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Dr. J. on Running

Guess The Runner

Games to Spice Up Running

Published December 6, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

It is 6:30 on Wednesday morning. You did not really want to come out this early, but you will not have time later in the day. You are about five minutes into your run. You have the tightness worked out of your calves and the sweat starts beading on your forehead. In the distance, you see another figure coming toward you. It is time to play Guess-the-Runner.

Guess-the-Runner is a game I discovered during my running adolescence. You can play the game alone, but it is more fun with multiple players. Even if you talk a lot on the run, the game becomes second nature after a while. If you tend to run alone, you have more of a challenge in playing fair, but that is another story.

Here are the rules, or you can make up your own. Rule No. 1: The first person to see a runner must alert the rest of the players. This is important because time is a critical factor. Once a runner is spotted, the first person to correctly identify the runner scores. At the end of the run, the person with the most points wins.

This game has variations on the main theme. For example, players can score up to a predetermined number of points or play for a certain length of time. In another variation, players can show their detection finesse by estimating the speed of a runner, identifying the race shirt, determining how many miles the runner has already run or guessing the route that the runner has taken.

This is one game where practice (while running) improves the skill of correctly identifying other runners. It also helps to know when certain runners are likely to be out and when they are more likely to be somewhere else (such as at work or in school). Another way to practice is to enter races where you meet runners, observe their running form and see what they look like from different angles.

In PR-Guess-the-Runner, the time it takes you to correctly identify a runner should be less than your PR at the same distance. For example, if you run 800 meters in three minutes or less, you should be able to identify a runner 800 meters away in less than 3 minutes. For veterans like myself, it should never take longer than your PR to identify a runner at that distance.

Think of the valuable people skills necessary to master the game. Is the runner a male or female? This is easier in warm weather, but it is important at any time of year. Points may be subtracted by guessing the wrong person or, worse yet, guessing a person of the opposite sex. In a recent winter game, my opponent not only guessed the wrong person but the wrong sex despite the frozen beard.

Take a good look at the obvious clues. What is the person wearing? How fast is she running? How does she hold her arms? Is he a slugger or a glider? Is there a dog running nearby, a baby-jogger or a swarm of flies?

In many instances, runners are best identified by the company they keep. One group of local runners can be spotted a mile away and identified by height and location. Another group runs the same route every day, at the same time each day, gesturing in monosyllables. I have to find a way to discount those points.

Before you jump into the game, be aware of the known side-effects. Severe headaches and withdrawal may occur on days when you cannot identify any runners regardless of how hard you try. Consider a doze of fancy footwork and a change of course. Take the time to know your fellow runners. When a younger runner passes you, increase your pace for a block and get to know him. Your old body may enjoy the opportunity for some fartlek or making a fool of yourself. Whichever it is, you never know when you will be caught up in a fast-paced game of Guess-the-Runner.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at

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