From the Archives: The Gift of Gab

1200px-Magpie,_aggressive“Magpie, aggressive” by Alexis Hilton Hope – Own work.

[At this time of year, fellowship is an important part of a runner’s life. I originally wrote this for David Polgar, a student at Newton North and former MA State mile champion, who was also one of the greatest talkers on runs I’ve ever known. Originally published October 20th, 2006]

“The easy wakers who found the morning workout a lark annoyed him to distraction, But the gentle conversation made it easier, a social occasion of sorts, for just as rank has its privileges so indeed does the barely comprehensible conditioning of good distance runners. They gab like magpies.” – John L. Parker, Once a Runner

On the first day I ever coached high school runners, I told them to go for a 5-mile run “at conversational pace,” and they had no idea what I was talking about.

What I was talking about was the happy state of equilibrium that characterizes exercise at moderate intensity. In that state, oxygen breathed in is sufficient to power muscles for an hour or more without significant build-up of blood lactate or other markers of metabolic distress. Conversational pace is made possible by the miracle of aerobic conditioning — a gradual adaptation to the demands of running mileage. Distance runners mostly take it for granted, but it is a powerful mystery to those who lack the fitness to travel along at a pretty good pace, without laboring, and without incurring oxygen debt.

With one’s oxygen needs largely met, the runner discovers that there’s breath left over for other things, like talking. When out with the team for an over-distance run, the steady pace, strong but even breathing, and somewhat tedious nature of the training create an ideal environment for conversation.

There are all kinds of conversations and all kinds of conversationalists on runs. Oddly enough, a lot of the conversation is about running — who looks good this year, who ran what time on what course, who was a beast in training — that sort of thing. But really, almost any subject is fair game. I have had deep philosophical talks on runs, and have talked about the most mundane things. I have dispensed advice and received it. For a while, I ran with a guy who loved trivia contests and would keep the rest of us entertained by asking us trivia questions he had come across in his travels.

Sometimes you run with someone who makes you laugh so hard you have to stop. Many of us at Newton North remember running with Ciaran O’Donovan, who would regularly bring a whole pack of runners to a stumble with his offbeat sense of humor.

Sometimes you run with someone who just doesn’t want to reciprocate your conversational overtures, and prefers to run in silence. I find this to be very awkward if its someone I don’t know in trust. I think running together is a fairly intimate experience, and not spending time getting to know the other person seems…well, sort of strange… like dancing with a stranger and not even asking their name.

Then there are the people who take their running so seriously that they consider talking to be off-limits. David Polgar found himself in this position when he first started running with his mates at Boston University. The thought of David Polgar going for 10 mile runs without being able to chat along the way is a sad thought, indeed! I have hopes, though, that David will manage to thaw the icy resolve of the BU team, and before long they, too, will be gabbing like Magpies.

Oh, and David… a magpie is a kind of bird, noted for its chattering call. The word can also be used to describe a person who chatters all the time. What is the Hungarian word for magpie?


Jon!! Sorry for the slow response, I’ve been having “technical difficulties” and also, last week was finals/midterms or whateverthehell week, so the little time I had I spent studying and whatnot. So anyways, the word for magpie in Hungarian is, when referring to the bird, “szarka”. When referring to a person who chatters a lot, it’s “fecsego”, pronounced Phe (as in ‘phenomenal’) che (as in ‘Czechoslovakian’) and gi (as in the word ‘girl’ but with an elongated vowel). Also, for all your English to Hungarian and vice versa translation needs there is a website that does it for you at:

Thank you very much for the Post by the way, I truly enjoyed it!!

– David

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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