But let's get to the point. Although I have a little degree in Communication, I still generally suck at communicating. This means that I often find myself googling things like "How to talk to *insert type of person here*" or "What to say to *insert another type of person*". I really wish I were joking but I'm not. Whether you are an avid coin collector, stay at home mom, engineer, or bird watcher, I always want to make a good impression so if there's a way for me to know ahead of time that we'll be meeting you'd better believe I've been googling you AND your hobby/lifestyle. That said, since I now find myself described as an "endurance athlete" (woo hoo!) I've learned that a lot of people have no idea really what they should or should not say to me. In the same way that I don't know how to talk to you about knitting, you may not know what to say to me (or your friendly neighborhood triathlete) in social situations. For starters, the thing we all need to remember is that friendship is a two way street. If your friend is nice enough to say, "Hey, how are your duck calls coming along?" when they know nothing about duck calling, you need to have the decency to also ask them "How is your marathon training going?" Which leads me into Number 1.
5 Things to Say to an Endurance Athlete
- How is your training going? We generally LOVE this question. It's open ended so we get to say a little more than "Fine" but it's also non-threatening. You're not saying anything about how long we have been training or how long we have left until the event and it makes you look like a rockstar for even asking. If your endurance athlete friend is a good friend who knows you have no interest in their particular form of crazy, they'll likely keep it short and sweet. But the best part about this question is that it shows you care. Do not say "You're still training for that?" Endurance events kind of take forever to train for. We know that. You reminding us and making us feel out of shape for needing 6 months to get to a marathon doesn't help anything.
- I'm really proud of you! This is typically not something you'd say to someone you just met but even in that case it would be appropriate. For endurance athletes, training and racing (and/or finishing) are big accomplishments! Weeks, if not months have been dedicated to this event so it's ok to tell them you're proud of their accomplishment or even their dedication. They'll likely play modest and may seem a bit uncomfortable but on the inside they're feeling like a 4 year old who just scored their first soccer goal. Our society doesn't say things like "I'm proud of you." often enough. Break the trend. Do not say "You're crazy!" This one gets old quick. We are a little crazy, but so are you. We kind of think you're crazy for not wanting to join us for a 4 hour bike ride but we'd never tell you that. We understand we can be seen as extreme.
- What made you get into *running/biking/swimming/etc.? Again, another open ended question that shows you care and allows them to talk a little bit about their past. In many (but not all) cases, running to an ultramarathoner is their life and probably means more to them than their career. Just like it's acceptable to say "Why do you love being a teacher?", it's ok to ask why they run. But please don't phrase it as "Why would you do that?" That just makes you rude and puts ultramarathoner on the defensive. Their inevitable anger or annoyance towards you will likely fuel an excellent run though.
- It's not my thing, but good for you! This is a good one for people you may have just met or don't know particularly well. Stating that it's not your thing lets them know not to go into weird, gross and sometimes disturbing detail of training and what it does to their bodies but it also tells them that you're not judging them for it. This also implies that you in fact have a thing and that opens the door for them to ask questions about you. Do not say "I'd never do that!"For starters, never say never. But it also kills the conversation. Can you think of a good response to that? Because I can't. Again, we know an Ironman is extreme to an outsider but would you want someone saying that about your sewing hobby? You love sewing! In your head you can't imagine what people do who don't love sewing! If someone proclaimed they'd never do it, you'd probably take offense. It would be like someone criticizing your haircut. It's just plain rude.
- I just don't think I'd be interested in doing that. That's your polite way of saying to the endurance athlete STFU. There are those of us who just can't shut up about our cause. There are some who can't stop inviting you to join on their mission to rid the world of 5k walks and 1 mile fun runs because we should all be doing 100 mile trail rides. If this person is just a jerk then feel free to be a jerk right back to them. But if you can tell it's at least with good intent. This simple phrase is succinct and clear enough that they should get the point. If they insist, something like "Look, I've walked a 5k for Alzheimer's before but if you come at me one more time with that half marathon registration form I'm going to papercut the F out of each and every one of your fingers." might be acceptable. Please, for the love of God, DO NOT say "I can't run because of my knees." or any variation of that phrase. There are people with really bad knees out there who really can't run. There are people with really bad knees who run anyway. If you don't want to run, just be honest and say "I can't run because I don't want to." Gotcha. Runners all have bad knees. Swimmers all have a bad shoulder. When you get specific like "bad knees" the endurance athlete will almost always try to find a way to rescue you. "You know, you could try cycling. It's much lower impact on the joints." or "Swimming is great if you have trouble with weight bearing exercises." We want everyone to love what we do or at least to love something as much as we do. You see, we know we're kind of nuts and we subconsciously want to make everyone as nutty as we are so we don't feel like weirdos. You also leave the door open with phrases like "Oh my bad hip" because you're implying that if you had good hips you'd be right out there with us stride for stride. Most of us like training buddies.
These are just opinions. There could be endurance athletes out there who feel the complete opposite of me and there are probably a lot of them who have problems with me calling myself an endurance athlete since I'm sort of a fraud. But either way, here are some general guidelines if you find yourself unsure. Stay tuned for the wallet sized card I'll be handing out for quick reference when you're under pressure.