Eight Phrases Runners May Take the Wrong Way or Not

Updated on April 21, 2018

You're Almost There; Keep Running, Don't Give Up!

I'd be lying if I said this one never gets old. It is nice to have someone encourage you near the end of the race and tell you that you only have a mile to go or that the finish is just around the corner, but when you are running a long race or a looping race in an ultra, running across the finish line just means you have one less loop to run, not that you are 'almost there'.

As with all encouragement, you accept it kindly and smile and say thank you, but when you are running 26.1 miles and someone tells you at mile ten to keep it up, you are almost there, it can almost be discouraging rather than encouraging.

An alternative might be to say, "looking great, keep it up," and leave it at that. If there are mile marker posts along the course or people calling split times, the runner pretty much knows where they are on the course and how many more miles they have to go. Instead of saying the same things over and over, try coming up with something creative and fun, like, "Mile Eight, looking Great!" or "One mile to go, keep that steady flow."

One of the most motivational tools anyone has used on the final approach of a run is funny or inspirational signs posted every tenth of a mile or so, including one just before the finish that read, 'THE END IS NEAR!!'

Definitely cheer runners at any part of the course but don't give them false hope that the finish line is right around the corner when in fact, they still have another half mile to go, or insinuate they need to pick up the pace because they aren't running as fast as the other runners that keep passing them by.

The only time it is really appropriate to tell a runner to run faster at the end of race is if a rival runner is closing up on them fast and they aren't aware of it, otherwise just encourage them to finish strong. Almost every runner will appreciate that.


Self Depreciation May Translate Into Putting Someone Else Down, Not Just Yourself

Have you ever complained to friends that you are too fat or inconsistent or too slow to be competitive? When we say that our ten minute pace is embarrassingly slow and that our spare tire of fat is gross and we feel like a whale out of water, we forget that there may be a friend standing next to us who is 50 pounds heavier and running two minutes slower than we are...oops! What kind of message does that send to them?

Most of us would never call someone else fat and slow, so why do we do it to ourselves? Most psychologists would say we were seeking positive affirmation from friends. We tell them we are no good at anything, but if they agreed we'd probably get our feelings hurt. We are hoping they will say, "you are being too hard on yourself, just be the best you that you can be and don't worry about being as good as someone else."

It's okay to vent if you are injured and can't run or you can't get your diet or your schedule quite right and feel frustrated about your performance, but try to focus on ways you can improve rather than how badly you are doing now and treat yourself with the same respect you would treat others.

You Don't Look Like You Run...

A lot of runners do not look like they run. As a rule, runners come in all sizes and shapes and physical conditions. That four foot tall, 200 pound man in his late sixties may actually be an ultra marathoner. The eight months pregnant mom-to-be just ran a PR (Personal Record) for the 5K, coming in first female overall out of hundreds of runners. The skinny guy with body tattoos and multiple piercings wearing a batman cape trains college cross country teams and runs a five minute mile pace. They are all runners.

John, a long time runner in his mid-forties was side-lined by an injury. "I had signed up for this charity trail run before I got hurt and I really didn't want to miss the run because it goes along some pretty scenic woods and wetlands, so I stood near the back of the pack knowing I would be moving pretty slow and maybe having to walk if the pain got worse. This group of older women approached me and asked if this was my first race and started giving me unsolicited advice on how to run a race before I could even explain that I was not new to running."

John said it was a little insulting to be mistaken for a newbie, but said his wife Joan actually ran into a woman from church who saw her walking a cool down lap after finishing up ten miles and told her, "look at you, good for you to come out here and walk a lap. Maybe one day you can run a race with your husband."

Joan said she probably looked like that 'mile walk' had worn her out and the lady thought she was out-of-shape, but it was hard for her not to correct her. "I could have said something, but I probably would have embarrassed myself as well as her, so I just let her believe what she wanted to believe. I am sure she did not mean to be judgmental, but it kind of stung my ego a bit."

If you do not know whether someone is a runner or not, don't assume they are not one or that they need your advice on how to run. Treat everyone as your equal and don't act alarmed to discover they run more miles in a week than you drive in your car.

Yep, He's a Runner!

When Newbies Tell You They Ran a Four Minute Mile on the Treadmill

I had a woman come up to me and tell me that she could not run on pavement. "I run about a 12 minute mile pace out on the streets, but put me on a treadmill and I can run a four minute mile pace!!!"

