Social Anxiety and Running Groups

I’ve mentioned it many times before:  I have crippling social anxiety.  I never realized just how crippling it was until recently (in the past 3 years).  Many times I just thought it was normal to obsess over and avoid situations.  However, once those “quirks” started affecting my every day life as an adult, and eventually my children, I knew I needed to work on overcoming some of the quirks.  One of the ways I decided to tackle it head on was to join a running group.

I haven’t run with a group since sophomore year of college.  We did many group runs for PT since formation runs are pretty much the norm in a military setting.  I always felt so awkward participating in them because 1) I hated running, and 2) I hated the idea of being the one holding back the group because I was running too slow.  The latter only happened a few times but when it did I felt like utter crap and such a hassle for others.  When I transferred to the university in San Diego, the NROTC unit out there didn’t do much in terms of formation/group running.  We were usually briefed on the route and then set off to run the route.  Being the non-runner that I was I would just follow the person ahead of me so I wouldn’t get lost.  Commissioning in the Navy didn’t change a thing either since on the ship we only met up for unit PT when our bi-annual fitness test was conducted.

When I started really taking on running seriously (as in hobby serious not career serious) I did it solo.  I ran because it allowed me to clear my mind and get lost in my thoughts.  I have always been one to be self-motivated to work out so I never felt the need for a workout buddy.  I tried running 2 races with a partner and though I enjoyed the company, I hated feeling like I had to stick with someone.  I have my pace and I like to keep at it.  Nothing annoys me more than having to slow down or stop to stay with someone.  I don’t mean to sound like a jerk but it’s a quirk I have.  I like to be in control and that situation feels like a loss of control, if that makes any sense.  Since those 2 races I’ve stuck to running solo (my kids in a stroller don’t count as a partnered run 😉 ).

While I was living in Virginia I learned about running clubs and groups.  A good friend who introduced me to streak running was part of a striders group and I loved the camaraderie they seemed to share.  They were so positive, supportive, and oh so humble.  I craved what they had.  However, between shift work and my family I really didn’t feel motivated to join a local running club.  I continued solo running.  Then life took it’s unexpected turn and I was out of the Navy and moved to a new state.  I just continued my solo running and grew very isolated in my home.  It was just me and my daughter, later adding my son, and nothing more.  No friends.  No family.  At first it didn’t bother me too much but as the months wore on I started feeling very lonely.  That’s when I started looking at local running clubs here in my area.

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I found a mom-centered running group called Moms Run This Town.  I had heard about them once at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.  After looking into them I decided to join their Facebook group.  That was as far as I went with that, though.  They posted many group events but I never had the courage to go.  I’d tell myself I’d go but then the day of I would make some sort of excuse to avoid the event.  I was just terrified of putting myself in a situation where I knew no one.  I’m not outgoing either so just striking up a conversation was so hard for me.  I really can’t put into words how agonizing the scenarios I ran through my mind were.  I was so afraid to look stupid or be judged.  It was just that much easier to stay home where everything was comfortable.  For the next 2 years I avoided joining in on the runs.

2 weeks ago I decided that enough was enough and I would step out of my comfort zone.  Admittedly the thing that gave me that small nudge was the brunch portion of run.  If things didn’t go well at least I’d have my cup of coffee.  The first day came and I was scared.  I packed up my son and off I went, fearful that I would be the outsider looking in and that the others would already have their own little group that had no room for new people (I got a similar reception at a Fit4Moms event 2 years earlier).  Boy was I wrong.

I didn’t get to run with them on this meeting because it was raining (I didn’t want to subject my son to that weather) so I had met up with them for the brunch portion.  I first met a mom who was there for the first time as well.  We both chatted for a bit and were soon joined with 2 of the group leaders.  They were so sweet and inviting!  We spent the next half hour talking about life and running.  It was great.  I was so thrilled to see that they didn’t put out the unwelcoming vibe I felt at the Stroller Strides meet up years ago.  We talked about the following week’s run and then said our goodbyes.  I was so glad I went.

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The real test of whether I thought this group was worth it was the following brunch run.  This time I did join them for the run portion since we were starting on the trail that ran by my daughter’s school.  I met 2 other women I hadn’t met yet and we went off for a 5K run. I mentioned earlier that I disliked group runs because I’m either the slow one or I like to pace myself and not slow down for others.  Well, that attitude changed with this run.  I really enjoyed running at a relaxed pace with the other moms.  I was able to enjoy actual conversation as a result.  I got to know the group leaders a bit more and actually have an engaging conversation.  All this made those miles fly by and soon we were back at the bagel shop we started at.  We all went in to grab a bite and continue the meet up.  My daughter was with me as well this time and she had a real blast with one of the other young girls there.  All in all it was a great time and I was so glad I gave it a shot.

The next run is this Tuesday.  I’ll be there again for a nice run with the moms.  I’m really looking forward to it.

The lesson I learned from this is sometimes you just really have to give something new and scary a shot.  Yes, all the scenarios of people not welcoming me or me making a fool out of myself played through my head before each meeting.  Yes, I was frightened I wouldn’t fit in and be an outcast.  However, each time I pushed past the fear and dove right in.  It’s early in the number of times I’ve joined them for runs but even just the last 2 have increased my comfort level and confidence in joining the group.  I’ve not only found something to fill in time while I’m a SAHM, but I have also found a group that I can share my excitement about all things running and get a bit of social interaction with someone who doesn’t call me mommy ;-).  I encourage anyone debating joining a running group, or any group for that matter, to give it a shot.  You may find it’s one of the best decisions you’ve made for yourself.

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