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February 20, 2008

Runner Watching

"Well I'm just people watching -
The other people watching me -
And we're all people watching -
The other people watching we."
- Jack Johnson, "People Watching" (click to play)

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In last week’s Monterey Herald column, we took a fairly common observation – the fact that everyone’s running form is slightly different – and had some fun with it. In case you hadn’t guessed, this is one of my favorite styles of writing – lighthearted, creative, and (thankfully, from my editor's standpoint) generally unoffensive.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. And to answer the inevitable question you’ll have afterwards - I tend to think of myself as an ostrich: big, awkward looking and clumsy, yet somehow able to get limbs and trunk moving sufficiently well to gain a decent head of steam every now and then.

It may not be the sexiest bird in town, but it gets the job done. It’s a compromise I can definitely live with.


Running Life 2/14/08 “Runner Watching”

Most runners become amazingly adept at recognizing their friends from a long distance away by their unique running styles. Even in the dark, a distinctive posture or tilt of the head or arm swing gives everyone away. Running styles become your own personal signature, almost like a fingerprint.

Some runners are regal and elegant, and others are blue collar and industrious. Some prance like fillies, others plod like Clydesdales. If you watch from a distance, you’ll see all styles and types.

One of the great things about running is that nearly any method is acceptable. We’re not figure skaters or gymnasts, so style points don’t count. However, while any form is OK for recreational runners, only a highly efficient style will suffice for the competitive racers.

Running style is largely influenced by your body type and biomechanics. Virtually everyone has some quirk created by bone structure, core strength and symmetry, muscle imbalances, foot alignment, and other minor abnormalities we all live with.

All of these traits are helpful in playing a little game that’s similar to bird watching; trying to spot as many different running species you can find. We’ve helped you get started, by developing a beginner’s field guide to indigenous runners of the Monterey Peninsula:

The Happy Hummingbird: Characterized by short choppy steps and boundless energy, this runner bounces from tree to bush with optimism and flair. They are a joy to watch. These carefree runners often drift back and forth across the trail, wandering wherever the spirit leads them, travelling nearly everywhere but along a straight line.

The Cowering Crow: Unfortunately, you see these depressing runners all the time. They frown. They groan. They sneer. They grunt. They look like they’d rather be doing anything but running. Typically they are fitness or weight loss runners who really don’t enjoy running, but are just going through the motions because they know they should. This is the species of runner that non-runners spot while driving in their car, and think to themselves, “THAT’S why I’m not a runner!”

The Prancing Peacock: This is typically a female of the species who dresses to impress and to strut her stuff. Easily identifiable by ornamental clothing, this chickadee is often seen with colorful tights or running shorts accompanied by skimpy tops. Her bright tail feathering is often adorned with words such as “Pink,” “Juicy,” or “Abercrombie and Fitch”.

The Bare-Chested Bird of Prey: Easily identifiable on the trails by a shirtless look even on cold days. Typically, the male of the species strips down to impress any potential mates who may be nearby. (Not surprisingly, these runners are typically “available”). A commonly observed ritual sees the male flex his muscles around a prancing peacock, while chirping his “How you doin’ honey?” mating call.

The Wing-Flapping Vulture: This runner is easily identified by aggressive behavior and flapping arms. Often found running very fast with arms rotating in strange directions, this style often comes with head bobbing as well. Phoebe from Friends was the best pop-culture example of this species. Running close to this bird is not only embarrassing, but can frequently be dangerous as well.

The Delirious Dodo: You see this runner avoiding the safer trails and running paths in favor of routes through crowded traffic areas. They cross streets unexpectedly, run in the same direction as approaching cars, and drift across bike lanes on the recreation trail. In the darkness they wear dark colors with no reflective gear. It is no wonder that natural selection has made them an endangered species.

The Beast of Burden: This strange, Type A bird insists on trying to do two workouts at the same time. They are easily identified by running while carrying weights on their arms or tied to their legs. Sadly, this unusual behavior usually ruins both the joy and freedom of the running experience, while simultaneously lessening the effectiveness of their strength work.

The Red-Breasted Novice: This sorry creature is easy to spot in the final miles of a marathon with his distinctive red spots on the breast, caused by blood from chafed nipples without protection. His appearance often triggers shock and disgust amongst first-time bird watchers. The Red Breaster frequently has a distinctive cry of intense pain that sounds like the whippoorwill, which they repeat continuously during the last few miles of their race.

