There is a new crop of New-Year's-Resolution runners out on the trails. The really superior ones start a week or so before New Year's Day so as to feel all exercisier-than-thou next week.
I can tell by the socks of course. The beginner balks at laying out $100 +/- for a pair of actual factual running shoes, but particularly shies away from paying $9.50 for a pair of socks!
But I can also tell by their faces, and responses to my greetings. There is a look of fear in their faces, and there is no response to my "Hello" or "Happy New Year". It seems to be fear of being caught in the act of something. Fear of being recognized. Recognized as a failure? Recognized as a running newbie? As for the response or lack of response, maybe I'm just so funny looking that it takes their breath away. Maybe they are running too fast and have no breath left to take away. But I don't even get a wave or a tilt of the head or a smile. Just a look I call "The Pole-Axed Cow" -- the wide eyes just before the complete collapse. (To be fair, it is not just newbies that give me the Pole-Axed Cow look. I get it from the IronMan guys, the deathly serious out-to-prove-something guys a decade or two younger than me (I'm 55) and still acting out their adolescent pride.)
For all the new runners out there, let me say two things.
First, it's totally okay if the gear comes later. When I started running in 2004, it was cotton socks, cheap all-purpose training flats, and cut-offs. I remember doing the Couch to 5K the first time, that big day of the 20 minute run, in cut-off BDU pants that had cargo pockets and came down to my knees. Oh, and I carried a digital kitchen timer for those first weeks of timed run / walk intervals (did not have a digital watch at the time)! So -- gear will come later, and to suit your comfort (and income) level.
Second, it's okay to respond to greetings by other runners. Honestly, runners are some of the most welcoming and inclusive people! Your local group may vary. Maybe where I am is exceptional. But I don't think so. The attitude that says "Only Competitive Runners Allowed" is extremely rare. Many race directors are or have been very fine competitive runners, and they are happy to see runners of every ability level in the field. But it's not just race events that will welcome you. Many runners remember their start too, since we weren't all naturally gifted talents that climbed success upon success from Middle School on. We're glad you're here. We hope you'll stay.