The Case for Meeting our Neighborhood Runners

DIY heroes
Oh, come on, who doesn’t want friends like these? Runners have fun like nobody else!

Mark Matthews, an author and Salty friend, recently posted a hilarious essay about his reaction to strangers running through his neighborhood.

“Yes, if you run by my house, my nose will detect your scent, I’ll watch you like a junkyard dog, my spidey sense will tingle, and I’ll be thinking, ‘Wait, why don’t I know you? You are a bit of a stranger here? Did you just move into this neighborhood, did you run farther than you thought, or is this perhaps your first run ever?  You are running through my neighborhood. I don’t know you, and I should.”

This resonated with me, first because it’s funny, and second, because it’s so true.  What runner doesn’t perk up a little little, like a guard dog, when we detect motion in front of our homes, especially if it’s motion that appears to be wearing Lycra?

Instinctively, we want to know who goes there.  But in reality, even when we see a fellow runner repeatedly,  we may know her pace, but have no idea what her name is, or even where she lives.  That would require stopping, something we runners are loathe to do.

Worse, it would require asking another runner to stop, which, as faux pas go, is right up there with asking if you can take a sip from a stranger’s water bottle.  Also, runners are famously solitary souls, so for a lot of us, connecting with an unfamiliar runner is as appealing as a bout of plantar faciitis.

So even though we have an extremely major thing in common, we pass each other repeatedly with only a wave or a nod, if that.  We’re intimate strangers.  But we don’t have to be.

A few months ago, I had an idea for a party.  There are about a dozen people on my street that I see regularly out walking or running, people that I know little about, even though we live in walking or running distance from each other and share a love of the road.  How cool would it be if we actually knew each other and had a network of sorts?  These are a dozen people who could, for example, be counted on to call the police if someone was hauling away my valuables in a U-Haul truck while I was on vacation.  Or maybe we could one day meet to pick up trash, beautify the street that gives us so much enjoyment.

Knowing our fellow runners doesn’t mean we have to run with them… just to know who they are! (Image via Tumblr.)

We belong to a community of runners. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was more than just a phrase, if we actually had a community of runners, beginning with the most important ones, those in our own neighborhoods? So my party idea is this:  to hold a drop-in for the walkers and runners of my neighborhood.   To hand out invitations over a period of a few weeks, whenever I spotted one of our tribe.  Nothing major – just to say, come have a cup of cider or a glass of wine and meet your fellow walkers and runners, get names to go with the faces. Maybe learn where we all live.  (Maybe get rid of all my Christmas cookie leftovers. Yeah, still have some!)  Haven’t done it yet, but it’s one of my New Year’s running resolutions … to make “the running community” more than a nice sentiment.

SALTIES,  is there value in knowing the runners and walkers on your route?  Or is all this potential socializing  just going to slow us down?

We’ll be back on January 2, 2014 with new posts! In the meantime, we’re rerunning some of our favorites from Salty past. Here’s a great one from Mace that we thought might inspire a resolution – to get to know that fast-looking running lady you keep seeing in your neighborhood. And I don’t know about you, but I (Salty) really want to know if Mace ever had that party and how it turned out!

I'm a single mother of four who has been running injury-free for 27 years, astonishingly without ever losing any weight. I'm a writer and editor near Boston, and author of "Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner."

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  1. What a great idea! I wonder how you could really go about it. Just carry cards when you run and hand them out? I mean in my neighborhood there is the guy who lost all the weight and sometimes runs with the stroller, the fast guy who doesn’t carry water, the woman who runs with her 2 dogs and ties their leashes around her waist so I’m afraid they will trip her, that college student looking girl, the girl who runs in just her bra, and those 4 old people who walk at 6:30 in the morning. I’d love to pre-print their name tags so they could write their names and it would say “Alice – dog/leash/waist lady” or “Dave-fast no water guy”.

    1. Well, if you invite the girl who runs in just her bra, every male runner in the neighborhood will definitely turn out! love your nametags. Yes, only way to do it is to carry small invitations — maybe business-card size? — and hand them out over a period of weeks. yes, I may have to stalk some people. but I think it will be fun, if I can get over my naturally introverted self!

  2. Hey thanks! (So you were the one visitor to my blog last month. Ah-ha.)

    Yes, it feels weird to see someone run by your house, and it’s a runner who you ‘don’t know.’ Just doesn’t seem right.

    So I love your idea. My kids love to point out runners who are faster than me. This way I could have them over and my kids could tell them directly. I’ll run by your neighborhood if it means getting an invite.

    1. Ha – you must have had at least 2 visitors because I have a draft blog that incorporates a different recent blog post of yours. Coming Soon. 🙂

  3. I love this. I live in a rather small town and I can’t tell you how many people (some runners, some non-runners) recognize me solely as that lady that is constantly running all around town. Without having a party though, I’ve met several people by forcing myself to stop and say hello. It works best if you’ve seen and said hello to someone many times first (and of course don’t stop someone if they look like they are in the midst of a hard workout). I’ve met some great people that way.

  4. Great idea! I tend to favor the small, personal invitations presently when I find a new runner (as in running up to that person and saying, “Hi! How far are you going today? Mind if I join?”). The party method would be far more efficient. Also, less creepy.

    Perhaps posting signs at standard runner hangouts? Track? Gym? Massage therapist? Froyo shop?

    1. That might work, sure, especially if you specify you’re inviting people who run in a certain area. (although I think if I were doing that, I would use a public venue instead of my home.) Also, a sign on a telephone pole/electric pole/stopsign, kind of like the ones you see for lost cats could be fun. Darn, I’m now wishing I’d done in the week before Christmas …. would have been a fun holiday drop-in.

      1. I was thinking of posting a sign on the telephone pole outside my house for the neighborhood running lady, but that might be even more weird than some half-asleep lady with sweat pants and no bra barreling down her driveway with a note.

  5. Since this is a re-run story…do we get an update, too? Did it work out like you were hoping, Mace? Did anyone else try it in the past year? I’m curious! In the past year I’ve done introductions on the trail a few times and joined a few runners. I only invite myself to join those that look like they are on a long run. I don’t want to hijack anybody’s tempo, but who doesn’t need to make a new friend at mile 16 of 20?

    1. I asked Mace to give us an update, but she was tied up with some post-holiday stuff. Hopefully, she’ll get a second soon 🙂

      I am totally inspired by this! There is a woman who I think lives around the corner from me who I see running by almost ever morning. From a little sleuthing I think she is about my age and a mom of little ones too. I swear I am going to write a note about myself with my contact info and run it out to her and make a date! It would be such a shame to not make friends with another running mom right around the corner! Wish me luck!

    2. It’s a tough call, isn’t it? No one has ever asked to join in one of my runs, even though I work really hard not to to display “ugly face” … then again, I usually have music on, and I guess headphones say “leave me alone.” Introductions on a trail seem much scarier than just on a suburban street. Anyway, alas, I never had the party, but not for fear, but for a weirder reason … my house went up for sale soon after I wrote this post, and I thought it would look too much like a marketing strategy! plus, had some weird emotional turmoil about making new friends I would soon have to leave. that said, I am committed to forming closer bonds with the runners who share my streets, and hope to do this wherever I land!