Sounds like a funny question, but what is the right answer? Is there a universal unwritten rule? Should you always wave so that other runners will see you as friendly? Or should you only wave at people you know so that a stranger won't think you are a potential stalker?
In Texas, it is typical to wave and even say hello to every runner you pass on your runs. Heck, I wave at runners, walkers, people's dogs, and even a few passing motorists who yell out the window. I figure they are either saying "Hi!", because they know me or they are admiring my running technique. Either way, a wave is indicated. I also talk nonstop while I run, so people either love to run with me or find me incredibly annoying. I was even told to shut up by another runner while running a marathon. Guess they were having a bad day. I know my incessant chatter can be distracting, but what about the wave?
To complicate the musing in my head, I also wonder about cyclists? Do you wave to everyone on a bike? After plunging head first into the triathlon world and riding hundreds of miles, I still don't know the answer to the waving question when it comes to cyclists. The first few months I was learning how to cycle without falling down; a wave would've caused me to crash. I didn't even think about it! Now, I often wave or at least nod at the passing cyclists. You never know who is a friend or not with the helmets on.
Geography may also have something to do with it. I have come to realize, after running quite a bit while traveling, that the automatic wave is not the norm in other cities. I even started to think it was just a Texas thing, but remembered my childhood running in Rhode Island where everyone waved. Then again, everyone knew everyone else in my small town. Maybe it's a suburbia thing. In fact, while running in Chicago, people looked at me quite strange when I waved. No one actually returned my hello and I have to admit I was not feeling very welcome by the time I finished. My experience was similar in Pittsburgh. Not a lot of waving going on. I expected the same in New York, but was surprised when I received quite a few waves and even a passing grunt while running. Who knew New York runners may be friendlier than Chicago and Pittsburgh?
So, I embarked on a mission to answer the waving question. To wave or not to wave? After a very unscientific poll of over a hundred runners across the country, it turns out there are no hard and fast rules. There are however some loose guidelines:
1. It is always better to wave than not to wave unless you are running in a city. Wavers may be confused with muggers.
2. Wavers tend to be out for a recreational run, not a hard tempo run or speed workout.
3. There are more wavers in the South than in the North.
4. Woman wave more than men. In fact, one man felt a wave may be interpreted as a pick up line.
5. Non-wavers are often wearing an IPod and never even realize they are possibly considered rude and unfriendly.
6. Most cyclists have actually never even thought about waving, but feel a simple nod is recognition enough.
So, I guess there is no universal rule about waving, but I am going to continue to wave to every and all runners to try to foster a community feeling while I run, but as for cycling; I think I will stick to the nod.