What do runners look like when they aren’t running? (don’t ask me…)

Many people say they have trouble remembering peoples’ names after they’ve been introduced. That’s a common problem but once you’re aware of it there are tricks you can use to compensate (for example, make a mental image of something which you associate with their name – such as a banana for someone named Hannah, or use their name a few times within your first conversation). But what if you have a hard time recognizing faces? This is an affliction which affects me, and it become even more pronounced when I see people out of context. More specifically, when I see them in any context other than running.

I have some good friends who I still struggle to identify if I see them in casual clothes or even worse – business clothes! It’s not uncommon for me to be walking down the street and hear “Hi Seanna!” If the speaker is in running clothes I identify them immediately. If not, I start to panic. I usually smile and wave, but depending on who it is (it could be someone I run with at least twice a week) that could be perceived as a somewhat cool response. Who is it, who is it? I try to take in height and facial features. But they just look SO different when they’re not in running tights and their hair in a ponytail! I now have some friends who very kindly accommodate my disability. My friend Meagan for instance whenever she sees me while she is not in running clothes says “Hi Seanna! It’s Meagan.” As if we were on the phone, not standing face to face, having just run together that morning.

All of this is compounded in the winter. My running group meets once a week at 5:30 a.m. in every type of weather. A few winters ago it was quite a brutal one, and you had to bundle up immensely in order to brave the cold. We had some new members join our crew for those 5:30 a.m. pitch dark, bundled up workouts. These workouts are quite a bonding experience, so you become close with your fellow crew members. We  encourage each other running up and down icy hills, or along windy stretches of path. We high-five and congratulate each other for completing tough workouts together. We even chat about non-running related things and know about each others’ families and work lives. But god help me if I had to recognize anyone who joined that winter without their signature blue jacket or red toque and face mask! Put us in business suits in an elevator together downtown and there would be absolutely no hope of any hint of recognition from me. And these are people I’d consider my good buddies!

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I have no problem recognizing any of these people in this format.

I get the humour in my predicament, I really do. I just hope that no one takes it personally. I know there are many more awkward moments in my future, but I’m learning to roll with them. And my good friends are learning to understand that streetwear is a mystifying disguise for me – if they want to reveal their true identities they need to either spell it out, or wear their running jackets at all times.

Celebrating runners in all our differences

I’ve always said that I like and understand other runners because they tend to be “quirky” in ways that I am too. It’s hard to explain to a non-runner why you run almost every day. Waking up before dawn or heading out in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. Never missing a run due to cold, heat, rain, ice. And that’s because it really does defy reason. We do it because we love … something about it (not necessarily every minute of it). There is no purpose to it. It truly is a selfish pursuit. No one really cares how fast you run and no one really benefits from your running but you.

That’s why I think it’s so strange when runners react negatively to other runners who add an even quirkier element to what they do. For example, people who run races with a stroller, people who joggle (running while juggling), or even people who run Beer Miles. I have heard and read many negative reactions from “pure” runners towards all of these fringe events and their participants. Here is a link to Michal Kapral (the world record holder for running a marathon while juggling) reading the “mean tweets” from runners about his feat: Michal “The Joggler” Kapral Reads Internet Trolling.

It’s a pretty funny video because he obviously doesn’t care what they’re saying. I’m sure his skin has been thickened by years of running past people yelling “Run Forrest – Run!” Yes, we runners are on the receiving end of a lot of jokes and teasing. So why turn on each other? Why not celebrate our differences? If this pursuit really doesn’t matter to anyone but ourselves, then who cares how or with what flair someone decides to put their mark on it? I’m not sure where the negativity stems from – I’m assuming insecurity. Having dedicated so much time and effort to their sport, these people want to believe that running is meaningful and purposeful and pure in and of itself. Guess what: it isn’t. It only matters to you, the runner.

A few weeks ago my kids were running in the x-country city semi-finals. Halfway through the event there was a pause in the schedule of regular grade school races for a race of kids with various different physical disabilities. Some were completing the distance with the help of walkers, some with a guide and others in wheelchairs. All of the able-bodied kids surrounded the course and cheered just as loudly, if not louder for the athletes. It was completely normal that everyone should participate in the way that worked for them. It didn’t occur to the cheerers that anyone couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to participate because they were doing it differently. It also didn’t threaten or take one thing away from how any of the kids saw themselves as runners. They all understood that we’re all doing our own thing out there.

This is one of the things I love about running. It truly is a celebration if individuality and diversity. So whether you’re running in a batman costume or in your underwear or stopping to chug beer every lap or pushing a stroller or juggling balls, or using a walker or wheelchair, I will cheer you on just as loudly if not louder than for the winners of the race.


Having some fun, doin' what we do.

Having some fun, doin’ what we do.