As a cross country athlete, I spend most mornings in the summer logging miles for the upcoming season. It's a ritual we runners have long undergone: arising just as the sun peeks over the trees, groggily lacing up our shoes, and yawning as we walk out the door, we muster up the energy to get our feet moving and blood pumping, all in an effort to get the day's run in before heading off to our respective summer jobs.
If you're unfamiliar with cross country, allow me to boil the sport down to its molecular level: cross country athletes run an excessive number of miles throughout the year to train for races in the fall. Running is as much a part of their day as eating or sleeping, and athletes make painstaking efforts to prevent injury and sickness so they may keep to their seemingly extreme and self-indulgent training schedules. Races fail to offer much more appeal: the autumn competitions are held at golf courses, parks, or any otherwise vast grass tundra where athletes first wait around for several hours with much apprehension, and then run a prescribed distance (typically 3-6 miles) as fast as they physically can, often throwing up or passing out after crossing the finish line. And they call it fun.
Because I'm home from college for the summer, most of my training is solitary, without my teammates. This makes it difficult to stay motivated. Runs get boring. I have no one with me to talk while out on the bike trail or neighborhood streets.
On early morning runs, though, I come into contact with runners, bikers, and walkers passing me by in the opposite direction. To ease boredom, I devised a plan: I began saying hello to try to elicit responses from them. It keeps my head up and passes the time during those endless 10 mile runs in 90 degree weather.
A typical encounter goes like this: I make eye contact with passersby, give a smile, and say "good morning" or some similar greeting. More often than not do I receive a grin and a "good morning" in return. Knowing I have some companions out there on the trail makes runs go by much quicker.
Earlier this summer, I was waiting in line one day at the bank when a man approached me. I recognized him as one of the triumphant early morning joggers, and he likewise singled me out as a usual bike trail suspect. He got my attention, introduced himself, and thanked me for saying "good morning" to him on the trail every day without fail. "It's a great start to my day," he told me.
Upon hearing this, I was taken aback. Here I was, a lonely distance runner trying to make summer runs less boring by staring people down and greeting them whether they like it or not, and someone thanks me for it. Guilt was the first emotion I remember feeling.
Still, after giving this encounter more thought, I felt honored that this guy went out of his way to personally thank me for saying hey to him. Perhaps the monotony of my summer runs was all for the best, because it led me to perform good deeds.
I still smile and say hello to others while running; not for my own amusement, but because it's a nice thing to do. Saying hello to someone, that is, genuinely acknowledging his or her existence, is an act of kindness so simple that it has the potential to make a big difference.
I encourage you to offer a sincere smile and a hearty "good morning" (or "afternoon" or "evening") to a stranger who crosses your path today. It keeps you on track and, more importantly, you never know of the impact your simple gesture might carry.