10 Weird Things Walkers Need to Know About Runners

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10 Weird Things Walkers Need to Know About Runners

Runners Legs and Feet
gradyreese/E+/Getty Images

Look around you at a charity run/walk or a walker-friendly half marathon/marathon, and you will see flocks of a strange breed of human -- the Runner.

You may know them best in their Jogger variation, seen when you are out on your walking workout routes. You can see them coming, or watch them fade into the distance as they breeze past you in bright spandex, leaving a gobbet of spit on the asphalt.

Runners look different and act different from walkers. They have different underlying motivations. Both runners and walkers are engaging in aerobic cardio exercise, but the differences are in more than speed and heart rate.

Here are the things you need to know about them so you may co-exist easier on race day as well as on workout days.

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1. Runners Are Nearly Naked

Runners at Alyeska Mountain Run 182292758.jpg
Runners at Alyeska Mountain Run. Brent Winebrenner/Lonely Planet Images/Getty

 Walkers can spot our own breed at the starting line. We are dressed in layers of clothing to take off as we warm up and the weather changes through the hours we will be walking.

Runners are wearing only a tank top, shorts and shoes - in winter. The rest of the year, the female runner may only be wearing a sports bra on top while the male runner is completely topless. They have to pin their race number onto what little fabric they have on their shorts. If they are cold at the starting line, they wear a trash bag to toss once the starting gun is fired.
More: What Runners Wear

Despite being nearly naked, what they are wearing on race day probably set them back over $500. Those shoes cost $100-$200. Those tiny little shorts $50-$75. Socks $15. Hat $35. Sunglasses $75-$250. Shirt and/or sports bra $50-$100. The Garmin they can't take a step without $150-$400. And even a bit more if you add in race day sparkly costumes.

Walkers are wearing a hydration pack or backpack to ensure they have everything they will need for the long journey ahead.

Runners don't even have pockets in their spandex shorts.

At least during a race. runners have a reasonable expectation the water stops and medical aid stations will still be open when they run through, unlike us at the back of the pack. They can head out with no essentials other than their spendy race gear. They have to rely on the the kindness of strangers.

If you see one in need, stop to offer a band-aid, tissue, anti-blister lubricant, or gummy bears from your pack. Or lend them your spare jacket if they are shivering from cold.

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2. Runners Do Gross Things

Cups on Ground at Water Stop at New York Marathon
Cups on Ground at Water Stop at New York Marathon. Spencer Platt/Getty Images News

Runners have no desire to carry a handkerchief or tissues. If their nose plugs up, they put a finger over one nostril and shoot a snot rocket out of the open one. Repeat on the other side till all sinuses and nasal cavities are clear.

Besides the booger missiles, you have to dodge their spit gobbets, too. Runners spit so much that they have t-shirts that say "Spit Happens." You'll see their spoor of mucus along any running path.

Just hope that none hits you in flight as they pass by. They don't really mean to spit on you, they are just in their own zone of running bliss/pain and think you're just another almost-stationary object along their path.

No porta-johns? No problem. As a male runner told me, "I'm a guy, the world is my toilet." Runners have no need for privacy while peeing before or during a race. If nature calls and the starting gun is about to sound or there is a long line at the portable toilet at the water stop, no problem, any wall or grassy spot will do.

Runners are litterbugs. At home, they always recycle and they leave only spit on the ground on a training run. But they become complete pigs during a race. They wear old shirts or trash bags as warm-ups and just toss them at the starting line.

Water stops are litter zones as runners toss their cups and energy gel packs on the ground for volunteers to rake up. It's a slipping hazard for everyone. I often see actual banana peels tossed on the ground.

There are waste barrels to use, but only walkers take the time for an accurate toss.

Along the route, the minimally-courteous runners use the mile markers as a place to toss trash, believing the race volunteers will pick up after them.

