while my husband went to get our car. He asked where I was from. I asked if he was from there. He said, “No, I’m from Mass.” He paused and then said, “It’s pretty much the same, though.” I was skeptical and told him so. He replied more honestly then. “No, the culture’s pretty different here.” I wondered if his initial response is just something he tells all the southern ladies so we go back with our stereotypes of New England intact.

I wanted to tell him that the running culture is different there, too.

How about where you live? Whether you’re out running or walking, do you greet the others you see? If I were to visit and passed you on a morning run, would you call out a greeting to me?

If you come to my city, I’ll be sure to wave or say hi. Well, unless I’m going up a steep hill. Then you may just have to settle for a slight nod.