“Truth is, you won’t ever be able to find your pack, if you don’t take that first terrifying step. More likely than not, your peers share in your anxiety, and you will be able to find others on common ground, friends for you to lift up and to lift you up in return.”
Truth be told, until 2015, I hated running. From the timed miles in high school, to the timed 2-miles in undergrad, I had absolutely HATED running. I hated the uncomfortable feeling that you got while running, how hard it was to breathe, the way your whole body was tired afterwards. That was until senior year of undergrad, when I quit collegiate sports in order to graduate on time, and I found myself in need of a new outlet for stress. Running, much to my chagrin, became the logical choice. I already had all the necessary equipment, and the small town of Bristol, Rhode Island was a safe place to run around with wide sidewalks and pleasant locals. Primarily though, I just wanted time away, away from school, away from campus, away from studying, away from people, in the fresh air and sunshine… ALONE.
When you grow up playing competitive sports, it rewires your brain to be just that; fiercely competitive.
It causes you to be constantly comparing your performance to others and can make you assume that others are constantly judging you and competing against you. While this can cause you to perform at a higher level than you otherwise would, it also causes significant stress and anxiety. It is also impossible to shut that part of your brain off. Everything is always a competition, grades, internships, even the timed 2-milers we had to run for our fitness test in undergrad. There was always someone faster, stronger, smarter, and it was hard to not think that they were judging you for not being at their level.
That’s why running alone became my peace, alone time that would remind me I wasn’t trapped in this world of competition and judgement, I could just get up and go whenever I wanted, wherever my two feet could take me. I could go at my own pace, as far as I wanted, without a predetermined route, listen to my music, and take as many breathers or stretching breaks as I needed with no one judging me for how slow I was, or thinking I was out of shape or “not a real runner”.
Now, let’s be clear. No one has ever said these things to me. Never have I ever had someone say I was “too slow” or “out of shape” because I needed to stop mid-run to catch my breath or stretch. No one has ever told me, “you’re not a real runner,” because I take breaks or can’t run a certain mileage. But for longer than I care to admit, that’s what I imagined would be said if I ever did run with others.
With the peace I found being a lone wolf runner, it’s not that I didn’t want someone to run with.
Honestly, it sounded like a great experience, having a friend or a group of people around you with whom you shared a common love. It was this idea that caused me to join various local running groups via social media. (Since none of my real-life friends ran unless they were being chased.) I would be fairly active online, responding to or liking posts with relative frequency. And every time the groups would post their weekly for runs, I would think to myself, “this is the week, this week you’re going to get up and go, and actually be a part of the group.” But I never did. I could never overcome that fear of not being good enough, that fear of being judged for being that new girl who was struggling in the back of the pack, holding others back. And I would go out for my run alone instead.
If this story sounds familiar, take it from me, you are NOT alone, and you don’t always have to run alone.
For me, it took building my own pack from scratch to change me away from my lone wolf mentality. The hardest, scariest part is taking that first step, that initial plunge. It’s like jumping off a dock into a cold lake, or ripping off a band-aid, the less you think about it, the easier it is. I ended up, on a whim, reaching out to one of my fellow group members online to see if, maybe, she would want to run with me. She lived in the same town, and it seemed like we might get along well.
Surprisingly, she said yes, and we both got up early one snowy Saturday morning in November to have our first run together and, as we’d both find out later, our first ever run in the snow. I don’t remember how far we went, or how fast, and I didn’t care, the miles flew by because I had someone to talk to and to share in the absolute weirdness of running in the snow for the first time ever.
We returned to the parking lot having realized that we both shared in the same anxiety over running with others: the fear of being slow and holding others back, of struggling in public, as well as being fairly novice trail runners. We also realized that, while it seemed like a lucky coincidence that we would both have the same anxiety about group runs, in reality it was more likely that we were in the majority and knowing that soothed those fears almost immediately. Ultimately, that’s why we decided to start our own all-female trail running group, to find more like-minded women looking for that proverbial “judgement free zone” while simultaneously growing the sport. I found myself no longer the lone wolf running, I now had a pack that provided support and guidance in a way I had never known going it alone.
Truth is, you won’t ever be able to find your pack, if you don’t take that first terrifying step. More likely than not, your peers share in your anxiety, and you will be able to find others on common ground, friends for you to lift up and to lift you up in return. And while I do still run alone to get that peace and distance from the real world, I’ve found running with my pack can be even more valuable.
A bit more about Samantha
Samantha works to foster the sport of running in Central Massachusetts as a co-leader of an all-female trail running group in association with the organization Trail Sisters. Samantha finished her first marathon and 50k ultra in 2019. When she’s not getting lost in the woods, she’s either working as an energy consultant focusing specifically on the advancement renewable energy and storage technologies, volunteering for her local environmental council focusing on food justice, sustainability, and community supported agriculture, or relaxing at home with her husband Brit, and their feline fur-baby Minx. Follow her adventures on IG at On A Sampage