Advice to Runners: Stop Being Terrible

What would you do if a man tripped and fell directly in your path during a race? Would you stop and help him up?

I wouldn’t. I would jump over him like an agitated gazelle and continue on my way.

And I know that for a fact. Because it happened.

I remember it well. It was April 2007 and I was just running along, minding my own business, at a four-mile race in Philadelphia, when a guy tried to pass me by stepping onto the curb alongside the course. On his way back down, he lost his footing and landed in sorry little heap right at my feet.

When I reenacted the episode for my brother 30 minutes later at the finish line, I admitted to jumping over the man. But I also claimed to pause and offer to help him up – a gesture that The Fallen vainly waved away as he struggled to his feet.

And there the story would have ended except for one thing: a local television station caught the whole thing on tape and aired it on the evening news. (I’d post it if I had it, but I don’t.)

“You were on TV,” my brother emailed me the next day after a friend saw me in the segment. “They got you jumping over the guy who fell.”

If you think that sounds bad, you should have seen how it looked.

Things started off just as I described: A man steps onto the curb and runs a few paces in the grass. Then, just as suddenly, he drops out of the frame, as if he had slipped on a wet floor or a carelessly-placed banana peel.

But the next several seconds do not reveal an anonymous Good Samaritan offering to help him to his feet. Instead, the angry gazelle appears – plowing ahead and performing a stag leap with such grace and ease that, dare I say, could only have been achieved with decades of formal dance education.

It was a clip that my co-workers and I watched on loop some 200 times the following Monday morning (which coincidently is how many times we could view it for free before being prompted to purchase the segment through our company’s media monitoring service).

“Blame the adrenaline,” one friend said. “We all act like jerks when we’re working out.”

And that’s what I’m telling myself after running a half marathon this past weekend in Brooklyn. Nearly 17,500 people showed up – and almost all of them seemed to channel their inner gazelle just as soon as their little compression socks crossed the starting line.

Responsible selfie. @Philadelphia 10K

For a sport that’s always been crowded by the self-absorbed, this event had some real standouts.

There was the man who took to running with a fully-extended selfie stick. To me, it looked like a total safety hazard, though many of my fellow runners responded with absolute glee, throwing their arms into the air as he passed. Many of them paused for pictures, despite that fact that doing so was akin to slamming on the brakes in the middle of a free-flowing expressway.

Then there was the woman who ran directly into my back mere yards from the finish line because, as she so aptly put it to her friend, “WE SHOULD PASS ALL THESE OTHER PEOPLE!” I imagine she was pleased to beat my time by a solid ten seconds – though I would have loved to have been able to tell her that she finished in about 9,056th place.

And I don’t want to forget the pair of Team In Training runners who were jostling their way through the crowd at the starting line – not because they were trying to get in a better position as so many other people were attempting to do. But because they wanted to browse the selection of outerwear that other runners had discarded before beginning the race. At least they were just cold. I could forgive that.

But considering that my version of race day events has been called into question in the past, I’m willing to admit that maybe those things didn’t happen exactly as I say they did. Maybe the woman who trampled me on the way to the finish line wasn’t self-absorbed so much as blinded by fatigue. And maybe the countless people who threw half-full cups of Gatorade onto the course as hundreds of other people tried to dodge them weren’t being inconsiderate, but simply celebrating, as world-class athletes are wont to do when given energy drinks.

Regardless, I’m certain about one thing: Most runners take race day far too seriously.

For the thousands of us who competed on Saturday morning and ran a pace of 8, 9 or 10 minutes, let’s be honest: You’re not winning.

Stop pushing. Stop weaving. Stop throwing elbows. Sprint if you must – but stay on the course and watch where you’re going.

Because if you fall in front on me, I won’t help you up.

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