What we don’t talk about when we talk about running

I have been a runner since I was in middle school. Although I never joined track or cross country, and I rarely participate in an organized race, I run almost every day. I run for the peace of mind, the endorphins, the challenge. I run because I love it.

Recently, I replaced my neighborhood running habitat with a nearby outdoor track next to a grade school. This was mostly so I didn’t have to make route decisions (do I cross the street here or wait until the owner with the Mastiff crosses first?) or dodge cars exiting their driveways (I run during morning rush hour). I ended up trading one microcosm for another and wound up in more of a runner’s “community.”

Runners are an odd group: we are a community, and yet we are independent operators. And you hear runners talk about a lot of things. We talk about the best running form, best shoes, distances, stats. We talk about trails, treadmill quality, and PRs (personal records).

But when I stepped out of my neighborhood and onto the community running track, I learned another truth: there are a lot of things that happen that runners don’t talk about.

One of these things is the collection of unspoken “rules” that apply when running outside. For example, when running on an outdoor path with others, the unofficial rules are akin to driving; you run or walk on the right side of the road. Not the middle. And certainly not the left. Beyond that, if you are on the “wrong” side of the track, it’s your responsibility to move. And then there’s the rule that you don’t follow another runner closely, even if you’re just trying to keep a steady pace.

But with this running doctrine also comes the unspoken kinship.

I don’t know any of the people who run and walk the track with me every morning, but I also do know them. I know the woman with her spotted dog who always walks on the grass to avoid the runners. The couple that runs together and wears matching Nike jackets. The jogger that obeys the runner’s rules religiously; no swerving required. The older gentleman who practices sun salutations in the middle of the field while the rest of us race past. The guy who always starts off his walk with his jacket on and proceeds to take it off after round number two and always walks in the middle of the road. The woman who is always on her phone and won’t budge from the left side of the track, nearly colliding with every runner. And most recently, the guy on a Segway whose cockatiel rides on his shoulder with him. I know them, and yet I keep going back.

There are rules, and then there is the unwritten reality of the situation. We’re human. We don’t follow all of the rules. We’re all in this together.

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