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 any style is acceptable. We’re not figure skaters or divers, so style points don’t count. However, while any style 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 this depressing runner 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: We have mentioned this sorry creature in other columns. He’s easy to spot in the final miles of a marathon or half-marathon with 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, we encourage you to take up a 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. As we said before, any running style is a good one – all except for the Dodo.


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