Group mentality

At different times in their lives people may fluctuate between complete independence and the desire to be part of a group. That group will often be linked to a personal interest such as reading (a book club), writing (a writing group), cooking (a cookery course) or exercise (a running club) to name but a few. But no matter how diverse the interest, all share one common feature; the desire to be supported and encouraged.

I myself have experienced such fluctuations, particularly with regard to exercise and writing. In my early twenties I had very little interest in exercise but joined a gym in a token effort at getting fit. Needless to say when the (extortionately expensive) membership expired I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been. And on those rare occasions I had been I would never have attended exercise classes-why on earth would I have wanted to get sweaty with a bunch of complete strangers?

Some years later when (to the great surprise of those friends and family members who had known me as a chubby, exercise-fearing school girl) I decided to take part in a triathlon and signed up to a triathlon club I had my first experience of group exercise since the awful days of being picked last for the hockey team  and being repeatedly put in goal because I wasn’t any good at anything else (I wasn’t very good in goal to be honest, but at least if I stood in the way of the ball there was a chance I’d stop it going in).

I can’t say the first few Tri club sessions went all that well (I cried in the first swim and the first spin class-how embarrassing), but within a few weeks I was much more confident, and even started joining club members on weekend bike rides. When the Tri was behind me, however, my resolve crumbled and I let my membership lapse just as I had done that first gym membership and went back to solitary exercise in the gym.

The writing club followed a similar pattern. Back in London post-travels and enthusiastic to begin my writing career I found a group that met weekly in Battersea. To begin with I got a lot out of it, but as the weeks wore on I began to find a similar thing to the online forums I had previously been a member of; I was putting in more than I was getting back. That, and the fact there were a couple of people who had started coming to the group whose ruthless promotion of (what I personally felt to be sub-standard) self-published material I found hard to deal with. By the end I was drained rather than energised so I stopped attending and went back to writing alone.

More recently I’ve tried again with both group exercise and joining a writing group (albeit an online one), with more positive results. I’ve now been a member of a local running club for several months, and with the odd exception I do manage to attend every week. It helps that I’ve befriended two of the girls that go, one of whom has now even managed to talk us into signing up to a month of “boot camp” on Clapham Common, starting tomorrow (though I can’t deny I’m dreading it, military-style fitness drills not being my most favourite form of physical exertion).

Where the writing group’s concerned, we don’t critique one another’s works in progress, per se, but we do keep one another motivated and give advice on plot, structure, agent queries and such like. As an amateur writer I feel privileged to have been invited to join the (private) group, which includes a number of highly acclaimed published authors, and I’m getting a lot out of it.

When it comes down to it we humans are a sociable bunch, preferring to share experiences than to go through them alone. I suppose it therefore follows that we’re especially fond of sharing those experiences we find the hardest and/or feel least confident in, because on joining a group we feel included, accepted and, ultimately, validated. Which is a lovely feeling, just so long as the balance between what we put in and what we get out is equal.

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Best foot forward

Tonight, after a day of attempting to eat healthily but still succumbing to several Reese’s peanut butter cups and a handful of Minstrels (what? I’m the new girl, I couldn’t possibly say no on day two; that way enemies lie), I decided enough was enough and hauled my super-sized arse (New York has a lot to answer for) to running club for my first run since the sixteen mile hell run a week and a half ago. I was dreading it, but as soon as I got there and saw some familiar faces I was – as always – fine. Despite talking the whole way (and taking on a sizeable hill) we even managed the 8k distance in a respectable 46 minutes.

Since I got back I’ve been ruminating on how great it is to be part of a club, which is ironic as at school I was always the fat kid who had no interest whatsoever in being part of anything remotely club-like, especially if it involved physical exercise. But the more I go to my running club the more I feel inspired to keep on going. Not only is it great motivation to know other people will be there and you won’t be exercising alone, my club is also free-and they provide juice, fig rolls and custard creams (also for free) at the end, which is obviously a huge bonus in my (and anyone’s?) books.

So now my first big run is behind me I have no intention of quitting running club; far from it. I’ve signed up for a half marathon in September so will soon be training again, and in the meantime I’ll continue to attend the club and keep my motivation as well as (hopefully) motivating others.

My other motive for continuing to attend running club is the cost. Much as I love being a member of a gym it’s pretty expensive in London, and now I’ve started a new job where I’ll be earning – in the short term at least – considerably less (not that you’d know it from my spending spree in NYC and today’s post-work shoe shopping binge) I’m not sure gym membership is a priority over, say, eating. Actually, I’m quite certain it’s not. So, for the time being as I concentrate on reducing my outgoings and paying off my now sizeable credit card debt I think I’ll keep up running as a reliable, sociable and free means of keeping fit. And I’ll also keep praying one day soon it might be warm enough to do it without being swaddled in ten layers of clothing…