Everybody wants to be a runner as long as they don’t have to run.
Well, wannabes, you’re in luck. There’s never been a better time for you. It took them almost 2,800 years, but race organizers finally realized runners don’t actually want to run. Early runners just wanted to show off their assets by doffing their togas. Modern runners just want to show off their medals. To satisfy them, organizers conceived the virtual race.
A virtual race is one you run when you want, where you want and with whomever you want. No need to get up before dawn to huff and puff in a crowd of sweaty strangers. Respectable virtual races hold participants accountable by requiring them to run with a GPS watch then submit their data. These virtual races even award bona fide prizes. You want no part of them. Fortunately, plenty of race organizers take virtual racing as seriously as you take running. Just pay the entry fee and they’ll send you a selfie-worthy medal that’ll floor every Facebook friend who took you for a couch potato. Some race directors go so far as to include a category for non-runners. South Florida’s Margarita Miler calls it the “siesta division.” It “allows you to participate from your couch or lounge chair.”
Of course, there is more to being a runner than amassing medals, but not much.
The biggest challenge is learning the language. That takes some effort. The upside is that running speak is all you’ll need to become best buds with a runner. You can forget extraneous details like your buddy’s career, marital status or name. Running is all you’ll ever talk about. A good place to start is the bible, otherwise known as Runner’s World magazine. Had Rosie Ruiz taken the time to learn the language, she might have gotten away with “winning” the 1980 Boston Marathon after spending most of the race riding the subway. Ruiz aroused suspicions about her surprisingly fast finish when she said during a TV interview, “I’m not sure what intervals are.”
You’ll also need to adopt runners’ habits. You can’t fool a runner into thinking you run if you go to bed after 8. If you happen to be a night owl, be sure to close the blinds and turn off the phone. Set a couple smart lamps near windows to turn on at 4 a.m. to make it look like you’re awake. You can program them to turn off 30 minutes later, when runners who run head out the door.
Once you convince people you are a runner, you might find yourself in the awkward position of being asked to join others for a run. Keep cool. Start by asking where and how far they’re running. If they’re running in the roads, say you’re a trail runner. If they’re running on trails, say you’re a road runner. If they offer to run on your turf, say you have to do a 16-miler on a day they’re running six. Or you’re doing a 5-mile tempo run on a day they’re running long and slow. You’ll be idolized for sticking like Super Glue to your training schedule.
To keep up this ruse, you’ll eventually have to make an appearance in running clothes and shoes. You might suggest meeting running friends for breakfast after finishing your separate runs. Unless it’s below 50, wet then wring out your running clothes so they look sweaty. Better yet, wear your running clothes the day before so they’ll have that run-in funk. If it’s a hot summer day and you claimed to run more than an hour, wet your face, then rub it with salt. We serious runners don’t normally rub salt on our faces; it just looks that way. Salt is in sweat. When the sweat evaporates, it leaves a salty crust. Her smooth, post-race face also gave Ruiz away.
Finally, when you’re not talking about putting one foot in front of the other, talk about the aches and pains you have from doing so. The options are endless. There’s sciatica, pulled hamstring, torn meniscus, shin splints, stress fractures, bone spurs, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis… Runners will urge you to take a break to heal. They’re testing you. Tell them you know you should; you just can’t.
Be forewarned – hobnobbing with runners has its price. One morning you’ll lace up your shoes and go out for a run. A day or two later, you’ll do it again. In no time, you’ll be boring friends with talk about splits and strides, buying a pair of socks for what you used to pay for a 2009 Bordeaux and laughing at anyone who’d jog alone around the block for a race medal. You’ll be a runner who runs.