Getting Out What You Put In

As a socially shy, somewhat introverted person, I find embarking on a new endeavor extremely intimidating, especially on my own. I will be the first to admit I am terrible at meeting new people and introducing myself. For a long time, I’ve struggled with just wanting to fit in and be accepted, worried that I’ll do or say the wrong thing. It’s an insecurity thing…but I’m recognizing it and while it’s not going to go away overnight, I’ve gotten better about being more confident in myself and trying to let go of so much of my worry over what other people think.

(What is this, Friday Confessionals?)

Anyway, that’s just a bit of background of me that is relevant to the topic at hand, which is getting started in a new sport/activity/venture/whatnot. Ahem.

So this past Wednesday, I participated in my first group trail run, organized and hosted by the same folks (Aravaipa Running) that put on the 7k I did, and next month’s runs I’m signed up for. It’s a weekly “open run” that invites people of all levels to come and run for an hour — distance varies on experience level, and the location rotates weekly. This week, the run happened to be fairly close to me — about as close as any real trails are — so that took away my “don’t want to drive the distance” excuse. So I signed up.

Read the first paragraph of this blog entry, and you can probably figure out my train of thought. “Oh, what am I doing? I’m going to be the slowest, most pathetic person there. I’m going to be surrounded by a whole bunch of experienced people who are way fitter and faster, and I’m going to hold the group up, and why am I doing this???” Staying anonymous and in the shadows would be easier — who actually holds people to Facebook RSVPs anyway? — so as a way to hold myself accountable, I posted a “Newbie Alert!” message on the Facebook group, letting people know that I’m slower than a herd of turtles in peanut butter, brand-new to this trail running thing, and rather nervous about my first group run.

If I go on the offense with advanced notice of all the things I’m going to do wrong, at least they have a heads up, right?

Responses I got were all positive and encouraging. The “Fun” Group — what would otherwise be called the “slow” or “beginner” group, but they put a positive spin on it — was touted as the place to be, so I headed out the door Wednesday evening, still nervous, but also excited. I’m not much of a groupie…but left to my own devices, I am a complete social hermit, and also a somewhat lazy runner, so I figured the motivation of going to new trails and staying with a group will be good training for me and my future running plans, and it’ll also help me be more social and interact with people in a positive, fun environment.

By the time I got to the trailhead, there were a dozen cars there, and people starting to cluster together. Running shoes, GPS watches, hydration packs…yup, I’m in the right place. I used the few minutes that it took to park and get my stuff (headlamp, water, phone) to gather my wits, scope out the setting, and start making my way over to the group.

This is the hardest part for me. I’m not good at initiating, and the socially insecure part of me wants to huddle back and be a wallflower, and wait for someone to notice me. I think, if my expectation had been having the red carpet rolled out for me just because I was a new face that showed up, I would have been sorely disappointed. Groups like these probably get new faces showing up every week — and many that probably never return. In a brand-new environment like this, people don’t know that I am shy and reserved. They’re not mind-readers — to them, someone that isn’t initiating or making an effort to be a part of the group may be stand-offish, or giving the impression they don’t care to be a part of what is going on.

You get out what you put in. For me, at least, this means having to make that first move, which is, at the very least, intimidating. (Apparently this is also Psych Eval Friday.) As I approached the group, I had scouted around for what looked like a friendly face and found one. Maybe it was a case of two newbies gravitating towards each other, but after I introduced myself, she also said it was her first time running with the group.

She was very nice — a recent college grad who had just moved here from the east coast, looking for the social aspect of running and meeting people in a new area — and we spent some time chatting. More people started showing up, then the run leader came over to meet the new faces. He welcomed both of us, then gave a brief rundown of the distances/approximate speeds each group was planning to do. Funny enough, where we had clustered was right where the Fun Group was gathering, so that was a chance to meet the woman who would be leading the fun group, and start talking with a few other people who were gathering around.

