From the February 2010 issue of Runner’s World
Do you or don't you? What's wrong with a G’day for a fellow runner? And what's the significance of an unrequited wave? Our relentlessly friendly reporter investigates
By Robert Sullivan
Let me give you a scenario that involves a delicate running-related question: It's afternoon, say 2:30, I’m in the park, running, no one else is around. Then, on a wide-open stretch, I see the oncoming runner. He is running hard. Me, too, or as hard as I can. Presumably, he sees me. In a minute, we pass, within centimetres, the only two humans around, like the crisscrossing of two jets in a blue sky. In that moment of intersection, I nod, say, “Hey,” and raise the palm of my hand ever so slightly, as in a modest wave. The runner is quiet, passes, no recognition, eyes straight ahead.
What happened there? Why did I say anything? Why didn't he? The dictionary describes waving as the movement of the hand “to and fro in greeting or as a signal.” Which is what I did. Did he not notice?
Sure, it's not a contentious, constantly news-cycled issue, like, say, the economy or Australian Idol contestants – but believe me, it's a big one. How do I know? When I mention the issue to runners, friends and strangers alike, I get a response – or more like a reaction, especially from non-wavers who wonder what the hell wavers are waving about. And after almost a year of fieldwork regarding waving as it pertains to runners, I can report that, while people tend not to openly discuss it, and while a whole lot of people don't even do it, waving is a binary issue: you are either for waving or against it, like you're either for tucking your running shirt into your running shorts or not tucking it in, another hot topic, I hear. As such, waving should be discussed – must be discussed, at least as far as I’m concerned.
For the purposes of this report, waving includes nodding, smiling, grinning, shrugging, or the utterance or near utterance of many other words or word-like words, including all variations on hello, such as hi, hiya, uh, huh and mhm. Hence a wave is any and all acknowledgments of the presence of the other runner.
I speak, as you may have surmised, as a waver. Some of my best friends are non-wavers, though not that many. Non-wavers are good solid citizens who just choose not to wave when they run. My friend Andy is a non-waver, and yet he is one of the nicest guys I know. There was a time he let me stay at his place and I lost his keys and had to break his windows, and he apologised to me for having such a hard-to-break window. Still, for Andy, running is a kind of meditation, so he is not out looking for runners, or for runners who wave. And I can respect that.
But as a waver, I admit I can feel kind of, well, dissed if a wave is unreturned. I take the non-wave from the non-waver to mean that he does not perceive me, or does not want to perceive me. Which is not a big problem, though I fear the day could be near when non-wavers dismiss wavers as crazy and wavers think non-wavers don't give a damn about anybody but their non-waving selves. Why? Because I'm already sensing an anti-wave bias. And people aren't discussing it, except for me.
GIVE ME A SIGN
We wavers can easily study when people are more and less likely to wave – specifically, by waving at them. Thus, my roughly yearlong investigation, which I like to refer to by an expert-sounding phrase that I made up: exercise gesture awareness research. Here is a sketch of what I have learned while observing not only runners waving, but also the reactions of runners being waved at.
It's all about timing.
The earlier in the running day, the more likely people will return waves. Waving likeliness declines through lunch and seems to increase again before dark but never reaches its early morning highs. When I count the percentage of waves on a morning run, I can get well into the 90th percentile, as opposed to the afternoon, when I might not get any waves – or, if I do, they're not what you might call positive.
That is, if they see you, which is not entirely likely if a group is talking. I see considerable group-waving on weekend mornings, and I believe it has to do with the good vibe that people feel early on a weekend, when their wave says "G’day" but also says, "Isn't this great that we are up early while the rest of the snoozers are sleeping their lives away?"
Personal electronics are personal.
Wave value, which can be defined as the enthusiasm with which a runner waves, increases when a runner with headphones waves – often a semi-startled wave, accompanied by a kind of raucous smile, and a too loudly shouted g'day (presumably on account of headphone volume).
Older runners are more likely to wave than younger ones. Which ought to say something to younger runners about how priorities change as our running lives go on.
To summarise my findings. My data is fresh and thus it can be seen as offering lots of insights. However, in the end, I know that any serious exercise gesture awareness analyst must face scrutiny. That's why we need to investigate further. We need to try things out. Wave a little more, and don't wave a little more, depending. We need wave change. I am convinced that, through more fieldwork, and with more waving awareness as well as waving understanding on the part of wavers and non-wavers alike, we as runners and as Aussies and Kiwis can strike the perfect balance, or at least create a situation where no one gets hit. We must support both sides, the wavers and the non-wavers alike. But if you are a non-waver, could you help me out a little? Could you just give me some kind of sign?
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