"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learn the #$%^& Etiquette!

Last Thursday, when I was running indoors at the Metrodome, there was a guy who crystallized in my mind exactly what's been bothering me for years. He was doing an interval workout, either because his coach told him to or he had a schedule that said that that was what he was supposed to do to get faster. When he finished the fast part of his repetition, he stopped dead and stood in place, causing everyone else to have to run around him; he even managed to lift his arm to read his watch in such a way that people had to swing extra wide to avoid getting clocked. Then he crossed from the faster innner circuit to the slower outer one without looking to see if anyone was coming. He then jogged his slower interval in what is essentially the passing lane, causing everyone who was moving faster than him to have to dart in and out of the crowd. He then joined a group of his friends, who stood in a large pack, many with their backs to the oncoming runners, creating a log jam that no one could maneouver around (they also managed to put all their outdoor clothes two feet further into the running area than everyone else did). Then that group ran together, making it impossible for anyone to get past them and talking to each other, oblivious to everything except themselves.

It happens that these were all triathletes. There were others who behaved the same boorish way, but this has become endemic to triathletes and that is the previously undefinable "something" that has irritated me about triathletes in general (individually, most are quite likeable). It is becoming very common among the general running population as well, as people who train on a treadmill wearing headphones end up doing races where they interfere with everyone else because they've never learned how to behave around other athletes.

Running as a sport has its own culture. This means that it has traditions built upon a shared history and it has its own etiquette. This etiquette is just common-sense courtesy, but becomes second nature, almost instinctual, with time. It is what distinguishes someone as a runner and not just someone who happens to run.

You can either learn the culture, become part of it and add to it - or you're just a #$%^&* tourist. Ours is becoming a tourist society. Life is more than a checklist and itinerary. If you run a marathon to check one more thing off your bucket list, you're a tourist. If you think that just by running the Boston Marathon you become part of that race's tradition, you've missed the point; you should know why the race began in the 1880's, why it goes the route it does, how Heartbreak Hill got its name; you should know that Katherine Switzer was not the first woman to run Boston, nor even the fastest the year she did it; Tarzan Brown, Clarence DeMar and Amby Burfoot should be names you know. You have to know the culture before you can claim to be part of it.

People keep coming to this blog looking for information, but they want to be told what to do. They want schedules. They don't care about who invented interval training or why; they don't care what the targeted physiological adaptations are supposed to be; they want to be told "run x meters in y minutes z times and you can finish your race in so many minutes." Context means nothing to them; performance is all.

The history is important. One of the people on my blogroll irritated me by stating that my personal bests (listed way down at the bottom of this blog) are immaterial; "What have you done lately? You're only as good as your last race." You can be very fast, you can even win a lot of races, and not be part of the sport. There is more to running as a sport than getting from the starting line to the finish as fast as possible.

You don't have to become a runner to run. Occasional tourists to our world are welcome; just recognize that our world doesn't revolve around you. If you aren't going to learn the culture, at least learn the etiquette.


Keith said...

It has been very interesting joining (this term used loosely) the athletic community after decades of inactivity. Then I found out runners and cyclists hate triathletes. I haven't been around enough real swimmers to know what they think.

And you know what? To some extent you are right. Us tri people have somewhat different concerns than those involved in just one sport. And they're an easy target.

But still, there is no excuse for the ignorance of track etiquette displayed, and it doesn't matter if you're just a new runner, or a triathlete, or a runner with memory problems. These people should be asking. And the response should be polite. I shudder to think of suggesting that someone should have talked to this group, pointing out that AT THIS TRACK the culture for doing intervals is x. And that stuff is stored there, not here. If necessary talk to the staff, and get them on it.

The other solution, the one proposed by my inner shark, is that if they're standing around chatting with their backs to oncoming runners, the runners ought to be trying to remove the standers kidney's by using their elbows. I hope that's clear about who's doing what to whom, and I realize that's a bit anti-social.

From a personal point of view, if my coach gives me intervals to run, and I've checked with other people so that I'm not getting in the way on the track as I'm doing them, (because it's likely to be slow) I don't need to know the theory behind them. I don't need to know who invented them. It's nice, but I don't really need to know what's happening as my body adapts to the load. Nor do I need to know how to figure out what the intervals should be for myself.

Myself, PB's are overdone in importance. A PB is implying that you can compare one race to the next. In some cases, indoors on a track, that might be true, where conditions and distances are consistent. Even on a road race where the actual course is the same, your particular course might not be consistent because of how groups of people take up space. (Don't get me started!) Or the weather is different. I've seen people despondent that this year was slower than last year, but they don't take into account that it was much windier, or warmer or colder, or whatever.

