6 Awkward Adventures in Running
Rewarding but not Always Pretty
Anyone who has been running for a long time will tell you that it can be an adventure. Sure, you're literally putting one foot in front of the other but there's also so much going on around you. It isn't just pretty scenery and trendy playlists either. Sometimes running can be downright awkward. After all, you are running with, by, and past other people constantly, and where there are people, there are good stories to be told.
These are some of the awkward adventures I have seen, experienced and heard of over the years as a regular, everyday runner.
6. Passing Other People
Have you ever had that moment on the street or subway where you see someone, and meet their gaze just long enough that you have to make that awkward decision of whether or not to say "hi"? For runners, this is an almost daily occurrence passing by so many other runners and because you're moving, it's also a split-second decision. So, what is the proper etiquette? Do you nod? Wave? Dare I even suggest speaking? Since you're invariably going to make eye contact with any runner that you come across you better do something. I have waved and gotten no response, nodded and been ignored and have said hello to people only to have them avert their eyes. That's a pretty big hit to the ego. However, for some reason, I also feel incredibly guilty when I do not engage another runner, so I am basically trapped in my own self-inflicted social prison every time another runner passes by. Don't get me wrong. I've had great moments with other runners too. Runners have cheered me on, high fived me randomly on the street, said hello to my daughter in the running stroller and helped pick me up after a fall, but meeting their gaze and nodding still fills me with anxiety.
So, real talk: I sweat a lot. I was always the guy at the gym who looked like he was either back at it after years away or the one working way too hard. It's just a thing I've always dealt with and when you run in public on a regular basis it can be kind of awkward. It's gross. I know this and yet there's nothing I can really do about it. Wear dark clothing maybe? A change of clothes? Pre-shower? I dunno. When I run by myself I don't usually worry about it. If you smell me it'll only be for a moment. If you're grossed out by the mere sight of me, I won't be visible for particularly long. I'm also usually such a mess that I am unidentifiable. But when you're running a race with thousands of other people, running with a run group or just with some buddies, it can get a bit awkward. That smell is more noticeable. You're not as anonymous. Have you ever stood in line with someone who had bad B.O? Try running 2-4 hours next to them! It's something runners grapple with constantly, so there is a sense of acceptance from the community, so at least there is that. The run itself might not be a concern, but if you're in one of those run groups that go out for brunch afterward, you might be in trouble.
4. Public Injury
If you run long distances, are training for a half marathon or full one, you're going to encounter gross injuries. Chaffed nipples, bruised and blackened toenails and awkward wipeouts just come with the territory. What do you do though if you injure yourself while you're out there training for a run? It's kind of hard to stop and ask for help as you are likely a complete mess of a human being and probably smell really bad. You could take an uber, I guess if you happen to have your phone. Taking public transit is hard if you don't have money with you (I never carry a wallet when I run). You're essentially broken and alone. I hate asking for help and I am loathed to do it when I am looking and feeling my absolute worst. Plus, you want to try and soldier on and finish your run, get your kilometers in and it's a bonus if you can do it without being seen or noticed.
Once I was out running a marathon training run (so, pretty far from home) and encountered the dreaded chaffed nipples. This usually isn't a major issue if you're running shorter distances, but when you're running for a two or three-hour training run you're in for a world of hurt and it's hard to stop, I mean you gotta get home. I had to run the last 10k of that run holding my shirt away from my body and the pained grimace on my face as I passed through the city, must have been a sight for others to behold.
Another time I twisted my ankle on a run and since I had to get to public transit in order to get home I had to hobble through the running path to get to my bus. People, bless them, stopped to ask if I needed help, but that just made it worse. Hobbling through the street in trendy running gear past the Sunday brunch crowd is not something I ever want to relive.
So, I have a confession: I spit when I run. It's gross, but I build up so much saliva when I run, which is apparently very normal (https://www.livestrong.com/article/527592-why-do-i-spit-a-lot-when-jogging/ ), and I just have to do it. But where and how does one spit in public without shame? At a race with thousands of people around? It’s kind of an awkward spot.
I want to tell you that I have never spit on anyone, but that would be a lie. I'm happy to say, it was an accident, not that it makes the story any less terrible or disgusting. When it happened, I thought I had committed a crime against humanity and that I would be, at the very least, yelled at or beaten up, but the runner didn't even break stride. He didn't look over at me or even react to the spit that just hit him on the side of the face. I'm not 100% sure he even knew that I spit on him. Maybe he thought it was rain? I dunno. I said sorry about five times very loudly with a shocked and embarrassed expression etched on my face, but he had his headphones in and clearly wasn’t concerned with me. He ran very quickly past me and I never got to properly make amends. It haunts me to this day. I can almost see the spittle flying through the air in slow motion toward him. I am now, however, even more careful when spitting. Your best bet is to aim low.
2. Getting Around Others
Another confession: When I am driving, I hate bikes. When I'm on a bike, I hate cars. When I run, I hate cars and bikes and most people in my way. I hate everyone. Getting around people is hard. Other runners, bikes, strollers, people just moving slowly… they all drive me crazy. Plus, pedestrians always seem to move slowly right when I get behind them and inadvertently block my route past them. Some Sunday mornings I feel like I'm rage running. Getting around people while running can, at times, be as frustrating as getting around the city in a car (and that straight up sucks!). Narrow streets, drivers that don't know what to do at a crosswalk and bikers that forget they have to obey laws of the road. It's rough. The worst part: there’s no solution. You really just have to grin and bear it or risk appearing like a complete asshole. I am confident in saying that I’ve been “the asshole” on the occasional morning run.
1. The Asterisk Run
Runners care very much about their goals. It's the main reason people run. They want to beat their last personal best time or qualify for another race or just have bragging rights with their group of friends. It’s one of the things that inspires me about running. Runners will do anything to increase their PB (personal best) time and they don't like it when things stand in their way. Even if one of those things is a naturally occurring bowel movement.
I will never forget the first time I saw a marathon runner competing in a race with feces running down their leg. When my more experienced runner friends explained to me that this person was going to the bathroom in their pants to beat their PB time we coined the phrase "asterisk run".
Basically, if A-Rod deserves an asterisk next to his name for taking steroids during an era when PEDs were not banned, then you deserve one next to your PB for not stopping your run to go to the bathroom like a normal person.
Having to go to the bathroom while running is very common. Running tends to get things in your body moving and it is not uncommon to see runners off to the side of a race peeing by a tree or squatting behind a bush. If you're just in training it's easy to stop and pause your run to stop at a Starbucks or a Tim's and all organized races have portable toilets on site, so there is really no excuse for this disgusting practice. Stop it people, it’s weird.
So please get out there and run. It's a great inexpensive exercise, a wonderful way to meet new people and build positive goal setting behavior... just don't get an asterisk, it's not worth it.