Monday, November 28, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Weeks 31 & 30: Social Awkwardness or Why I Train Alone

When you picture an Ironman, you picture the lone warrior, running solo down the road; the lone cyclist pumping up the hill against the sunset. But the truth of it is that most of us train in groups much of the time. And even though our event will take place as a solo effort, it will be spent in the company of thousands.

Sometimes I seek out that group training, and enjoy the camaraderie of a bunch of athletes all pushing themselves to the limit. My Masters swim group is a terrific bunch of folks who keep the boring back-and-forth of a pool workout from being anything but fun and challenging every time. But other times I'm reminded of why I avoid group situations and mostly train alone.

I think I've mentioned here that I'm a very visual person. I discovered years ago in a French class when we watched our first French movie that when a character turned their back to the camera I couldn't understand them at all. That's when it dawned on me that I was lip reading French instead of actually hearing it (which probably explains my appalling accent). Eventually I figured out that Italian was a much better language for me, no silent consonants and lots of extravagant hand gesturing.

Eventually it dawned on me that I actually have some sort of auditory processing disorder and that I mostly lip read in English as well. This might explain a lot of social awkwardness, especially in loud or chaotic environments like parties. People who meet me for the first time in such places will invariably tell me later that they either thought I was silent and stand-offish, or that I was too talkative and boorish. That's because I have a very difficult time actually understanding other people when it's noisy, so I either talk non-stop or I don't talk at all. Neither is a great approach for being friendly and polite.

So fast-forward to yesterdays group bike ride on trainers, a recipe for social disaster for me. It's largely a group of folks that I don't know well. Everyone has their hands on their handlebars, facing the same way, so I'm either looking at people's backs or their sides. Other folks are chatting, but I have a hard time understanding what they're saying, especially with the music and the sound of tires on trainer flywheels. At first I don't talk at all, then when someone starts talking to me I talk too much. I come home feeling like such a heel. Maybe other people feel the same way in social scenarios, but somehow I always feel very alone when I meet new people like that.

Sometimes when I coach my son's robotics team, I listen to the team members interacting and realize that this type of computery, engineery, roboticy brain goes hand in hand with some of the same things that I experience, and I remember what I was like at that age. Sometimes these kids talk too much or too little, talk over the top of each other. I can see their brains going a million miles an hour behind their eyes, just waiting to deliver this amazing bunch of information that's in their heads and not always listening to each other. I hope that as their coach, I can help facilitate better communication and listening skills, and I can empathize with their difficulty in this area. And maybe I can give a little love and forgiveness to the awkward teenager I once was and the sometimes awkward adult I am now.


6 comments:

Caratunk Girl said...

I train alone all the time too...I feel kind of weird when I train with people, like they all know more than I do and I always feel so awkward and come away feeling like a heel...

jtrimom said...

awkward or not, I can't WAIT to meet you! I just looked online for flights today....yippeee!

Robin said...

@Caratunk Girl, that's *exactly* it, totally how I feel!

@JTriMom, ME TOOOOOO! I even bought a red Trifuel shirt for the occasion :-)

Marv said...

So understand. I live in an area where I may be the only person in a 25 mile radius that does endurance sports. I spend so much time alone training,sometimes I think I have forgotten how to converse without being awkward.

As far as listening well-a good quote: "Being listened to is so much like being loved that most people can't tell the difference."

Mary IronMatron said...

That is fascinating that you have realized you basically read lips. I have exactly the opposite problem... I only take things in auditorially, and not visually at all. I can't imagine being able to interpret what a person is saying by studying their moving lips!
I train alone, too. But for me it's because there are few people to train with--and also that I have three kids. Training alone gets me AWAY, and I don't want to have make nice when I get away. I just want to ride....

ThreeBoysFull said...

I train alone too. Mostly becauase I don't know anyone else interested in triathlon. I suppose I could go out of my way to find partners but to be very honest, I don't really want to find myself tethered to someone else. I find a lot of peace when I swim bike and run. Having to worry about keeping up with someone else or being the straggler takes something away. BTW, when I met you in September I didn't notice an ounce of social awkwardnes. If anything I walked away feeling like a blabber mouth. =) Hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Laura