How to be comfortable running in public: Part 1

I was going to make this just one post, but it was getting really long, so it’s going to be a series instead.  I have a lot to say about this because, for some reason, people are always asking me these kinds of questions: “How can I look like a real runner?”  “Do I look stupid?”  “Is everyone staring at me?”  “Do I need those shiny clothes?”

This seems to be a major obstacle for many would-be runners, and I completely understand (at least I think I do).  If self-consciousness is keeping you from getting some exercise, then please read on, as I have many, many things to tell you.  For that matter, if self-consciousness if keeping you inside on the treadmill when you could be running in the beautiful outdoors, then I have many, many things to tell you.  The first is, you deserve better than the treadmill.

It is sometimes shocking to me that I’m okay with running around my neighborhood in shiny little shorts.  And I am stunned, honestly, that anyone would ask me for advice on building confidence.  Really?  I often think, when I’m out there running, “Why doesn’t this bother me, of all people?” and in all sincerity, “Thank you, God, that I love this and it doesn’t make me feel stupid!”  I really am grateful for that.  You can get there, too.

I believe I only feel comfortable running in public because I’ve been doing it since I was a child.  I didn’t feel stupid then because I thought I was amazing! and so fast! and then I just kept doing it.  I imagine it is super awkward indeed to begin running as an adult.  So this is my first (or my second?) and most important piece of advice: you will not feel totally comfortable running in public until it has become a habit, and you may not be totally comfortable even then.  You may never be totally comfortable running in public. 

Is that a huge disappointment?  Does it sound like I have nothing helpful to tell you?  What I mean is, you can get to the point where you hardly ever think about it, but you still might think about it occasionally.  The problem is, there are always faster, fitter, cuter people out there, and even if you were the fastest, fittest, and cutest of them all, you would still feel terribly unworthy of all that admiration.  But that’s okay — your goal is not to be admired the world over, but just to feel like you belong, right?  I can tell you right now that you do belong, but I’m sure you don’t believe me, or you wouldn’t be reading.

You absolutely must reconcile yourself to the fact that sometimes you may feel conspicuous.  In fact, you must reconcile yourself to the fact that sometimes you will be conspicuous.  That’s why you feel weird!  It’s true: people can see you!  You must learn to be okay with that.  Now, of course, you don’t want to be the most conspicuous of all the conspicuous runners, do you?  You want to look average for a weirdo?  We can manage that.

The suggestions I will make in the next few weeks are, therefore, intended to help you feel comfortable being conspicuous, at least until you actually feel (mostly) comfortable.  They are meant to tide you over until you feel like you belong.  But you already do.  Really.

So, your first steps are:

1. Try to believe that you belong with the “real” runners;

2. Try to accept the fact that you won’t be invisible; and

3. Go for a run (or a walk, depending on your fitness), outside, and try not to worry.

Let me know how you do!