The Soaring Golden Eagle: These magnificent members of the species look like they were born to run. They move elegantly and magnificently with perfect posture, and their speed appears effortless. They glide over the ground and look like they could run forever. You’ll typically find these birds localized in the lead pack of any major marathon.

Now that you have your beginner’s guide, you’re fully equipped to take on your new hobby. Feel free to keep this column with you in your car to make field identification easier. Just remember to not judge the different varieties too harshly.

Like we said before, any running style is a good one – just so long as you’re not a Dodo.


stronger 2/20/08, 2:58 PM  

You know we're all gonna bird watch from now on, right??

Just like swimming to bubbly toes.

momo 2/20/08, 4:52 PM  

reading through this, i can completely visualize the runners - even putting names to a few of my friends. i don't even know what type of bird i'd be well, actually, right now i'm a broken winged bird... ;-)

i'm going to put some thought into this one and get back with you!

Backofpack 2/20/08, 5:32 PM  

I might be the last goose in the V seen flying overhead. Trailing along, honking to the others. That's me!

mindy 2/20/08, 6:15 PM  

This was awesome. I think I'm an owl - lots of feathers for warmth this time of year. Except I can't turn my head all the way around to spot cars...that would be helpful...

robtherunner 2/20/08, 6:26 PM  

I think I've had my moments with a few of these. Perhaps "The Happy Hummingbird" would describe me best, unless it is the end of the race, and then I may look more like "The Cowering Crow." I am at least modest enough that I cannot be identified as "The Bare-Chested Bird of Prey," but at times I do resemble "The Delirious Dodo." There have been a few races in my running career where I may have looked like "The Soaring Golden Eagle." Those are the days I long for once again.

Anne 2/20/08, 6:55 PM  

Ah, geez. Now I won't be able to look at my friends and not think their running's gone to the birds.

rick 2/21/08, 12:16 AM  

I'm more like the Happy Hummingbird, short choppy steps. I've had friends running behind complain about my fast turnover. I don't why they were looking at my feet while we are running. Last night at the 2-mile trial, definitely sporting the Cowering Crow, especially the last two laps.

RunBubbaRun 2/21/08, 3:50 AM  

I think I have seen at least one of these birds one time or another..

But hopefully try to be "happpy hummingbird" when I run.. Then I do look out for the "prancing peacock"..

Now for some more bird watching.

Matt 2/21/08, 5:55 AM  

Very nice. I would add the penguin. They tend to waddle in groups, not going any where fast.

Dana 2/21/08, 6:27 AM  

We probably all would like to be the "Soaring Eagle" but most days we'd settle for the "Happy Hummingbird".

Deene 2/21/08, 9:14 AM  

good one!
out here on the trails we have the Rocky Mountain Raptors who soar past and prey on the slow folks.

triguyjt 2/21/08, 2:29 PM  

seen several peacocks around town....

not sure how i could characterize my style.

is a doofus a birde??

Curly Su 2/21/08, 8:23 PM  

awesome post. what about the triathlete runner? there's GOTTA be a bird for us...

angie's pink fuzzy 2/22/08, 5:50 PM  

oh i love it. but i can't figure out what i would be...

21stCenturyMom 2/22/08, 6:20 PM  

I just got a running form tune up from Wing Flapping Vulture to Happy Hummingbird. My friends will never spot me now!

Rainmaker 2/23/08, 6:10 PM  

Awesome list!

On my run today there were many Cowering Cows (it's apparently an East Coast thing). But I managed to force every single one of them to at least acknowledge me - as I said or waved Hi to all of them.

I will eventually convert them all to West Coast Blue Birds.

Patricio 2/24/08, 7:06 AM  

Hope you don't mind I'm doing this to ya :)

I just tagged you. It's a pain, but I hope you do it anyway!

The rules are as follows:
# Link to the person who tagged you
# Post the rules on your blog.
# Share seven random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog.
# Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
# Leave a comment on their blogs so that they know they have been tagged.

Annette 2/24/08, 3:44 PM  

Loved it! :) I was identifying my running friends as I read through your list. I am so sending this to them - what a crack up! We have become quite adept at identifying each other by our running styles - especially important when running relays!

Steve Stenzel 2/25/08, 2:17 PM  

HA! Great post! I know most of those species!!

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