I remember staring at her wanting to ask, "are you sure about that?" I think what she actually meant is that she ran on #4 speed on the treadmill, but most people keep comparable road times to treadmill times and if you are running that much faster on the treadmill, then you might want to have a technician check it out!

Often times people who are new to running will brag about how great they are when they are not really. I have yet to have an inexperienced runner outrun me when we meet at the track, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Still, if you are running a four minute mile, you need to be trying out for the Olympics and I'm gonna want to see some proof before I believe you!

A lot of people will time themselves running a tenth of a mile lap and then multiply that time by ten, but it doesn't work that way. If it did I could run a six minute mile pace, but would drop dead after the first two tenths of it, if I made it that far!

You need to take it easy and relax and not push yourself so hard

No runner likes to be told that they need to take it easy. Whether recovering from an injury, fighting the after effects of a cold, getting pregnant or going through treatment for cancer or some other disease, a runner does not feel like a runner unless they are actually running.

Rather than tell a runner to take it easy and warn them of the dangers of pushing themselves too far and too fast, offer alternatives like cross training, isometrics, foundational training or stretching that can help keep muscles and lungs in shape without putting stress on joints.

Always encourage an injured runner that they WILL recover and come back stronger. It sucks to have to sit out for months, even a year or more when you worked so hard to get to a point where you finally felt you were where you wanted to be, but getting older or getting injured does not necessarily mean you have to give up running.

If you are able, you can bike, use assistant machines like the ARC or Elliptical, row, swim, do water jogging and stretching and muscle building exercises. Being injured is a good excuse to go online and learn some new running techniques and training ideas for when you are feeling better so you can hopefully avoid getting injured again.

What Are You Training For or When Is Your Next Race?

Mind you, some runners love to tell you their racing itinerary and plan their entire year around races they plan to do. Others run to be running. They have no specific goals in mind, they just enjoy getting together with friends in a social setting and talking out their problems and sharing something cute their children or pets did over the weekend.

Most people think runners are all competitive and mostly they are, but some don't want to compete, they want to enjoy and so asking them what their training goals are may make them feel as if they are not serious runners if they do not have an agenda to improve

My answer, when I was recovering from an injury, was, "oh, I am not training for anything, I am just trying to stay healthy and enjoy myself."

This reply was often met by blank stares or looks of confusion that I would not have a game plan for the future. Some people don't like to share their training goals and plans even if they have them. It is something private and personal. If you see that they are reluctant to answer you, don't push it or affirm that it is fine if they are just out having a good time. There are plenty of other people that would love to go into great details on which training plan they are using and why and will even discuss their diet and nutrition goals with you as well! Not everyone is into running for the medals and the t-shirts and that is perfectly okay.

How Far Are You Running Today?

When I first started running and wasn't really sure what I was capable of doing, this question always made me hesitate to answer. I would usually say something pithy like, "As far as my legs will carry me in an hour and ten minutes."

When you go to the gym, the first question the guys will ask you is, "what are you doing today?" The appropriate answer is not, "oh, I thought I would sit in the sauna and then go check out the latest sales at the mall."

The typical expected answer is' legs and shoulders' or 'abs and quads'. It is expected that you will be lifting weights and working on various body parts, not just coming in and sitting on your cell phone while hogging space on the incline and preventing others from using it.

Runners may also be looking for a running partner and if you are doing ten miles, they may want to join you to stay motivated. It's not a bad idea to run with different people on different routes and different speeds and distances as it helps keep you from getting bored or settling into a routine that no longer challenges you, but some people are just there to relieve stress and you're asking them to have a goal and a plan causes them to stress more.

Runners recovering from injuries may also feel like they are being judged for sticking to the jogging trails on a walk/jog circuit, so be mindful that not everyone has an agenda, nor desires a running partner and just let it go and move on.

If you don't want to discuss your run or aren't really sure what you are going to do, just say something equally as rehearsed like, "we'll just see where the wind takes us," laugh and keep moving.

Good Job...

Years ago I volunteered to train a group of women for a 5K race. Most of them were in their mid sixties and had run before but were out of shape or hadn't been running in a number of years even though they worked out and kept active. One of the other runners was assigned a faster group of runners. We met on a track that looped every mile and a half or so and about a quarter way around, the faster trainer came running by with two other young girls. As she passed us she looked back and said, "Good JOB, Ladies" in a tone I would use when praising a three year old for having gone potty in the toilet instead of their pants.

I remember feeling like it was more of an insult than a compliment, especially because I was running about four minutes slower than my average pace. I corrected myself and the next time she and her entourage bolted past us saying, "Good Job, Keep it up," I replied, "You too, good job, keep it up!!!" in the same tone she used. She didn't say anything to us the next time she passed, so I guess I made my point, but kind of felt bad about it.

