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The Polite Runner’s Wave

by Matt Magill

Last Sunday, out on a run, I saw a brunch party taking place on someone’s balcony. There, a man in a floral apron served colorful cocktails to his guests.

When our eyes met he shouted across the street, “HEY! DON’T DO THAT S***!”

My heart rate spiked. Call me sheltered, but I’ve never gotten used to being suddenly yelled at by strangers in floral aprons. Was he really yelling at me? What was I doing wrong?

I looked around . . . there were no other pedestrians on the block. I pointed to myself and made a facial expression at him that read, “Who, me?”

The man finished his thought. “RUNNING . . . THAT S***’LL KILL YA!”

His guests laughed. An off-color joke. But a joke. I was mildly relieved.

“That’s what they said about sitting!” I yelled back. They laughed again. I kept running. Nothing more was said.

Now I ask you, what is it about runners that invites commentary from complete strangers?

You probably have your own stories. (And I’d love to hear them in the comments section below!) But here is a fact: the longer you run, the more unusual things you will see, hear, and be subjected to.

While running I’ve had people whistle, wave and hoot. I’ve had people honk their horns and comment on my technique from their car windows. Once, two little girls shouted in unison from their bedroom window, “We love you!” before they ducked down where I couldn’t see. And another time an elderly woman, out for a walk with her dog, told me as I passed that men my age shouldn’t wear shirts while they run (still not sure what she meant by that . . . should I be creeped out?) But perhaps my most absurd experience came while running my first marathon. At mile 22, a spectator holding a rainbow flag shouted seven digits at me from the sidewalk—presumably his phone number. Was this really the venue for romantic advances? When I pointed to my wedding ring, he scrunched up his face in a way that scoffed, “You’re loss, Honey.”

Maybe it’s Salt Lake City. Do we live in a town whose citizens are so friendly that they reach out to strangers with the first oddity to pop into their heads? Or maybe it’s that, as runners, we occupy public space, and the public feels compelled to acknowledge us. (But then I’m an avid walker too, and I don’t garner the same salutations when I’m out-and-about for a stroll.)

Whatever the reason, there’s only one thing to do: as runners we have to stick together. The hope of a runner community is our only solace from all the crazy non-runners in the world!

But how do we show support for one another? While out on a run, how do you say to other runners “I know how it is . . . crazy people yell at me too sometimes,” while not to turning into a crazy person yourself?

I call it “The Polite Runner’s Wave.”

It’s easy. As you pass another runner hold up your outside hand, in a motionless hello. This says both:
“Hi there,” and “I get it, man.”

Using the Polite Runner’s Wave we can all make this world a better place . . . to run.

But there are some caveats. 1) Don’t try to say “hello” aloud. Your fellow runner might want to save his or her breath for their workout, and feeling obligated to verbally respond is an undue burden. 2) Don’t hold up your inside hand . . . because it’s going to be super awkward when they think you’re going for a hi-five or trying to hit them and they duck out of your way in avoidance. 3) Definitely don’t NOT acknowledge your fellow runner—that’s just rude!

The Polite Runner Wave. Do it. Because, at the end of the day, the only people who know what it’s like to be a runner, are other runners.

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