My favourite thing about being out on a run is the silence. The headspace, the unplugged solitude of outdoor freedom for no other reason than to experience moving through it. Running literally in circles, going out just to come back home again.
Which perhaps makes it odd that my second favourite thing about being out on a run is the people watching. Roaming through my local park, pounding the pavements of the streets near my house, or even better, exploring new environments when I’m away on a trip, I encounter dozens of people outdoors for their own reasons.
Dog-walkers, ramblers, individuals on errands, families enjoying the weather — instinctively I find myself inventing back-stories for everyone I see: man in overcoat is Eastern Bloc spy conducting a dead-drop; fierce looking woman on mobile is Sarah Connor-esque saviour of human race engaged in struggle against our future alien overlords; two old dears on mobile scooters with chihuahuas are actually operating a drug cartel trading blood pressure tablets and vitamin supplements, street value c£30…
On almost every run I will cross paths with, overtake, and be overtaken by other runners — and it still thrills me every time*. My very first run, I received a sweaty-headed acknowledgment from someone going much, much faster than me, and I cannot describe the encouragement and resolve which that grimacing smile dropped into my spirit. Just by virtue of being out in my trainers, doggedly dragging myself up a hill, I belonged to a global community. My effort counted. My determination had been noted.
Although I’m not a brilliant networker by natural inclination, when I’m on a run, I become Mr Motivator. Everyone I come across, I want to high five, wring their hand furiously, march them through the streets proclaiming their achievement… because in a world of ease and passivity – we did it! We got outside, on our own two feet, and got moving. I want to cheer at every person I pass, just as I was cheered back when I first began.
We wave to one another because we want to connect — to be part of each other’s worlds for a brief moment. I wave at my future self, walking the dog or gently strolling with my elderly husband in twenty, thirty years’ time; I wave at my past self, outdoors and taking the first steps towards fitness and strength.
So not every runner waves, and not every dog-walker smiles — Melissa Rudy writes about the heartening effects of another runner’s acknowledgement, and why you may not always receive it — but nevertheless we’re all out there, our worlds bumping alongside one another. Walking. Running. Connecting.
* Honestly. Although admittedly, I’m less thrilled about being overtaken than just, y’know, a friendly nod from someone running in the opposite direction…