The culture of running

In Stride

A Guide to Being a Runner's Ally

Be good to the runner in your life

Do these things to encourage the runner in your life—they'll thank you—or at least they ought to. (iStockphoto)
Sports Race

Be good to the runner in your life

Living with a dedicated runner can sometimes be a burden, especially when the runner in question is gearing up for an important race. As the event approaches, such devout individuals tend to become irritatingly fastidious about controlling their environment. With all the fussing about optimizing sleep, hydration, and fueling habits, it might feel like you’re suddenly living in a terrarium.

In other words, in close quarters, the problems of the race-bound runner can quickly become your problems, too. But you can counteract this mutual descent into madness with modest gestures of kindness. Here’s some basic advice for the would-be ally to help your runner maintain their sanity—and thereby preserve some of your own.

Before Race Day

Remind Your Runner That There’s Always Another Day

Not to be presumptuous, but chances are your running-obsessed roommate isn’t competing in an Olympic final. This is great news, because you can remind her that she won’t have to wait another four years to run the race of her life if things don’t go well. Think of it as a form of psychological insurance. Anyone who’s been running long enough knows that disappointing races can and will happen, but you’ll usually have another crack at it. According to the latest report from Running USA, there were 30,400 road races in the United States in 2016. Hence, there are plenty of opportunities to achieve that coveted 5K PR or finally check the marathon off your bucket list.

Plan a Post-Race Party

Serious training often means having to dial back a number of vices, be it double-whiskey colas or bacon cheeseburgers. To help your runner buddy survive this period of abstinence, you can help by planning a blowout post-race party. This will give him something to look forward to and make it easier to get through inevitable bouts of runner’s FOMO, since wild Saturday nights and Sunday long runs generally don’t mix. (Bonus tip: for any race distance longer than a half marathon, think twice about planning the party for the same evening as the race—you don’t want the guest of honor staggering around like an extra from The Walking Dead.)

Get Your Runner a Massage

Word to the wise: massages make great gifts for runners, especially those who are banged up from weeks of heavy mileage. Targeted rubdowns can alleviate muscle tension and tightness, which can help athletes improve flexibility and potentially even avoid strains. As of yet, there’s little definitive scientific proof that massages are an effective method of injury prevention, but anecdotal evidence is encouraging: In the lead-up to last summer’s Olympics, some of the best Kenyan distance runners led ascetic lives in a bare-bones training camp near Eldoret, Kenya. (Eventual Olympic marathon champ Eliud Kipchoge was apparently cleaning toilets.) But for all that these superstar athletes were willing to give up, the post-workout massage was still considered indispensable. If you’re too broke to sponsor your runner friend’s massage or too shy/incompetent to administer it yourself, foam rollers make great (and affordable) gifts.

On Race Day

Handle Breakfast and Transportation

If you don’t mind getting up early, one of the most helpful things you can do for a runner is to play Jeeves on race morning. Offer to cook breakfast. Better yet, take care of getting your runner to the start area. Generally speaking, the fewer logistical details a prospective racer needs to worry about, the more likely he’ll be able to relax until it’s time to run. Better for him, better for you.

Bring the Race Course Encouragement

Part of being a competent runner’s ally is knowing what kind of verbal support, if any, she wants to receive during a race. The longer the event, the more this comes into play—multiple cheering opportunities! Just remember: not every runner wants to hear “Looking strong!” when they’re crawling up a hill or vomiting onto their singlet. Likewise, “You’re almost halfway!” will be less than motivating for all but a select few. It never hurts to ask ahead of time what kind of encouragement is preferred.

Be a Personal Support Squad

The prospect of in-race fueling is a frequent source of anxiety, in particular for individuals who haven’t mastered the art of drinking from a paper cup in midstride—that is, pretty much everybody. If the rules of competition and course layout don’t preclude it, offer to supply your runner with a more manageable drinking vessel during the race. (Recommended: a disposable plastic bottle with a sports cap.) This takes some planning—make sure the person you’re supporting knows where you’ll be standing and, crucially, what he’ll be drinking—but it can be an invaluable asset for long races in hot conditions.

After the Race

Go Out for Brunch

While it’s advisable to allow your friend a few days of recovery before a celebratory bacchanal, there’s no reason not to arrange for a post-race meal, homemade or otherwise. Life may be short and brutal, but if you’re lucky, it can also offer moments of transcendent joy—like being treated to chicken and waffles an hour after you’ve just achieved that long-coveted marathon PR.

Brag About Your Runner’s Accomplishments on Social Media

This is perhaps the ultimate runner’s ally move, particularly for those whose friends are prone to displays of false modesty. (“Just finished 17th at Boston. Looks like I won’t be quitting my job at Goldman anytime soon!”) If you know that the runner in your life is proud of his achievement in a recent race, tag him and boast on his behalf. Call it social media wingman-ing.

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