The run itself was a blast. As advertised, the Fun Group was exactly that — fun, energetic, encouraging. I was not the slowest one there, and even if I had been…it wouldn’t have mattered. No judgment on anyone or anyone’s pace — just enthusiasm for the fact that we were out there. Even a missed turn at a ‘Y’ in the trail that netted some of us a slightly longer reading on our GPS was met with a laugh and cheers of “Bonus miles!”

After the run, a group invasion of a nearby restaurant is held and all who can make it are welcome. I figured that would be a good way to further participate in a group setting, and food/drink tends to be a good icebreaker. It was a ton of fun — I sat with Sabrina, who had led the Fun Group run, and chatted with her quite a bit. I felt very welcome and included, to the point where I have decided that I will be doing the group runs weekly, even if I have to drive a bit. (If people from Phoenix could drive out to Mesa, I can do the same…it’s only once a week. And with luck, maybe I’ll find someone in the group who lives near me who might be willing to carpool.)

(A funny aside: When I completed the 50 at Man Against Horse in 2009, I sort of bemoaned the fact that the first place runner had finished like three hours ahead of me. [Even taking into account the almost two hours of mandatory horse hold times and no mandatory hold times for runners, that’s still over an hour faster than Mimi’s four hooves traversed the course.] Turns out that first place winner was Jamil, the group run leader and one of the Aravaipa Race Directors. Small world.)

photo snagged from the Aravaipa Group Trail Run
Facebook page…dusk on Wednesday night’s run

Reflecting on this got me thinking back to the last time I was embarking on a new endeavor: My first AERC ride. I had come out of the NATRC world, so at least had the “distance riding” experience…but there’s not a ton of crossover between the two organizations here in the southwest, so knew no one going into endurance. Going into NATRC, I had ridden on my dad’s coattails of meeting people — he’s a naturally social extrovert who can talk to anyone, so I sort of hung back, messed with my pony, and let him break the ice.

My first AERC ride, it was me and the pony. Dad drove/crewed…but it was just me and the little white mare traipsing around camp, checking and vetting in, and on the trail. It was my show, so to speak, and it was on me to step up and say “Hi, I’m new here.”

The first person I met at my first AERC ride (Man Against Horse 2005) was someone I still ride with today — Lancette. She was a friendly, welcoming smile as she pointed out a good place to park and the general lay of the land, and again the next morning as she passed me just a couple miles into the ride, making sure I was doing okay. To this day, she is still a friendly, welcoming smile who is now loaning me horses, making sure I’m still able to get some good saddle time and trail miles in, and someone I consider a good friend.

I don’t know if I’ve just been extraordinarily lucky to have had such positive introductions to breaking into new settings? I know I’m grateful that is has been so positive and welcoming…but I also don’t think it just happened that way. For me, at least, I feel like I was proactive in setting myself up for success…

