I’m British, so I take great pride in the fine British tradition of turning just about any situation into a potential moment of social awkwardness. Yes, even when I’m out running.
Simply going running involves some socially awkward activities, largely involved in the wearing of tight-fitting or garishly bright running clothes, or the various strange grunts, groans and noises (and, ahem, occasional smell…) I produce while jogging.
But the biggest moment of social awkwardness I encounter when out running? Meeting another runner coming heading in the other direction.
Passing another runner might not sound like the stuff of social anxiety, but when you’re an overthinking socially awkward Brit, it’s a minefield! What to do?!
What do I mean? Well, it feels like you should acknowledge another runner, as if two people taking part in a common fitness activity makes them part of some secret club. But if you make some sort of grand gesture, like saying hello or waving, and they don’t respond, you look weird, or stupid.
But what if you don’t do anything, and just stare stony faced ahead, and then they try to say hello or wave? Then you look rude.
See, it’s a socially awkward nightmare! What to do?
Well, I’ve developed a compromise: a slight nod of the head as they approach, mixed with a small smile. Then, if they respond in kind, make the smile a little broader, and be prepared to offer a quick ‘hello’ or ‘hey’ if they do likewise.
More often than not, this seems to work. Social crisis averted!
Mind you, it’s not quite that simple. Most of my running is done around south-west London, but when I’ve run further afield I’ve discovered runners in different areas tend to respond in different ways. It might not shock you to learn that, in my experience, the further you get from the big city the more likely runners are to smile and say hello.
While out running in various other countries, I’ve realised there are vast national differences too. Generally, for example, runners in America (or at least the few bits I’ve been running in) are far more prone to passing the time of day with their fellow runners than us restrained Brits.
So what does this prove? That national stereotypes are true? Maybe. That I massively overthink every potentially awkward social situation? Almost certainly.
Either way, I reckon all runners could agree to take a moment to at least smile or nod at other runners they meet along the way, in some small shared sense of purpose.
So if you are out running, and pass some bloke heading in the other direction who does some weirdly awkward looking head nod at you with a paint half-smile on their face, that’s probably me. And I’m trying to be nice. Honest.
I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle, which supports young people undergoing heart surgery in the south west of Britain. To sponsor me, and help this great cause, please click the ‘Just Giving’ button below.