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3. Runners Want to Win - Even the Slow Ones

Portland Marathon Finish Line
Portland Marathon Finish Line. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Runners want to win. Runners want to beat somebody. Runners won't let their best friend cross the finish line ahead of them. Especially not their best friend.

That little old lady whose feet are barely shuffling at a slow trot? She will elbow you in the ribs to dart past you at the finish line.

Walkers are proud to get the finisher medal for a race that everybody gets at the finish line. We wear them. We frame them. We feel we are winners just for going the distance.

Runners want more, they want an individual win. They want proof that they beat everybody else, or at least somebody else. They design races with awards for age groups, gender, and even weight class - Clydesdales and Fillies/Athenas. As they get older and slower, they actually have a better chance of winning a place medal at a race in the Masters categories. Their trophy may come at age 70.

Before the race, runners check to see when the awards ceremony will begin so they can be ready to receive their trophy. Walkers know the ceremony will be over by the time they finish. Runners race from the finish line to the stats table to check their official finish time and to see if they won a prize so they can be ready for their moment of glory.

Runners also race against themselves. They track their stats religiously. They know their personal best time for every distance and every course. You can blow their minds by wearing your medal after the race and saying that you didn't even check your finish time.

But you really should check your finish time, you may have won your age division at a walking pace.

Walkers can also be competitive. Just take a gander at racewalking, with its form and rules.

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4. Runners Wear Weird Gadgets

Runner Checking Heart Rate Monitor 490637325.jpg
Runner Checking Heart Rate Monitor. Johner Images/Getty

You'll see runners' heads bowed at the starting line. They aren't praying. They are getting ready to start their Garmin GPS watches.

You'll hear a beep behind you. It's the interval timer carried by the run/walkers to tell them it's time to speed up or slow down.

While walkers often wear a pedometer or activity band all day, every day, runners only don their gadgets when they are going for a run. Running time and distance is the only thing that matters to them, not those other 10,000 steps they might have taken throughout the day.

Running gadgets may look similar to walking gadgets, but they are focused on measuring speed and heart rate. Runners like to go faster and faster and get their heart rate higher and higher. They aren't happy until they are right at the red line zone.

The most common running gadgets are:

  • GPS Watches: A popular t-shirt says, "If you see me collapse, pause my Garmin." These use satellite data to track both speed and distance. You will see every runner at the starting line poised to start their GPS as soon as they cross the line. You probably won't see any by the time you cross the finish line at a walk, but if you did you'd see them stopping it there, or cursing violently because they forgot to stop it.
  • Heart rate monitors with a chest strap for ECG accuracy. Even though they can chafe, runners won't settle for an on-demand pulse.
  • Running watches: These have stopwatches and timers built in for timing splits, intervals, pacing, and more. All the better to keep even more stats on themselves.
  • Running Apps: You'll see runners wearing their giant smartphones in uncomfortable-looking armbands. They aren't doing that just to listen to tunes. They are probably using running apps to track every mile. Their heart monitor strap probably syncs with it, and they are using the phone's GPS to back up their Garmin.

You may see a runner's head spinning when their Garmin data doesn't match up with their Polar heart monitor or their phone app.

It is very nice that runners spur the development of this cool gear that walkers can use, too.

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5. Runners Eat Odd Things When Running

Boston Marathon Runner Carries Energy Gel in his Support Socks
Boston Marathon Runner Carries Energy Gel in his Support Socks. Andrew Burton/Getty Images Sport

It's hard to chew when you're gasping for breath, so runners have to refuel with (basically) baby food. They risk choking on any solid food, so trail mix is ill-advised. They could get a peanut lodged in the lungs or just be annoyed picking raisins out of their teeth for the next mile. You will see the race course littered with packaging for energy gels and energy chews.

Energy gels are sticky sweet and have to be washed down with lots of water, or your teeth will start aching. They come in a lot of flavors, but you never see anybody snacking on them for taste when they aren't running or cycling.