  • Embrace the newbie status. I am an endless researcher and information gatherer. When I go into something, you can almost guarantee I’ve spent countless hours on the internet, scouring resources and finding out ahead of time as much as I can about what I’m getting into. But once I’m there, I am the newbie who knows nothing. The best knowledge and experience comes from doing, so until I’ve actually done something, I’m going to keep my mouth shut, no matter how much research I’ve done and how much I think I know, and learn from those around me who have done.
  • Low expectations (of yourself). I came into endurance with years of riding experience on my side…but the ability to execute a perfect equitation pattern doesn’t mean jack-all when your pony has just run through a prickly pear and is spinning circles around you as you try to remove the needles…
    • I figured we could finish our first 25…and that was my only goal. Just finish in time and both of us in one piece. (Surprise, that ended up being the fastest I’ve done that particular ride.)
    • My realistic goal for the 7k was just to finish and not break myself.
  • Low expectations (of others). I don’t mean that in the harsh, cynical way of “If you expect nothing from people, you’ll never be disappointed.” What I mean by that is I don’t expect to be treated “special” just because I’m new. Basic courtesies are appreciated, and anything beyond that is bonus points.
    • What got me thinking about this specifically is the topic of discussion that comes up on endurance newbies “not feeling welcome.” Playing devil’s advocate for the side of the experienced people: New people come into a sport or activity all the time that don’t stick with it. It is draining and disheartening on the experienced people to invest in someone who may or may not be committed to the sport.
      • People have been friendly and welcoming to me in NATRC, and endurance, and trail running. But in both NATRC and endurance, I noticed a shift in people’s attitudes after a season or two — I had put enough time and rides in to prove myself, that I was dedicated and I was serious, so now it was “safer” to put some of their mental time and energy into me.
      • I am fully anticipating the same thing happening with the trail running. Right now, I am a neon green newbie with nothing other than my word to say “I’m serious about this.” Actions really do speak louder than words, so I know it will take showing up at practice runs, putting in the training time, and toeing the start line of races to prove this isn’t just a passing whim.
    • Time and place. In a competitive race/ride setting, there is a lot going on. Very experienced people often have a lot going on with preparation, or are mentally keyed in to their own prep, so use discretion about when to ask a thousand and one questions. I know  people personally who are as nice as can be outside of a ride setting, but get very intense on ride day – it’s nothing personal, they just may not be the best person to consult as an on-site mentor. Same with management — on event day, they are juggling more balls in the air than they can count, and probably half a dozen crises on top of that.
      • If you’re very fortunate, you will have a mentor that has taken you under their wing and will advise you along the way. If not, try to research and find things out ahead of time. Some rides are now offering a “new riders briefing” that follows after the standard ride briefing, as a way for new riders to ask any questions that weren’t covered in the regular briefing.
        • Here’s something I noticed…blogs and bloggers are a good way to get information. Most of us bloggers write down our ride stories because we like relating our experience and are probably willing to talk about it. Question? Search out ride stories on a particular ride and post a comment. While I am in no way an official mentor, I am always happy to answer any questions I can that people post or email relating to endurance, a particular ride, trails, hoof boots, or whatnot. (See my little “Ask me about Endurance Riding” graphic on the sidebar?)
  • If you’re like me, and your default setting is “social wallflower”: Take the first step. (Again, this is the hardest one for me!) Don’t assume people will know you’re shy — maybe they are, too. Or they just figure you’re not interested in talking to people. Specialized settings — like ridecamp or a trail run — that cater to a specific activity are my favorite settings, because it tends to provide an automatic icebreaker of subject matter to talk about and get a conversation going.
Well, that went way longer than planned…and deeper into my own personal psyche than I usually provide on here. Doing more running is giving me a lot of think time, which in turn tends to result in blog posts…which I hope provide at least some food for thought somewhere along the way. The fine print disclaimer on all of this, of course, is that it has just been my own personal experiences…Your Mileage May Vary. 

8 thoughts on “Getting Out What You Put In

  1. A different POV about newbies “not feeling welcome”: it's not that the experienced hobbyists don't believe you're serious about committing to the sport, it's that nobody knows if you'll like it. I've internet-mentored a handful of people to endurance, and for most of them it didn't work out – not because the riders weren't committed, but because it just wasn't the right sport for them or their current horses. Absolutely no hard feelings! So viewed through that lens, it's not that you “proved anything to the community” by showing up for several seasons, it's that you proved to yourself that this is what you and your horse want to be doing.

  2. While I haven't felt unwelcome as I enter endurance, I know others have. Your perspective (and Funder's) are both things I hadn't thought of, but make perfect sense. After seeing what gets posted by “newbies” or just those interested in endurance on the AERC FB page, I'm already exhausted just reading some of the absolutely ridiculous things people post. No wonder more experienced people scoff at newbies! Obviously all new riders aren't like that, but I can see why it can be tough to deal with the constant questions.

  3. The AERC FB group is exhausting. Mostly it's the snarkiness and the trolls that congregate that grate on me, but I do wish people would use a little more mental discretion sometimes when posting, and keep it endurance-specific…or do some of their own, proactive research on some of the more easily-answered questions.

    I actually really liking talking to people who are new/interested in endurance. One of the great things about doing most of my riding out of popular, well-traveled trailheads is the chance to talk up endurance to people — the bright tack and wild tights are always good conversation starters.

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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