SteveQ said...

Keith, it isn't that runners (and cyclists) hate triathletes (some quizzical bemusement, perhaps); it's more a matter of some traithletes ignoring the fact that all of the facilities they share were originally purposed for something else. History does not begin with the day they personally started training.

Part of the etiquette problem does come from "Minnesota Nice." It is traditional here to ignore the boors and get on with what you're doing - then bash them later. It's a character flaw we've adopted as an identity here.

You don't need to know why you do a workout to do it - that's why you have a coach - and that's part of my point. I think there's a much greater joy in being an athlete, completely, than just going through the motions.

sea legs girl said...

Hahaha. Oh, shit. I'm not only a triathlete, but my husband has just pointed out on his blog that I hog the passing lane. I'd never make it at the Metrodome. At least not with you around.

But I do care about who invented intervals, much more than I care about x pace for x miles. But did someone invent intervals???

Matt said...

I agree with you 100%, but I think your comment about "Minnesota Nice" has even more truth to it. Yes, the "tourists" are frustrating, and it is the responsibility of someone running at the Dome (or on a track, or in a race) to learn the rules and etiquette, but as people "in the know", we have some responsibility to share the culture with them. Sure, common sense should tell the guy not to stop while he's in the way, but he happens to lack it. The question should then be how do we, as people with a deep respect for the sport, share the history, traditions, and knowledge in a friendly and tactful way? I don't have the answer, but seeking that answer can bring great things for runners and tourists alike.

Xenia said...

Personally, I'm noticing this trend in every day life--on the streets, in shops, etc. It seems like people have become more self absorbed and less cognizant of how their actions affect others. Common courtesy and common sense are becoming things of the past. This saddens me.

Matt said...

Of course, I could say something about how the tourists are so trapped in their own ipod-colored world that etiquette means nothing to them, but I wont.

Colin said...

I don't see any reason to create a litmus test as to what constitutes a runner. If somebody sees themselves as a runner, that's good enough for me. No matter if they take twice as long as me to complete a marathon, or they also compete in triathlons, or whatever. Likewise I consider myself to be a runner even though I don't know all your running trivia and run quite slowly compared to some.

That said, the world contains a number of rude people, and some of these people are certainly runners. It's quite possible that this person (and his friends) didn't know better, in which case it may have made sense to politely point out what he should have done differently afterwards. Or he may just been focused on his workout and didn't care about others around him ... in which case "Oh well". Either way, though, I see no reason to create an artificial distinction between "runners" and "tourists".

mike_hinterberg said...

"Tourists" -- fantastic! What a great, unfortunate observation about modern life in general. And triathletes specifically (kidding, partly).

And Minnesota Nice: "It's a character flaw we've adopted as an identity here" -- classic!

The hope is that being a tourist isn't a final state, but a temporary step on the way to enlightenment. If it's a newbie, they can be forgiven for ignorance...but no excuses for a gaggle of gapers blocking the way when many of them should know better.

The sad part is, all of the etiquette examples you described are not breaking mysterious and arbitrary rules: lane usage rules are about *complete common sense* that shouldn't have to be "learned" (by adults): everyone of all ages and ability enters/exits from the same lane, therefore it would naturally be the slowest lane; and be aware of what's around you. Nothing too difficult.

The Merry said...

I always feel like I'm missing some of the finer points of etiquette, running or otherwise. But it seems simple enough to watch what the natives are doing and try doing things the same way.
What bothers me is people who cannot grasp the concept of sharing the sidewalk. If I'm walking one way, and two of them are walking the other, they'll barge right into me rather than share the sidewalk. (Is it really that hard to share?)

SteveQ said...

No one reads this blog on Wednesdays, but this got 58 hits so far. Provocative titles work.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Brother!

Ross said...

Nobody likes a tourist. Except, of course, those who have figured out how to make a buck off of them. Maybe you should publish a book of running etiquette. In iambic pentameter, of course.

Joe from the Incivilian said...

"Ours is becoming a tourist society." A fantastic quote with far wider applicability than a given athletic community. Walking around with our mouths hanging open, staring at buildings, oblivious to how our actions impact those around us--or that there are others around us in the first place. The apathy of living life as a permanent vacation.

Joe from the Incivilian said...

P.S. Looks like triathletes lack manners in the pool as well, according to this article. My favorite bit: "Don’t touch the feet of swimmers in front of you."