A simple wave can mean any number of things.
It can mean “Hello” or “Goodbye.” If you’re in a car, it can mean “Go ahead” to someone merging and “Thanks” to the driver letting the other person merge.
After an athletic event, it can mean “Good game.” Or, it can be used as a taunt by a cheering section to the losing team.
The wave is versatile. And perhaps there is no wave more courteous or uplifting than the runners’ wave.
Anyone who runs knows exactly what it is and what it represents. It will happen several times on any given run, when you meet another runner, maybe next to you on the path or clear across the street. The person may be twice or half your age. They may be cruising along like they’re chasing Algonquin Olympian Evan Jager or they might be slightly faster than a walk.
None of that matters. You wave.
You wave because runners have a kindred spirit. There’s a mutual respect there for doing something that is not always fun, especially when you start out, but is so satisfying when you have finished.
What’s great about the wave is that runners, for the most part, understand each other. They admire the efforts of others because running is hard. When the last runner in a big race crosses the finish line, it’s usually to a loud ovation. The fans appreciate sweat and the pain and the work that runner put in just to be there.
The wave is like that applause, only silent.
The wave says, “Way to go,” “Keep it up,” or “Great job.” You wave, the other person waves back. Both of you get a little pick-me-up to keep pushing.
You could actually speak, but so many people listen to music while they run that they might not hear you. So, as to not be rude or seem like you’re ignoring them, you just wave.
The runners’ wave feels as good to give and as it is to get. And it’s deflating when someone doesn’t reciprocate. If you give another runner a wave, proper etiquette says they should give one back. We’re both out there doing something good for ourselves, which is nice to be acknowledged.
Runners sort of have this unofficial fraternity/sorority thing going on. We are all driven by staying fit, keeping off weight and challenging ourselves physically each day.
The runners’ wave? You could say it’s our not-so-secret handshake.
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.