Socially Awkward to Socially Connected

How She Runs: Cardiff helped this anxious runner feel part of the running community.

by Ann Lawson-Jones, Run Buddy

My experience with sport, like a lot of women, had a negative beginning in high school. Being red headed is tough when you are in your teens. Suffice to say I was incredibly shy and socially petrified by the time I finished school.

In April 2018 my husband and I watched the London Marathon. He joked and said we should enter the ballot as it would be great to run and train together to run the VLM in his 50th year. October came and I had a ballot place for 2019 but he didn’t! So I deferred to 2020 hoping he’d try again. He didn’t. I agonised for months about what to do. Could I do this? Especially on my own – I hate crowds at the best of times. It would be fine if he were running by my side. But then I came to the realisation that it had been a true gift to get a ballot place first time. So in May 2019 I started c25k, followed by Race for Life in the July and the Cardiff 10k in the September!

In the short space of time between the Cardiff Met 10k in September 2019 and The London Royal Parks Half I received an invite on Facebook from a friend to join a group called She Runs Cardiff. At the time I had joined another online running group but I did not really interact with the group. Lots of posts were time and distanced focused and from men!

I joined SRC because they didn’t have ‘mum’ in their name – I’d been put off those groups because I imagined a group of ‘yummy mummies’ with pushchairs and young preschool children. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that they weren’t the groups for me as I have grown up children and teenagers. Frankly the school gate wait for my Primary school aged children days were over and much to my relief; I’d found that harder than attending school!

The name ‘She Runs’ felt more inclusive of women at all stages of life. I watched the posts come up and realised that their first ‘official’ run would be the same day as my Half in London. I must have posted something about that because one of the Buddies put me in touch with another member who was also running that half. 

I will never forget Sunday October 17th 2019. I nervously met Rosie and she chatted away to me as we waited to start. I didn’t need to be nervous, she was awesome, helped me to feel relaxed and it made such a difference to be waiting to start with someone else rather than on my own. I enjoyed the run and the atmosphere, walked when I needed finishing in 2 hours 43. I even took photos of a cheer squad of ducks enjoying the mud near the start line. 

After that I continued to watch and occasionally post on the she runs page. There were always positive comments left and thumbs up. It felt a safe place to belong. I googled FOMO one day to find out that I was also having this fear of missing out every Wednesday and Sunday when pictures of the group runs were posted. One Sunday I drove down, parked in the library car park ready for the 8am run. Three times I got out of my car and back in again, anxious to go and stand with a group of women I’d never met. I gave myself a ‘talking to’ and forced myself out of the car, I’d come to run. Someone gave a nod of hello as we warmed up and I recognised a few faces. 

That run I don’t think I talked to anyone, though no-one’s fault but my own. Everyone appeared to already know someone else and I have learned over the years how to blend into a crowd and not be noticed.  I came home with mixed feelings, really wanted to get to know this group of inspiring women but at the same time nervous and kicking myself for not engaging with them. Being shy is sometimes is a real pain in the bum and I’ve always struggled with social interaction. I have this fear of saying or doing something wrong; I still do. 

I continued following posts for a few more weeks and then decided to try a Sunday run again. This time I only got back in the car once. As the run started, I gave myself a mental nudge and told myself to say hi to the lady running alongside me and that if I didn’t I may as well have stayed in the car and I knew I would not try again. So, I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, I’m Ann”. What a fantastic run that was. The lady was Gruby and we found we had so much in common, we had a child of similar age, same school and so on. What had I been so worried about?!

By the time I decided to go for the third time She Runs has added in the 10k route too. Since I was in full swing of marathon training, I decided I’d give that a go. Gruby was there again and I felt comfortable knowing we could have another chat. We had company in our ‘Party at the Back’ because at She Runs no one is left behind, looped or lapped. We run at our own pace without pressure. Our Buddy of the run was Anna-Jane who has since told me she thought Gruby and I had known each other for ages! Another runner with teenagers, this was going well!! I really enjoyed the run and chatting with both women. 

That was that, I felt comfortable running with this group, I had enjoyed myself. I was looking forward to going again and slowly getting to know more members each time. 

My next social hurdle was to join them for coffee afterwards. Posts regularly mentioned the coffee and cake after Sunday morning runs. There was no expectation to attend but an open invitation was there to all. I felt it was another way to continue to get to know people. So far though I had made a quick dash back to my car at the end of the run. I made myself the promise that next time I would go even though I could feel the knot in my stomach of anxiety. However, the world went into lockdown. I am yet to have that coffee and cake, but now instead of anxiety I can’t wait. 

Lockdown perhaps was a gift to me when it comes to SRC. I had more time to continue to get to know the members from the safety of my keyboard. Then life threw me a curve ball and I rushed my husband to hospital. Those were the hardest days I have ever lived – little communication from the hospital, no answers and no visiting. 

Now, being shy I would usually politely thank people for the offer with a ‘I will be ok, but thanks for offer’ but this time I said yes to everything. When asked if I would like a run or meet for a cuppa I said ‘Both?!’. In the days that followed I went for Socially Distanced runs, walks, outdoor coffee, I even learned breathing techniques over Zoom. 

One day in the middle of this I had added a comment to a post about feeling a bit down, but that I shouldn’t really as many of us were struggling and lots of people had it far worse – I was thinking of the over stretched NHS, teaching friends trying to still provide Hubs and so on. In truth it was a very dark day for me and I was struggling to hold it together. I had a Buddy response that in a nutshell said it was ok to not be ok and if I was struggling, I should reach out (I even remember who posted it). I agonized over it for what felt like hours. In the end I sent a direct message to the page telling them what was happening and how I was finding it tough. 

What followed was nothing short of a big purple virtual hug. I received a flood of direct messages from Buddies asking how they could help, offers of support and practical help. I know I will never feel as if I have thanked them all adequately. They got me through that day and beyond.

Building on these friendships I made it part of my October Birthday Challenge to run with someone new every week and most weeks that meant I met with 2 or even 3 people as I explored new places to run in Cardiff. It has been amazing and due to the Firebreak we had I still have a post-it note of people who offered to run with me.

I won’t lie, I still worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, have a knot in my stomach before meeting with someone for the first time in the flesh. Social anxiety isn’t fixed over night and may never be, but SRC is a safe place and all you members make it that way. You encourage one another, support one another and most importantly you care. Life is tough and never more so that the last 12 months. Every single one of us will have had dark days, tough days, tearful days, exhausting days. At SRC there’s nothing we haven’t heard now, there’s nothing we’re not ready to say ‘I hear you’ to.

 SRC is more than a running club, it has given me the courage to step so far out of my comfort zone; I now even have funky patterned leggings and I don’t regret a thing! All it takes is a little support and encouragement – something we have in plentiful supply in SRC.

Running brought us together, friendship has made me stay.

2 thoughts on “Socially Awkward to Socially Connected

  1. I love this. I only starting running during the first lockdown and struggle hugely with social anxiety so haven’t ever run with anyone except family. SRCis such a fantastic group, so supportive and friendly to everyone of every level. I’m so glad I joined. Your post has made me even more determined to get myself to a place where I can run with others. xx

    Liked by 2 people

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