5 Rules Of Engagement

Print page

For most, running a marathon is a long run. So while the feet are moving, how do you pass the time? And what’s the correct etiquette when it comes to chatting while you run?By Lisa Nevitt 


We spoke to the experts: Six of them, who have run a total of 707 marathons and have loads of experience in the subtle art of running etiquette.

Read closely and you’ll make better friends at your next long race.

Rule 1: If you can breathe and you aren’t throwing up, talk.

You can start up a conversation at any point during a race, and you’re likely to pass many runners who are open to small talk. At the beginning, fresh legs and lungs generate chatter, but runners quieten down as the going gets tough.

Belinda Skinner prefers to be spoken to while she can still breathe; and fellow Irene Road Runner Pierette Whitmore, before she throws up. A cheerful ‘keep it up’ never goes amiss for Varsity Kudus’ Stuart Wainwright.

“During short-distance races, it’s a toss-up between breathing and talking – I’m aware that one is more essential to my staying alive than the other, but unless I’m really busting a gut, I’m a chatterbox,” says Wainwright. “Sometimes I don’t need to talk; running in silence and trying to match my partner’s pace is motivational.”

Rule 2: Flaunt it.

Good looks can be a great conversation starter: Irene Road Runners are partial to running with a hot friend. “The boys literally trip over their own trainers to talk to me,” says Belinda. Pierette waits until they’ve peeled themselves off the tarmac and got up; and then tells them their Y-fronts are hanging out. Distracted, they are likely to fall over again.

Rule 3: Talk about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll… and running.

Talk about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and that wretched cat’s-eye that scuppered your PB. Running is a safe topic because, bizarrely, all runners have it in common. We’ve all had great races, not-so-great races, and races we deny all knowledge of ever having run. Such are the foundations of humorous stories about the misfortunes of ‘other’ runners.

“My favourite involves a Comrades runner and a few too many beers,” recalls Buffalo Road Runners’ Kerryn Newey. “He was still drunk when his less-than-sober mates carried him to the start line. He managed to drag himself to his feet, only to run in the wrong direction. Despite this mishap, and a late start, the giggling drunkard narrowly missed a silver medal.”

Rule 4: Give your comrades a leg-up over ‘the wall’

‘The wall’ is a ruddy great slab of concrete with no footholds, atop which evil crows perch, and a pit of crocodiles awaits on the other side. Ask a runner to forget about something this scary, and you ask a lot. If you encounter a fellow runner who is looking worried, exhausted, and an alarming shade of green, don’t rub it in.

“They don’t want to hear how fantastic you’re feeling,” advises Leanne Juul. “Instead, try to take their mind off the pain by giving them something else to focus on.”

She offers gels, sweeties, energy drinks and walks to struggling runners, while Atlantic Athletic Club’s Mark Wagenheim encourages them to keep going slowly.

“A lesson learned is always more powerful than a lesson told,” says Wainwright. Don’t say anything when you pass their buggered bodies later on, either. Juul reckons they’ll already feel like a wally.

“I say something, but I leave it up to them as to whether or not they heed my advice,” adds Wagenheim.

Rule 5: The world is full of morons. Accept it and keep your cool.

There’s nothing worse than when a smug spectator, mouth overflowing with half a boerie roll, observes: “She’s not going to make it.”

At the end of a long race, runners are like dormant volcanoes, likely to erupt into a thousand expletives if they hear the expression: “Not far now”.

Wainwright reckons the following statement would be more appropriate: “If you finish the race, you can have my Ferrari.”
“At the end of a particularly gruelling race, a spectator nearly mowed me down with a pram as they ran across the road,” recalls Juul. “I let rip and called them a ‘stupid fool’.”

It’s not only spectators who’ll test your resolve, but runners too, says Wagenheim. “When I led a sub-3:30 Runner’s World bus at the Peninsula Marathon, I was lumbered with a gaggle of runners who debated whether we were going too fast, or too slow, for three hours and 28 minutes.”

If you’re not in the mood to talk, or if listening to a runner’s monotone voice is enough to induce long-term catatonia, it’s time to move on.

“Running is as much a lonely sport as it is social. Sometimes, you need space to deal with your own issues,” explains Wainwright. “Immediately stop for a wee, pretend you’re about to throw up, or run faster than their little legs can follow you.”

The Debate: To Talk, Or Not To Talk?

“Professional athletes are focused, and need to sustain running, breathing and mental thought patterns, in order to perform optimally. Conversation could cause them to feel the negative effects of strenuous exercise, slow down and even give up,” comments sports psychologist Andrea Kellerman.

Kellerman also agrees that conversation can provide a welcome distraction from the mundane task of putting one foot in front of the other, and from negative thoughts. Juul says conversation makes running fun, and Wagenheim draws motivation from supporting his comrades.

Avatar of Runners World

About Runners World

Online Editor for Runner's World magazine
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply