I don’t know how much I’ve written about this, but I really struggle with confidence in my running. There are voices in my head that are constantly telling me that I’m not good enough, lean enough, strong enough or disciplined enough to become the kind of runner I want to be. When something goes a little wrong during a workout or race the voices pop up and start saying all kinds of mean things to me. I know I’m not alone– heck, Runners World devoted about 3,000 words to Kara Goucher’s struggle with the same things.
I’ve realized that if I want to continue to improve and PR that I am going to have to deal with the voices in my head. I am by no means done dealing with my running doubts and fears– far from it, I think I’m at the beginning, but I think there are some things you can do to get them to quiet down.
The first is to identify where they are coming from. For me I think they have several roots. The first one– I was not a good runner when I started. My first half-marathon was in the 2:24 range (compared wiht my 1:49 PR) and I was significantly heavier than I am now. I didn’t see myself as a strong runner and I identify much more closely with those at the back of the pack than those at the front. Even though I’m usually in the top 1o% at races now. I just still see myself as the new, struggling, chubby kid in an ugly cotton tshirt.
Secondly, I never really set out to improve as much as I did. As success (relatively speaking here, I still have a long way to go before I’ll consider myself fast) came, I almost didn’t believe it. To this day when I run a fast mile or good race I think the clock or watch is lying. I’ve exceeded the expectations I originally had and I tend to live in fear that I’ve hit my physiological limit. Which, of course, I haven’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel like a poser and get really nervous at the start line of a race or tough interval workout.
I’ve developed a few strategies over the years that seem to help me believe I can get faster and get me through a workout. First, I stop the negative thoughts. I just silence them. I acknowledge the fear and remind myself of what is true (your workout went great last week, think how far you’ve come, you are fit and you’ve trained for this, etc). If you repeat negative thoughts over and over you are giving them a reason to stick around and worse, you may eventually believe them. So when I start thinking I don’t belong somewhere or I’m slow I just stop that thought.
Secondly, I repeat a phrase or word that is meaningful to me. I’ll say things like, you are strong and disciplined, no one trains harder than you (a lie but I like it anyway), toughen up, you’ve got this, dont’ be afraid, etc. I find it works to have 2-3 simple phrases or words you can use. During marathon training I’d often think “Boston” in my head which reminded me of my larger goal.
Third, I remind myself of past successes and how hard work got me there. I remind myself of all the times I was hurting during workouts and how it paid off in various races. There are a few breakthrough races that I enjoy looking back on (sadly I have not had one in awhile but whatever…) but I almost enjoy looking back on the training more. The races were more like the payoff/celebration of the weeks of hard work. Then, I remind myself of all the recent hard work and how that is paying off in that moment.
When I’m struggling in workouts (opposed to races) I remind myself of the bigger picture. Why am I out here? What is my goal? What have I done in the past that worked? Setting smaller goals (run my 800s 2-3 seconds faster than last time, run 1/2 mile longer tempo run) allows me to see progress and keeps me accountable. I also remind myself that struggling and breaking through pain in workouts will allow me to do so in a race. If you don’t practice hurting and overcoming, you won’t know how to do it on race day.
Sometimes, and this is really deep, I’ll imagine that whoever it is I’m dating or interested in is standing on the track or road watching me work out. I wouldn’t want to wimp out in front of a good looking, smart, funny dude or show weakness so I imagine that he’s standing there watching which gives me a kick. This doesn’t work as well as other strategies but sometimes you just need to imagine hotness to break you through. Sometimes it’s a celebrity. I’ve worked out with Justin Timberlake before. I think this dates back to my high school track years where there were literally cute boys on the track. Or the not so distant past when I was trying to show off for a guy on my running team. Oh who am I kidding? I run fast when he shows up.
But really, there is always a point in a hard race or workout where I want to quit. At the end of the day, reaching your goals hurts and requires sacrifice of oxygen, muscle comfort and energy. It’s always worth it but it’s necessary to remind yourself that the actual act of accomplishing your goal is never going to be easy. If it’s easy, your goal was too modest. I always remind myself that I want to cross the finish line knowing I did absolutely everything I could to leave everything on the course. I don’t want regrets.
And finally… I love all the “ask me anything” posts people have been doing. So, if you have a question, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment and I’ll answer it!