Many times after that I have had people tell me good job, when I didn't feel I was doing a good job, and it kind of bothered me that they were being patronizing, not encouraging, but other times, I really welcomed hearing the words, so I wondered if I was the only one negatively impacted by something meant for good, or if other runners really were being critical rather than supportive when they said it.

Interestingly I found that a lot of how you take the phrase, "Good Job," comes from your level of self-esteem. If you have low self esteem, you may be more likely to see it as a negative comment, where if you have positive self esteem you are more likely to see it as as encouragement.

Mark Goulston is a business psychiatrist who looked into why some people take praise and encouragement negatively rather than positively. He said that any encouragement, even if it seems to have a judgmental tone, should be taken as a gift. Just as you should not be offended by your Aunt Sally giving you a 2X sweater when you wear a large or your boss giving you chocolates when you are allergic to dairy and it could kill you if you ate them, you shouldn't get upset if someone tells you "good job" as if you were a little kid trying to draw the winged horse Pegasus that looked more like cow being cut in half with a tree saw.

Gouldston says the appropriate response to praise is to say, "thank you" and return the praise with something positive, like "you too"! You may not feel like you are doing a good job and so the compliment may seem backhanded like when an acquaintance from high school says, "Oh are you STILL working at that SAME shop," as if you were worth anything, you would have moved on to bigger and better things by now.

If you constantly tell people you pass, "Good Job" out of habit rather than really meaning it, try shaking it up by saying, "Hi there, bye there, good to see you," or make a comment on the weather or the course, "Sure is nice out, isn't it?"; "Great Day for running." Chances are if someone is in a really rotten mood, anything you say may be taken badly, so don't stress over it.

We polled about a a dozen runners and every single one said they saw "good job" as a compliment that made their day better. One runner said that she never thought it was offensive to say, "good job" when you are passing someone and said the main reason why she said it, was that she was so out-of-breath that it was the shortest form of greeting she could muster!

Many childhood educators have actually encouraged teachers to stop using positive social reinforcement or praise because it is manipulative and exploits our dependence on praise from others (the whole, you shouldn't give the losing team a trophy argument). Alfie Kohn an author and speaker who looks at human behavior, states that phrases like "good job" can steal a person's pride in their own accomplishments. In other words, you can think you are doing pretty good and that is praise enough, but when someone praises you who you don't know, it's as if they control your level of satisfaction in what you are doing by commenting on it. It's complicated, but for those rare few of us who don't want your input on how we are doing and simply prefer a hand wave or a nod when you pass, not a judgment of our performance, we'd appreciate you use the term a little less often and only when you REALLY mean it, like when we break a PR and place first in our age division, because let's face it, that really IS a 'good job' unless of course you are the only person in your age group and then we are back to square one again with the low self esteem theory.... just be nice and say what you feel. Those of us who take it the wrong way will get over it anyway!

The Bottom Line...

The bottom line is, don't stress over what you say or do to runners as long as you do it with a pure heart. If you are being patronizing or condescending then try to imagine how you would feel if someone else did that to you and curb the attitude.

Some things about running are just awkward like when you run past the same person you don't really know ten times in a matter of a half hour. You say hi, you smile, you pretend to look at your watch, you stare up at a bird in the sky, you nod hello with a tight lipped smile, you smile and raise your hand on the next lap and then decide to run off track so you can avoid encountering one another head-on again.

Don't assume every runner has the same goals in mind as you do. Try to run/walk with different people outside your own group and listen to their conversations to help you better understand what concerns them and only offer running advice if it is solicited or you genuinely feel you can help someone because you have gone through the same thing they are going through.

Remember most runners want to be better runners. Even fast runners want to run faster times. Try to encourage others, but be mindful of how they react. Some people eat-up praise and others hate it and prefer honesty no matter how brutal. Instead of telling someone how well they did, try asking them HOW they did and let them share their feelings rather than impose yours upon them.

There is no need to stress over whether you said or did something to set someone off. Generally speaking if someone gets mad at you for being genuinely kind or inquisitive it is that person who has the problem not you.

If you are not a runner or a course director don't give people directions to the finish line or tell them to run faster because they only have a mile to go and keep getting passed by people and by all means don't yell out, "hey fat guy, way to go, GOOD JOB!!!" I guarantee you, even if you mean it in all sincerity, it is better to keep a comment like that to yourself!

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