Doubt Yourself Before a Race? Read This

Most people tend to either love the few days before a race, soaking in all of the excitement, buzz, and anticipation of the race day….or hate it.

I am in the hate it category.

I find I just want to get to race day, to the moment where I can challenge myself and see what I am made of. Those days before the race are just filled with fear and the potential to mess up.

I should enjoy those few days, WE should all enjoy the few days before a race. After all, that is part of the battle right?

Racing well is about overcoming those mental demons, and those few days are a HUGE part of that.

Doesn’t make it any easier though does it?

I thought maybe this could help you if you are preparing for a race this weekend…..or you can save it for a moment in the future when you are feeling this way.

I wanted to show that everyone feels this way before a race.

Okay, actually, that’s a lie. I do not know that everyone feels this way. I know I feel this way, and I thought maybe if you struggle with this too, you can gain some comfort that we all go through this, we all doubt ourselves and wonder why we are doing it.

I raced well a few days later, running a 4 minute PR in the marathon of 2:37, and YOU can race well too. Just as you are stronger than you think with your ability to overcome those mental freakouts during a race, you are strong enough to handle the pre race nerves too.

You have been through too much to give up now, so Be Brave. Be Strong. Be YOU. And remember, it will all be worth it if you show your demons who the boss is here (that’s you :P)

So here we are:

God I hate the taper.

Its funny, when you are deep in your marathon training, you look forward to the taper, you long for the days where you “only” have 6 miles, where you can finally bring the miles down and get excited for the part that matters; the race.

We laugh in the face of taper crazies, what is that anyway?

I always thought I was never someone who went through that. Steve and I do not taper as much as a lot of runners. I actually think most people taper too much and their body ends up confused.

Either way, I don’t handle it very well, so we reduce my training 1-2 weeks before a race by about 1/3 of my highest, which is still a lot, but not so much I feel flat.

Okay, so that’s not true….I don’t end up feeling flat on race day, but that does not mean it doesn’t happen in the few days before.

I am in that right now. Even though this post will not go live for a while, I wanted to get my feelings out, so other people going through this right NOW can know that they are not alone, and we can all keep this aside to look at next time we are going through it.

Although the taper appears glamorous, and of course everyone reacts differently to it. I thought I would share what I am going through right now.

First, lets start with the physical.

I feel like CRAP. Every run this week I have felt awful.

Not the same kind of awful as when you are deep in marathon training, it’s not that tiredness where you can barely lift your legs, the tiredness where all you want to do is sit….no, lie, on the side of the road.

As that silly old quote says “put a fork in me, im done”

No. I am talking about a different kind of awful.

A complete lack of motivation. Your race is just a few days away, yet you keep putting those “short” runs you have been looking for off. This week I have had no desire to do my runs, and most of the run is spent looking forward to being done, kind of in a daze.

You know those runs I talked about a few times, where even elites lack motivation, yep. I have plenty of those right now.

Not only am I putting off the runs, but lets talk about the emotional state.

You doubt yourself.

You wonder how the heck (I am thinking of a stronger word, but lets keep this PG) you are going to accomplish 26.2 miles of HARD running when 6-8 miles of easy running feels like forever.

That does not even cover the pace!

Not only are you planning on covering 26.2 miles, but you have to run it FAST, most of us have not run more than half that distance at our race pace, so how is it going to happen for 26.2 in just a few days?

Then there are the intense moments of fear as you remember just how much a marathon hurts, just how dark your thoughts become, and just how painful it is.

Do I really want to do this?

This is often the time I think to myself about this being the last one, this should be it for a while. I am ready to hang up the shoes for a while, live like a normal person who does not put themselves through this pain.

Of course, there are some good moments.

When you watch a race finish line, or you read through your training log and remember that you did have lots of strong training days, that this is why you made it through those bad days, and you are going to be ready on race day, you ARE ready, it is just your fear that is telling you that you are not.

But fear is good, fear means that adrenaline will accompany it, and most of all, it means that you care.

You have put time into this, you have put your heart into this, and you are going to make it worthwhile.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the worst time.

I know when it comes to the race itself, when I am in that moment where I am confronted with the decision of pushing through that pain barrier or giving in, I will be ready. I will face it, and I will push myself, fight that demon, but it is the anticipation of that fear.

You know it is going to be tough, and you can’t quite see the finish line clearly, you can’t quite feel that incredible high that comes when you round the final corner and see your dreams coming to life.

I had one of those moments a month go, yet I still can’t feel it. I can look at those pictures of me smiling as I completed a dream come true, yet they just “aren’t working”.

This whole month, every hard workout, every day I was tired, every moment I wondered why I did this, I could reflect back on that moment and remember just how good it felt, but yet, in my moment of need, in the time our confidence is meant to be highest as we prepare for our big race, we just don’t feel it.

But this is normal right?

