Why don’t more runners say hello as they pass by?

Next time you pass a fellow runner, try a smile or a word of encouragement

I've just spent the last four days on the tip of the Beara Peninsula hosting a getaway retreat for runners. Blessed with glorious sunshine, a stunning coastline, a top venue, gourmet food and the company of 16 like-minded runners, I could have stayed forever.

How lucky I am to be able to call this my “work”.

I don’t tell you all about this retreat to make you jealous of our escape, nor indeed to tempt you on my next one. I don’t even have another planned. What I do want to do is to remind you that without taking a moment on the sidelines, it is very hard to see the full picture of how our busy lives are shaping our future and indeed how our running is being influenced by all around us.

Sometimes, you need to step away from your everyday to see what might be holding you back or indeed to gain a new perspective. The limited Wi-Fi during our trip and the lack of our regular responsibilities and busyness gave rise to more free time than most of the runners had in a very long time. This bonus time was filled with fresh air, cups of tea, leisurely chats and, most importantly, not all running-related banter. Meeting other people with a shared love of running but different mindsets and life experiences opened us all up to more conversations, perspectives and opportunities than we would have come across in an average weekend.


Our trip to West Cork has reminded me that we can all learn from each other. It’s not about how fast you run, how many miles you have in your legs or what event you are training for. That changes for us all throughout life. The constant is that we are all runners and there is world of others out there who are in the same boat. Having a few of them on our side can only help us going forward.

Camaraderie can do a lot for any runner. Even as a solo runner, you cannot deny that a cheer from a passer-by can lift you. Running can be a lonely sport, but we should at least recognise that others are sharing our same paths. The solo runner we passed on the colourful sleepy main street of Eyeries was surely surprised with 16 hellos as we ran his regular route last Friday morning. It can't be often he meets such a cheery bunch of runners in such a remote location.

I have been trying to encourage my runners to always be a supporter as well as a runner when on the run. Maybe it’s just a city thing, but I’m constantly amazed at how many runners seem to run past each other like they are invisible in parks and pathways. Many runners decide to run quicker when they pass another runner (you know who you are), but how about instead of it being all about you, why not put on a smile or give a nod of encouragement. Long-distance runners in training can pass each other multiple times on the same morning. Why not share a look of ‘I know how you are feeling’, if a hello or smile seems a little too familiar. You will be seeing them every week for the next few months anyhow.

Do it before it becomes too awkward.

Bere Island parkrun

If you want to get lessons in running camaraderie, take the ferry to Bere Island parkrun. If only I could promise you the weather we had for our parkrun there on Saturday, you would choose to run nowhere else from now on. From the moment we stepped off the ferry, all the way around the course and into the local cafe for post-run refreshments, we were welcomed, encouraged and supported. We ‘almost’ forgot the hills with the stunning backdrop and runners and walkers of all levels snaking along the scenic boreens. I have a feeling that Saturday mornings are special on the island, spurred on by the parkrun. I also imagine the post-run banter may take longer than the 5k each week. Sure isn’t that where all the great motivational conversations happen?

Whether your running community is a just one running buddy, a group of strangers you see every Saturday at parkrun, a tightknit club who meets a few times a week or indeed just the same few faces you pass regularly in the park, we have to remember we are all in this together. You don’t need to run miles with people to carry them along. Even the runners we cross paths with can be influenced by our demeanour and our few words. A friendly face can lift many a runner from their negative thoughts.

Runners often get bad press sometimes for being tense, tight, uncomfortable looking creatures with one eye on the clock and the other on the road. Maybe it’s time to put a smile on our face, accept the community of runners that are out there, notice the number of runners you do pass and treat each one as a cheerleader for yourself and be a supporter to them all. You might just enjoy your run all the more.

The only debate in my mind is the race day conundrum. I’m still in two minds as what to say to a runner you overtake. Is it patronising to say “well done” or is it worse to say nothing at all?

That one I’ll leave to you to decide how to handle. But for a runner you cross paths with on a regular basis, there is no benefit to ignoring them.

Go on, give them a nod.

What’s the worst that could happen.

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary's new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now