Race shorts are designed with loops and pockets for energy gels, so they can have them handy to refuel out on the course. Walkers have to carry our own energy snacks because the race usually runs out at designated refueling stops before we get there. But runners may carry their own because they want to only use a trusted brand. Otherwise, they risk runners' trots from the ingredients in other brands.

Refueling stations for runners may also have bananas and orange slices. Sometimes there is actual solid food like pretzels. But mostly it will be the energy gel, sports drink and gummy bears.

After the race, anything goes. The finish line food and alcohol-fest can have everything from chips (to replenish salt) to beer (to rehydrate). Runners will easily pack in all of the calories they burned off during the run.

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6. Runners Have Their Own Language

DLF-DNF-DNS 700
DLF-DNF-DNS. Wendy Bumgardner ©

If you are able to infiltrate a gaggle of runners (just strip down to your base layer of clothes and wear a Garmin), you will hear their strange lingo. You may have to carry a translation app on your mobile phone to decode what they are talking about.

PR and PB: Personal Record and Personal Best. Runners want to beat their finish time over the same distance or course. You'll hear this often at the starting line for a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon. They aren't talking about public relations or peanut butter.

DNS: Did not start. They just weren't feeling it that day and dropped out of race they had registered for.

DLF: Dead last finish. As a walker, there is no shame for you to be at the back of the pack, so long as you finish inside the time cut-off. But a runner has to at least fake an injury to explain why they came in dead last.

DNF: Did not finish. They had to drop out in the middle of the race and take the sag wagon.

BQ: Boston Qualify. This is the reason runners are swideswiping you and complaining if there is any course problem that causes them a delay. They are trying to set a fast time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Stay out of their way!
More Running Acronyms

Sag Wagon: a bus that picks up people who are going too slow or have a minor injury. As a walker, you may get forced onto the sag wagon if you aren't fast enough for the time cut-off.

Galloway Run/Walk: You'll hear a lot of talk about run/walk intervals from others at the back of the pack. Jeff Galloway popularized this as a way to "run" a half marathon or marathon. You will soon discover that the walking speed of these folks is far slower than your brisk walking pace. They will run right up in front of you, then slow to a dead crawl.

Fartlek: "Did you just fartlek?" It means "speed play" and is a way to vary your speed through a running workout. More: How to Fartlek

You will find even more strange terms bandied about that refer to features of the starting line and finishing line of races. Study up if you're joining the pack. You don't want to end up in the wrong corral, pardner!

Race Day Guide to the Starting Line
Race Day Guide to the Finish Line

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7. Runners Will Sideswipe You

Walkers Right - Runners Left on Half Marathon
Walkers Right - Runners Left at Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Runners are trying to win. Runners are trying to beat the clock and every nanosecond counts. Runners are in the zone and anybody slower than themselves is just an obstacle that shouldn't be there.

They will pass you on the left.
They will pass you on the right.
They will cut you off.
They will run into you if you make any move off of a straight line.
They will run into you if you make any arm motions in conversation with your walking buddy.

This is less of a hazard with joggers who are out for a workout. But at a race, running becomes a contact sport.

At the start of a race, you often have late-arriving runners who need to pass through the slower pack. Even if you started in the last corral, you have to expect runners overtaking you.

Don't be an ugly walker and create a road hazard. If you are walking with a friend or group, do not walk more than two abreast. Never, ever, ever link arms with a whole gang to block everyone behind you. Even faster walkers will hate you for that. If you want to stop to snap a selfie, step to the side of the path and be aware of the racers overtaking you.
More: Race Manners - 10 Rules for Walkers

The special breed of runners doing a run/walk will use you as a target. They will run up to you, pass you, get right in front of you, and slow to a walk that is half your walking pace. When you grunt and go around them, they will startle. This may cause them to start running again. But mostly it will put them into distress as they have to wait through their set walking interval until they can pass you again. This will repeat many times.

