A: "He said, 'Well, enough about me, let's talk about running.'"
I thought the "Navy blue and gold" water bottle and the hand towel on the console would have been a subtle hint. In any case, there was absolutely no need for the elderly gentleman to shut down the treadmill on which I had been running. ALL six treadmills in the room besides that one were NOT being used. Fortunately for the both of us there were only three other persons exercising in the room, and a couple of staff members. I raised my hands to shoulder height and said, "Whaaa?"
"I didn't notice your stuff was there until I got up here." The gentleman in his mind was perhaps correct, but the white of the towel and the gold of the bottle... I don't like to attribute to malice what might be more readily put down to ignorance, but every once in a while the passive-aggressive behaviors of the more seasoned citizenry in that gym facility borders on the dynamic of a kindergarten. It gets more entertaining during certain times of the year.
The "it's all about me" mentality has gained more traction over time, to the point where journalists in the electronic media have started to discuss. My trip last weekend to Virginia was also a brief detox from social media stuff; I left the computer at home, there were no e-mails worth reading on my cell phone. But the missus and the kids had seen an article title, which got us to talking about polite society and the failure of people to behave in such a way. Then, four days after I get home, I get the reminder that etiquette may not necessarily be dead, but appears in need of resuscitation. And quickly.
Here are a couple of helpful reminders for those of you who run in a public place, with other persons, for recreation or fitness reasons...
At The Gym:
Are there specific time limits for the machines, especially when patrons are waiting? Many gyms see treadmill workouts as a prelude to strength training; many runners, for that matter, would rather shove a sharp stick in their eye than stay on a treadmill for any longer than thirty minutes. That appears to make half-an-hour the gold standard when others are waiting.
If you're playing music to help pass the time, keep the headphones turned to a reasonable level. I've heard, in the past, music coming from headphones which were fifteen feet away. On a runner's ears. MiracleEar stock, anyone? Television sets for visual distraction and entertainment are lovely. But I'll admit there are programs and channels I do NOT want to watch. Always ask of your fellow patrons before doing the clicky-thing.
And ALWAYS wipe down the treadmill console. The deck is also important, because you don't want to see the next person on the machine go slipping off the back. At least, not until you have a video camera ready. But wipe down - preferably with mild disinfectant - any surface where a runner is going to place exposed flesh.
At The Track:
If you have an all-weather facility for speed work, thank the school district or municipality which had the foresight to install it. Now it's up to you to take good care of it; schools don't like throwing good money after bad, and will replace a worn-out polyurethane track with (cheaper) asphalt in nothing flat. Most facilities will have signs which tell people to not bring strollers, skateboards, bicycles, roller skates and dogs; both for safety and for damage reasons. A wheeled conveyance places more pressure in a smaller area for a longer period of time than most shod or shoeless runners.
How do you know if you should be in the inside or outside lanes? Persons who are walking should almost always use the outer half of the track lanes. As for runners, if you find that you are passing more people than you are passing you, you probably should use the inside-most lanes, and vice versa. In the case there are very fast persons doing speed work, or organized team workouts, it's best to stay wide.
If you know one or more persons who have time schedules and ability levels which align with your own, you are blessed. There aren't many things you need to do to make life nice for all. When it comes to headphones, I say 'not unless everyone has them.' If everyone has a pair of headphones and a music player, why would you want to be all together for a run? Is it not a social thing?
The second concern has much to do with pace. I would much rather have the overall group pace drop back to keep the slowest runner in the group with the group than faster and have them struggle. The group can always get faster as people improve, right? Dropping a person on a run is an unforgivable sin of the highest order.
"Racing," wrote the running philosopher-king Dr. George Sheehan, "is the love-making of a runner." Everyone fancies themselves a great runner, but when we toe the line with a hundred, thousand, or ten thousand of our closest friends, that's where all the inhibitions (and illusions) go by the wayside.
Jumping onto a race course without registering, or "banditing," is a cardinal sin of the highest order, and if one wishes to place legal terms, it's a form of theft. A person who jumps into an event without paying the requisite entry fee is STEALING, from the race director (in all cases), the organization for which the event benefits (in the case of a non-profit) and the other stakeholders who have helped by their entry fee to pay for the insurance, course protection and whatnot. Simply put, don't do it.
It's okay to wear the race shirt on the day of the event, but the one thing which will draw a runner out as a grade-A "newbie" is placing the run number on the back of the shirt. If your name is recognizable by a single name to thousands of track or running enthusiasts and the race promoter provides a bib with your name to place on your front side, then it's acceptable to place the number on the back. Otherwise, you're just a number like the rest of us. It's okay. You'll get used to it.
Self-seeding is good. Race directors who place pace group signs are very good people. Corrals are also very good. People who think they're faster than they are and stage themselves too far forward, not so good. Why? When I have to place a hand on your shoulder as I'm running by in the first one-hundred yards and you look like I hit you with a cattle prod, it tells me that you placed yourself too far to the front of a race. Moms and dads: Your six-year-old standing at the starting line with the Kenyans might look cute, but you're obstructing the hard work and training of a lot of persons who have trained for longer than your child has been alive. Mary Decker retired long ago. Mary Cain deserves to be there..
While you're at it, think about how you move along the race course. Three-or-four-deep running or walking abreast, playing like "red rover" is not a good thing. Quite simply, you're obstructing other participants, in most cases this injustice is compounded by the sensory loss of headphone use. The RRCA asks member clubs and events to discourage the use, and some have taken steps to ban them. How many of the top-shelf runners have you seen wear headphones at a race? That should tell you something. Don't do it. If you absolutely have to, then TURN THE MUSIC DOWN. Nine times out of ten you've got it on too loud, I guarantee it.
We all love running. It permeates every aspect of our lives, from the sticker on our car to our personal e-mail address. Trouble is that we live in a world with people who still think it's bad for our knees, leads to evil degenerative diseases, and is, in the words of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, a waste of perfectly good heartbeats. We all love to talk about our training, the last killer workout we did and the epic race for which we just registered. To the discomfort of our family, co-workers and non-running acquaintances.
I learned an important lesson during the first season of triathlon refereeing. I knew I was going to see a lot of people I knew while working in the transition area before a race. My mentor, Jay reminded me that it was all right to say hello and exchange pleasantries, but to limit my conversation to a brief thirty-second period of time. That way I could help educate other athletes and remain as fair and impartial as possible.
If you feel the need to talk about running with non-runner companions or family, perhaps you can try to limit it to thirty. Then ask them about their day. At least by that point they'll know the date is half over.