Runners are Different

By Rob McWilliam and Larry Duguay

Non-runners probably see the whole concept of running, especially trail running which involves even less human contact, as inherently anti-social behaviour. The usual reaction is to be defensive and to provide examples of some of the runs with friends when you were carrying on lengthy and profound conversations. My own favourite story is about the marathon I once ran with a friend who talked for the entire 42 Kilometres! However, while we may protest this stereotyping most of us who are seriously addicted to endorphins would have to admit that while our sport may not require participants to be misanthropic, it does promote some types of anti-social behaviour.

In truth, running can erode many of the social skills that we were trained to observe at a very young age. This point was recently reinforced for me when I saw a group of runners chuckling over a cartoon in Runners World. The caption was how to tell a novice runner, and the picture is of a group of runners. The one in the fancy new gear is saying, “My nose is running, anyone have a hankie?” while the others are laughing. Given the response from non runners to the various crude ways we blow our noses on the run, or the equally common practice of spitting, and it isn’t much wonder that some of us chose to run trails where there are less people to offend.

Not that getting on to the trails is always going to cause less offence. I recall one run a number of us did over the Chilkoot Trail. As we were going up the steep section above the Scales we passed some very out of condition hikers. They were very upset with us their complaint was that we didn’t have heavy packs, and that wasn’t fair! While that may be a rather extreme example all runners can provide stories about upset walkers or hikers (especially those wearing walkman stereos) who are startled when we run by, and accuse the runner of startling them. I have even had dog walkers get angry at me for startling their poor dog who reacts by jumping on or biting the runner. The owner’s response is usually, “but he never bites”. The implication being it is all the fault of that irresponsible runner who chose the wrong trail! I guess that runners just bring out the worst in some people and animals through our bizarre practices.

Some runners obviously take it further than others. I read an interview with an elite marathoner, Steve Spense, a few years ago where he mentioned that one of the most difficult things that he had to learn, as an elite marathon racer, was to urinate while on the run. He had all those years of toilet training to overcome. I hasten to say that this isn’t a skill we mid-pack runners try to learn. But the requirement to be well hydrated at the start of an endurance event and the limited toilet facilities and en route brings most runners to the point where bladder pressure overcomes modesty. The ‘Adidas Runners’ are different; ads that showed runners publicly urinating pretty much says it all.

The Adidas series of ads focused on many of our anti-social practices, and the pictures catch the incredulous or disgusted expressions of non-runners who were observing such behaviour. While some might argue that these ads are simply a clever marketing ploy, they really do capture the essence of our sport and the public’s reaction. As a group we admire those who are prepared to ‘give it their all’. There is a part of our psyche that does believe in ‘no pain, no gain’ despite what the experts all say. If not, why would runners actually be prepared to buy a poster of Bob Kempienen, who in winning a U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials, demonstrated that he could handle projectile vomiting without breaking stride. Or how the pictures of Utta Pipping’s Third and greatest Boston Marathon victory were all about her crossing the finish line with blood flowing down her legs. To runners these extreme efforts demonstrate the determination and commitment of champions. We display our blood, dirt and scrapes from falls, chaffing and blisters with pride. They demonstrate that we too are prepared to pay a high price to participate.

In addition to our anti-social mannerism there are also some physical manifestations of our sport that others find quite bizarre. For example, the starting line of any large race can be quite odoriferous. Exotic aromas from Wintergreen, Tiger Balm and other lubricants mix with ancient sweat from those runners who think they can make their running clothes last just one more run before washing. However these assaults on the noses of non-runners are nothing compared to those that the unsuspected can be exposed to at the finish area where sweat soaked runners gather in large groups to share out experiences.

Yep, runners are different and we revel in it! So apologizes to all those of you that we have offended or will offend, and we’ll see you on the roads and trails where we will continue to thumb our noses at conventionality and in the interest of open nasal passages!