5 Ways to Make New Friends at Your Next Marathon

Friday 5It’s a theory of mine that running is “the anti-sport,” in that even on a team you do it alone, and you are your own greatest adversary.  This makes it particularly well-suited to those who have a little social anxiety, or aren’t really great at making new friends.  If you know me, you think I am not one of those people, but let me tell ya, sister, I’m just really good at faking it.

For whatever reason, I’ve never been one to worry too much about what everyone else is doing; I just do my own thing, so I tend to sign up for races on my own.  It’s no big deal, but I definitely often find myself wishing I had a friend to warm up with or to chat with in the Port-a-Potty line or someone to share coffee and brunch when it’s all over.  So when I made some new friends at my fall marathon, I thought, “wow, I should really write this down and share it with the Salties, so we can all get better at making new friends!”

I can't believe I missed an opportunity to meet this guy!  img via runningskirts.com - like their swell facebook page today!
I can’t believe I missed an opportunity to meet this guy! img via runningskirts.com – click the picture to like their swell facebook page!

1.  Sign up for the official pasta dinner!  I’m kicking myself for not going to the Wineglass pasta dinner this year – the guest speaker was one Bart Yasso (pictured here in a fabulous leopard-print miniskirt), one of our favorite men here at Salty Running.  And if I had only gone, I would have had a chance to meet Salty reader Esther R., who got in touch with me via facebook the day before the race.  Esther and I have had a lot of fun chatting back and forth at each other, but it would have been really great to meet her!

2. Hang out at the expo. Maybe even volunteer!  I’m always more comfortable at a party if I have a job to do – refilling drinks, helping to cook or do dishes, anything really.  So if there’s a job you can do while staying off your feet, volunteering at an expo the day before might be a great way to meet new people and give a little back to your race in the process.  It’s amazing how many people will come to you when you’re sitting behind a table with brochures or maps.

A lot of expos are just race info and shopping, but if you’re lucky enough that your race has a built-in hangout area, take advantage! Race directors take note, this is something I’d like to see more!  I’ve seen expos with live music, expos with food vendors, even expos with wine and beer, and frankly that stuff is just AWESOME.  Creating an atmosphere where runners can mingle with one another is exactly what expos should be doing, and it keeps people engaged with your race!

3. If it’s a destination race, stay where you’ll naturally meet other runners. There’s almost always a sponsoring hotel, and if you book early enough you can get a room there and hopefully meet other runners in the lounge, the pool, the hot tub and other common areas.  But check into other options too!  For instance, I stayed at a B&B a couple blocks from the finish line at my last race, and was so glad I did, since every other person staying there was a runner too!  The evening before the race I relaxed and chatted with my new friends Meg and Heidi, two awesome runners from Virginia.  Turns out one of them already knew me, in a way!  A blogger herself, Heidi outed me as a Salty blogger while all us runners were munching on bagels and bananas at the communal breakfast table on marathon morning!

4. Make friends with the other runners who help you along the way.  If someone cheers you up when you’re having a tough time, or offers you a Gu or even just runs alongside you for a while, ask their name and where they’re from.  Make conversation and make a note of who they are so you can thank them later and bond over your shared experience.  I’ll never forget Jeff W. from Ohio (we even have a mutual friend in another Salty blogger, Clove!) and Melissa from Atlanta, who picked me up when I was bonking hard at Wineglass this year, or Beth from Cleveland, who kept me chasing her during the toughest miles of Cleveland in 2010.

5. Help another runner get over the wall.  At my last marathon there’s no way I would have finished if people hadn’t been nice enough to stick with me and talk me down when I was bonking hard and crying my eyeballs out.  Jeff and Melissa were like angels–angels, I tell you!  So if you see someone who’s having a hard time, start by asking, “What’s wrong?” and if she seems like she’s glad you asked, invite her to run with you for a little bit. Be cheerful and talk about anything other than her: talk about you, talk about a past race, talk about other runners, talk about the fans, cheer for the fans, cheer for other runners…whatever, just get her mind off the pain and keep her going.  Trust me, you’ll have a friend for life!  (Melissa, if you’re out there, I’m still looking for you so I can thank you a thousand times!!)


Those are some of my ideas, but what about you?  How do you recommend making friends at a race?

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. I’ll keep these tips in mind when I’m running my first marathon in about a week! I tend to do my own thing and run alone as well. In a previous half marathon, as we were going up a hill, someone came up to me and said, “pull me up this hill and I’ll do the same for the next hill”. During challenging parts of the course, it’s great to find someone to cheer them on and give each other support!

  2. LOVE this! One of my favorite races was last month…my hubby runs so much faster than I do so we rarely stay together. While trying to avoid a huge pile of horse poop in the middle of the route (we were in Amish country), I struck up a conversation with five people running together from an online running club. I spent the whole race with them and had a blast. I wasn’t going for a PR so the company was fantastic. Within 30 minutes of finishing the race, one of them had added me to their FB running club! It was such a wonderful experience. I’ve also found running “unplugged” helps me meet more people!

    1. I think #6 could easily be to skip wearing headphones. If someone’s wearing headphones, I assume that they are more interested in their music than the race day atmosphere and won’t try to strike up conversation.

  3. One thing I’d like to add is to be extra open-minded when talking to someone at a race. Some people (me, included at times) get in the zone or nervous or on edge before, during or after a race and might not seem nice, but they really are. If you approach someone and they seem distant or cold, don’t think she’s a b*tch right off the bat 🙂 Give her a chance!

    Also, if you talk to someone while running the race, back off if they don’t seem like they want to talk. They might need all their energy to race, but do wish her good luck and move on to someone who seems more chatty if you’re looking to chat 🙂

  4. Ohhh yeah, headphones. I wouldn’t dream of wearing headphones during a race, so I pretty much wrote this without even considering it a factor. I run with them often by myself but think of them more as a way to keep me company. So when I’m at a race and there’s tons of company it seems like there’s no good reason to use them!

    1. I think I’m a more considerate runner without my headphones too. I can hear someone coming and give them a little room and I’m less likely to cut people off.

  5. For my Ohio friends…whenever I see OSU gear here on the east coast…a nice “O-H-“…”I-O!” is lots of fun! I ran a race in London and did that to a guy wearing an OSU hat who was struggling. Afterwards he thanked me for extra boost!

  6. Pace groups are also a good place to make friends during the race. First of all, you’re all running together with the same time goal. And usually the pacer is working the group a little, so you don’t have to the necessarily be the one the break the ice. If you do it right, you’ll finish together and can enjoy a celebratory post-race bagel/Gatorade/beer together too!

  7. Awwww thanks for the shout out!!!! It really is great meeting people at races! This was a perfect post because I also entered the sport of running as a “lone wolf”… training alone, and signing up for races all by my lonesome. And then I ran my very first marathon. I was scared and unprepared, and a stranger in knee high compression socks and a buzz cut just simply asked if I wanted a buddy. He ran the whole race with me, and got me to the finish when I didn’t think I could make it. I have since made the BEST friendships in running, and now triathlon too. Without them, it just wouldn’t be half as much fun!!! 😉

  8. This is a great article. I’m a single guy looking to do 50 states and I hate the idea of driving somewhere far away, doing the race alone, agonizing for an hour afterward trying to stave off cramping, and then getting back in the car to drive back home. Thanks for some good ideas!

    1. You got it, Mark! Racing alone can be totally cool and zen, but it can also be a little lonely. I hope you make some buddies out there on the course at the next one!

    2. Oh, also if you go far from home, check at a local running store near the race to see if they know about prerace dinners and events where you can hang with other runners!