It’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!”
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?