Other times you will be sideswiped by a runner trying to set a Boston Marathon qualifying time. Seconds count for these folks. It's best to try to stay out of their way if you are on a course where runners will be overtaking you from behind. But it's impossible to predict which side they will want to pass you on. The safest bet is that runners are trying to run the inside of curves, which is the shortest distance to the finish line.

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8. Runners will Cheer You On

Cheer Group at the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon
Cheer Group at the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner © 2009

Walkers might feel intimidated by whippet-thin, mostly-naked runners. But for every runner who sideswiped you on the course, there are two who pass you and call out, "You go, girl!" and "Good job, keep it up!"

When you are still a mile or more from the finish line, they will be coming back along the course, wearing their medals and heat sheets and clapping and cheering for each person they encounter.

"You can make it!" "You're almost there!" "Looking good!"

They are still in throes of the runner's high, but it is a consistent habit that you should appreciate.

Yes, some of the things they call out are vaguely insulting and are some of my 10 things not to say to a walker. Of course I'll make it, it's my 100th half marathon and my gazillionth 5K. But maybe it was their first and they want to share the joy. Smile and make their day extra special.

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9. Runners Will Try to Convert You

Church Cheers Racers
Church Cheers Racers at Portland Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Runners are true believers. Brothers and sisters, they have found the way and they want to share it with you.

They see you walking along, when you could be running instead. They look into your soul and know that you would be so much better off gasping and sweating and pounding your feet into pulp.

They see you actually stopping during your walks to enjoy a view, chat with a neighbor or stroll through a garden. They know you would be so much happier jogging in place at street crossings, never letting your heart rate drop out of the aerobic zone.

The hellfire-and-brimstone running evangelist just tries to shame you into running. You are lost, my friend, and you need their ticket to salvation. "Walking isn't exercise." "You have to run to lose weight." "Don't you want to win?" If you don't start running, they will shun you so as not to be tainted by your sin of slowness.

The friendly running evangelist will come along with you on a walk. "Let's just try jogging for a couple of minutes," she will say. She will try to lure you into adding jogging intervals throughout your walk. You're only walking because you don't know you can run, right? They may offer you a book of the word, such as the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Running. Once you know you can run, it's only a matter of time until you are one of their cult.

If you surrender your soul to the running religion, know that the walking kingdom will always welcome you back.

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10. Runners Wear Out - Welcome Them to Walking

Senior couple powerwalking
BreBa / Getty Images

Runners who dissed walking have to turn to it as they age and their bodies break down.

Running injuries start adding up. Feet and knees take a lot of pounding from running, with impact that is far greater than walkers experience. After a few knee surgeries, runners begin to cut back on their miles, then realize they need to find a way to keep moving.

Now is your chance to become a walking evangelist and welcome them to the joys of walking. Begin with 10 reasons to start walking. Runners may have many erroneous beliefs about walking and not realize how healthful it is. You need to ease them into feeling good about going slower.

It may be too much of a shock for a former runner to enter a race as a walker and finish at the back of the pack. They will feel like lost souls and keep staring wistfully at the runners who finished ahead of them.

Take them on walks instead, use our walk finder to find routes or walking events in your area. They may try to jog a bit at first. Let them go on ahead or try to keep up with them. They may need a little time to ease into the pleasures of pure walking.

You may need to take the former runner hiking, or walking in a park on a nature trail. They can go slower yet still think they are getting a better workout than they do from walking.

The walking convert will probably think they know everything they need to know already. It's just slow running, right? No, they usually have poor walking form and don't know how to use their arms and feet correctly to get the most out of walking. Send them to our lessons on walking technique and form.

Once they have that down, the former runner will want to build up speed. Point them to how to walk faster. If they really want to get back into competition, they could go on to racewalking.

If their running injuries keep them slow, they may want to try nordic walking with walking poles, which will improve their workout at a slower pace.

Once they give walking a try, it's likely they will discover that the world looks great at a slower pace.
More: 10 Things I Love About Walking

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