Or maybe not, maybe I am the only one going through this, but I am hoping by writing it out, by sharing my fears, as I scramble around looking for my confidence, taking in every little detail I can find to try to build it back up, I think about just what I want to do.

I know I will do this on race day. I know I will leave my heart out there, this is just taper madness, this is why they call it madness. You may have phantom pains, you may feel flat, you may wonder why you put yourself through this, but just like any struggle, this is a test to see how bad we want it.

Just as the night is darkest just before the sun rises, this is like the part where we prepare to face our biggest fears, and it is scary, but that is okay.

I know I am not alone, and I know I will come out the other side, no matter what happens.

I did make it out the other side, and you will too….just how happy you are on the other side will depend on how much you believe in yourself in your race. You got this, I know it, and you do too, you just have to believe. And if you need a little more than this I have created the Mile 20 Mental Training Course just for you, it has so many things in there which I have learned from over my years of running. I know it can definitely help you out with those demons you face very day.

Do you ever doubt yourself before a race? How do you handle it?

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  • I think I raced so much that I don’t get as nervous now. I only get nervous before big goal races. I do think it’s important to remember you’ll make it out on the other side. If it’s an awesome race, great and if it’s not as awesome…you’ll have plenty more.

  • OMG Tina this is perfect timing for me!!! I have a triathlon on Saturday and I’m feeling so blah about it. I have zero motivation and have contemplated just not doing it several times. I’m going alone, I have to wake up at 4am and be in the water by 7am. Blah. I’m definitely in a mode of questioning everything, yet I know I will feel accomplished when I cross the finish line. This post is helping tremendously!!! Thank you!!!

  • Tina, this is so helpful, TY for sharing. You are so right about staying positive. I have a 10K this weekend and the doubting has begun, full force! :/ One thing that helps me is to revisit recent workout files–to see the pace per mile/endurance/heart rate/whatever I have achieved to remind myself that if I did it before, I can do it again.

  • Kristine Wichner Torkelson
    June 15, 2016 10:16 am

    Thank you, Tina for posting this today! I’m getting ready for Grandma’s marathon and am having serious doubts about finishing the race in my goal time. Every run I’ve gone on has felt so hard this week and I’ve been so full of anxiety. Of course I’m excited, but my nerves are getting the best of me right now!

  • TINA!!! I needed to read this. I’m racing the Seattle R n R marathon on Saturday! I’ve been working SO HARD to get my sub-3 and here I am in race week feeling bloated, heavy, grouchy, slow, sick (how did I get sick THIS WEEK?!?!), and sore (phantom pains are so bizarre!). Knowing how well you did after you wrote this just really helps me right now to not lose faith in myself and my training. Thank you. 🙂

  • I ALWAYS doubt myself before a race. My biggest problem is phantom pains. I get scared I’ll injure myself and also wonder how I’ll keep up the pace. Thanks for sharing!

  • Le Far-West
    June 15, 2016 2:51 pm

    As I read this post, I could hear Tina motivating herself by being so truthful. Last time I had demons was on the swim team and track teams in high school, 45 years ago. Starting with Triathlons, Marathons, bike races, ocean swims, (@all distances) and Adventure racing in my 30s, I was invariably excited the weeks prior.

    I have a 5k on Father’s day, June 19 this coming Sundae here in the US. I’m so excited, I can hardly stand the prospect:)
    Though I’m not running 26.2, or that I’ll try to PR; the outcome couldn’t be more critical as it will b the result validating the last 779 days of training and self-administered injury prevention modalities to solve all my nagging issues from 10 years of neglect.

    No, I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement, I have no time for demons or self-doubt. I’m going to f…..g nail it (staying PG)! Yes, fear is healthy; but I keep that for jumping out of planes.

    You’re going to be awesome on your next race!

  • No matter the length of the race or the type of the race I have a lot of these same types of thoughts. it’s not easy!

  • I remember when you sent me this post the night before my marathon. It meant so much to me Tina <3 I also felt like my last week of runs were hard and blah…then I raced and it went well. Thank you so much! I really consider you a mentor 🙂

  • Oh yes, I have so been there! The doubt is so much worse when those runs feel physically exhausting and I begin to think I overtrained and can’t do it. Thanks for sharing that you experience this!

  • This is my life right now! Just over 2 weeks till my marathon and I have that exact feeling. Got a 10km tonight and it’s so late and dark after work – lucky hubby is there to remind me that I have got to run. Haven’t needed a push until now and don’t want to fall into the taper trap of letting things slide to early! Great post.

  • Thank you for this honest and inspiring post, Tina! I’m saving this to read again before I run my second marathon in December. I’ve gotten better at handling doubts in races like the half, but the marathon still intimidates me and causes doubt.

  • Ah, my friend – how do you always get in our heads and know what we are all thinking?! 🙂 xo

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