April 16 2018
The pressure to succeed got the best of me—until I learned to race without fear.
I am the classic introvert. I hate parties and small talk. I choose to make my living writing from home. And I am a runner. I was drawn to running because I need, and like, to be alone. Between working all day and spending the evening with my family, it was the perfect way to get a moment to myself, to either mull over the events of the day, or honestly just space out.
An introvert is characterized as someone who finds socialization draining or overwhelming, often finding comfort in solitary pursuits. Not to be confused with shyness or misanthropy, the introvert can spend time around others but chooses not to, showing, as stated by Dr.Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. in her article, Revenge of the Introvert, “a preference for the inner world of their own mind rather than the outer world of sociability.” Helgoe, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the West Virginia School of Medicine with a special interest in introversion (and also a runner), sees a lot of advantages of running for introverts, for example as a head-clearing activity.
But for most introverted runners, it’s not that simple. Here are some tips on how to navigate the world of running all by yourself.
From the outside, the world of running is pretty glamorous. The races, the athletes, the awesome clothes. Even the grit and the sweat look cool. Every newbie wheezing and coughing around their cul-de-sac strives and aims to be able to call themselves a “real runner” (which, of course, they already are!). The fact is, running, like most other sports, isn’t just an activity; it’s a culture, one of the nicest and all-inclusive ones. Pressure, both direct (from other runners), and indirect (from media and the Internet), can cause us to question the ‘right’ way to be a runner.
For example, runners often feel peer pressure to sign up for races or join running groups, social activities that most introverts seek to avoid. The glamorization of these activities, however, can make them seem irresistible. I used to love racing. But I also used to loathe it. Waking up before sunrise, traveling to the starting line with miserable, sleepy commuters, and standing in the corral alone, surrounded by hundreds of racers, trying to keep a nervous stomach at bay were things I disliked. But it just seemed to be what runners do. And races are so impressive. The pageantry, the camaraderie, the sweet race T-shirts, the after-race bagels and the medals! Oh, those shiny medals. Then you have running groups. Running groups are awesome. They hold you accountable, keep you motivated and oftentimes keep you safe on the road. But for an introvert, the idea of having to make small talk, or worse, giving up precious alone time, can feel like a nightmare.
So how do we avoid peer pressure? Sometimes it’s necessary to unplug. Unfollow the people that make you feel like you’re missing out, or avoid social media for a while. Put down the women’s and fitness magazines for a while, if that’s what you need.
If racing is still something you long to do, Helgoe recommends meditating while running, or what she calls in her book, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, “meditating in the mosh pit.”
“Mindfulness meditation is simply a practice of being present without attachment. Running becomes meditative when we allow ourselves to notice everything—what we see, smell, the feel of the wind, the thoughts that pass through our minds,” says Helgoe. “This detached attention allows us to experience even crowds in a different way. We see patterns, flow, hear the music of voices, but—and this is key for introverts—we don’t take it in or linger on it.”
Safety can be a huge issue for runners, especially females. One of the first tips is always, do not run alone. It makes perfect sense, but it’s not your only option. You can take a self-defense class, adopt (or borrow) a dog to run with, and there is even runner’s mace, with a special holder that can be slipped onto your hand or wrist. There is no need to feel vulnerable by yourself if you take the proper precautions.
Ultimately, it’s important to know that you are a ‘real’ runner, even if you never run even one race. If you let go of the expectations, ditch the FOMO and do what you need to feel safe on the road, running can be an introverts best friend.