Part of a series about a running enthusiast who participated in last year's Boston Marathon.
I love race day. Everywhere smiles and good feelings radiate from thousands of fellow runners. Regardless of ability, size, shape, age, or background, we all line up at the start for the same passion for polyester shorts, energy gels, and mileage. Some of us run to set PRs (personal records), others run for a cause or in the memory of a loved one, and some run for the sheer fun of it. Man, I love race day.
Running around Boston isn't the same. Getting a nod from a passing runner is nearly impossible. A “hey” or other verbal recognition? Forget it. Runners along the Esplanade look as though they hate running, hate the world, or hate the earth and thus hate-stomp it with each step they take. I know every one gets in their “zone” and may just not see me. And I know that people work out for different reasons, including the classic weight loss which, coupled with cutting chocolate consumption, is more than enough to make anyone grumpy. But the universal irritability among runners still perplexes me. Why are race day mornings all happy and weekday mornings all grumpy? Shouldn't daily runs be miniature packets of race day fun built into each morning/afternoon/evening? Don't get me wrong: there are days I run solely because I need to burn off stress. But by and large I run because I love to run. Shouldn't everyone?
On Twitter I recently announced my overwhelming—if strange—urge to high-five passing runners. A few users responded, saying they'd never done it but understood the temptation. Then a few days later one replied again writing that someone high-fived her that morning, a gesture that made her day.
Is this what it takes? Do I need to start high-fiving people? Do we all just need that universal “great job!” gesture to make running enjoyable? Is that why races are fun, because we all get that “well done!” medal at the end regardless of finish time?
Or do I just leave people alone? My girlfriend thinks I'm crazy for even considering saying “hey” to passing runners. And she rolls her eyes when I make small talk with the cashier, claiming my small-town upbringing has left me different than most Bostonians—I say “hey” and they don't.
Am I crazy? In my defense, I've learned (the hard way) not to make eye contact with strangers on the T, and I don't strike up conversations in line at CVS. But I'd always felt that we runners shared a sacred bond, a brother- and sisterhood of all who enjoy getting our sweat on. Am I totally wrong about this?
I'd hoped that a lot of this irritation was just the same grumpiness I've felt over this ridiculously long winter this year, and that the dark clouds following running Bostonians everywhere would dissipate with the coming spring. Yet spring has sprung and so far no such luck. What gives?
I actually think I've begun to get a handle on all of this. Perhaps we all really do run for different reasons. Some of us really do run just because we think we need to look a certain way in order to be attractive or successful—and resent it every minute of it. Others really do run because the doctor ordered it—and who likes being told what to do?
But most importantly, I now understand why I run. I no longer feel the need to run to shed the pounds and I no longer feel the need to set PRs. I really do run for the sheer fun of it.
Thus when I run now, I grin. And when I grin, I get friendly. And when I get friendly, I give out high-fives. For free. And so far no one has rained on my sunny runs along the Charles, so who am I to ruin their perfectly good grump-runs by imposing my high-five-of-happiness on them? If they choose to hate-stomp every step of the way, that's their prerogative.
Life is a journey, not a race; however, I still prefer to live each day as if it were race day.
John C. Scott is a North End resident. Read more about him and his running adventures at www.therunningbostonian.com.