When you are coming out of the deep heavy training, race day is just a few weeks away, you NEED your mind to help you, to tell you it IS possible and you CAN do this mammoth task ahead.
Instead, this is a time when our heads can mess with us. Doubt, fear, and paranoia creep in.
We can feel the tiredness of physical training accumulating in our legs, and it starts to make us feel like we are going backwards rather than forwards, that we are never going to make it to the start line.
But friends, that is a good thing. That is your body prepping, although it doesn’t feel good, you ARE going to experience some incredible fatigue in the race, especially towards the critical point at the end. By going through tiredness most days now, you are giving your body (and mind) the opportunity to practice.
What can you do to go into race day confident when your training has left you feeling less than, or you know you haven’t managed to get EVERYTHING in?
Building Your Confidence in You
First, you have to tackle your belief in yourself, as a person, not just a runner.
I know, I know, boooooorrring, but hear me out, it IS important. It is all connected, and it can be changed.
“Low self-confidence isn’t a life sentence. Self-confidence can be learned, practiced, and mastered–just like any other skill. Once you master it, everything in your life will change for the better.” –Barrie Davenport
We run our best when we feel happy and relaxed.
Think about it.
Imagine being late to a race, you haven’t picked up your bib yet, or have your shoes on, you don’t know where to park, and your friend doesn’t have their phone on them to find them. You have to run to the start line and go. You would feel stressed, right? And would you go into that race in the best mindset? For most of us, probably not.
Now imagine a race you get there nice and early, get to relax, tie your shoes correctly, and have found your friend, you do a nice warm up, and just feel calm and controlled. Going into the race knowing you feel confident, that would help a lot.
Your mind doesn’t know the difference between physical stress and emotional stress, stress is stress, regardless of where it comes from. We all have an infinite amount of emotional resources we can allocate, if something is bothering you, it will mentally take away from what matters to you, and yes, that includes your goals.
Life is always going to have curveballs, and I am not saying you have to get to a point where you are feeling good about every aspect of it, but you need to be able to BELIEVE in who you are, not just as a runner, but that you are a wonderful, smart, funny, kind person. Believe that you are resilient and tough.
The basic principles of mental toughness are the same, regardless of performance, we are all performing everyday in other things outside of running, we use these skills in life.
You have to remember that everything you do is not a determinant of who you are, everything you do is an opportunity to build who you are.
Finish lines don’t bring long term happiness, which is why a lot of top athletes struggle with depression. No matter how good you are, the only way to become happy, is to become happy with who you are as a person, and that is what we are going to help you do today.
What does your inner dialogue look like? Are you constantly berating yourself for not being good enough?
We are all going to beat ourselves up a little from time to time, but if you are constantly doing it, we need to change that. We need to build your confidence.
Confidence comes from what you say to yourself, that’s it. When it is credible, it is sustainable, so we need to remind you of what your strengths are.
Here are the four main ways to build your confidence
Focus on Your Success
In this world of social media, there is a lot of good, but the comparison trap can really affect your entire world and how you perceive yourself within it.
We always feel inadequate when we compare to others as we never compare to areas we have strengths, we identify things in other people that are our own insecurities. This is an evolutionary thing, we struggle to be content, if we are content, we stop growing, if we stop growing, we stop learning, and if we stop learning, our species wouldn’t survive.
What can we do about this, what if we do find ourselves comparing a lot?
Well, we can remove a lot of the temptation to compare against those who make us feel bad for a start.
Unfollow or mute if they are someone who would be offended anyone who does make you feel bad about yourself, and instead, go find people who raise you up, who make you feel confident and like you too can do anything if you put your mind to it.
The longer you spend looking down at your phone, the less time you have with your eyes up to actually experience what is happening in your life, seeing the success in your life. Ever hear people say that life just flies by (yep I have been known to say this also), that is usually when we are just letting it pass without soaking in the moments.
Appreciating those wins and special moments in our own lives.
As you know, life does pass quickly, but if you take your head up from your phone and go do things or be present in the moments you are experiencing, rather than thinking about photos or videos, you will find you do remember more and you can see the time that has passed and where it has gone.
Set yourself limits with your screens, especially, iPads and phones. I realize a lot of people now have to work on computers, as do I, so that is excluded, but I know iPhones have limits for apps that you can set up through the screen time settings on your phone, or you can just set yourself a personal challenge to keep your screen time of under 3 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour.
You will also find there is more space in your mind to do what you want to do, not feeling like you need to be doing what everyone else is.
When we compare there is a disconnect within us, a lack of security in who we are, and we can’t give appreciation for who we are and our own success.
Be Your Own Best Friend
If you have a lot of other areas of your life that all need attention, what financial, loved ones, organizational support can you put in place to help you with what you need to do to be your best?
You can be your own best friend, and ask yourself, what would I tell a friend in this position?
It may feel selfish, but you feeling fulfilled and happy, which you will when you carve out some time for yourself and what you need, will make you a better happier person, which they will enjoy too.
Be the best person you can be first, who you are is always more important.
Stand Up for Yourself
What would you tell a friend who came to you saying they didn’t have enough time to do something for themselves?
You would tell them they need that time, they need to feel good and happy, so make some time.
Offer to do a swap with another friend, you will look after their kids while they look after yours so you can each go have some me time or have your partner pull their weight and look after your children.
Maybe work is the problem, set some boundaries for yourself, that you will finish early once a week to do something for you. Or make first thing in the morning your me time or lunchtime on a Thursday. Try to set yourself up with a regular dates where you treat yourself. You would tell a friend they deserve it, and you certainly do too.
You could also add to this one that you are going to prove others wrong. Maybe someone from your past made hurtful comments that have stuck with you. You are on this journey, you are working on improving who you are, and you are going to prove them wrong, show them that you are better than slinging back nasty comments, you are rising above it and showing them through your actions. You are standing up for yourself.
Forgive Yourself for Mistakes
We all make mistakes, that is just reality. We are all gonna screw up over and over, and us as runners, sometime we make the same mistakes we made in the past, the ones we vowed we would never make again.
Because we are exactly that, HUMAN.
We aren’t computers who can be programed to run following simple steps, that is what makes us amazing, our brains, our emotions, our unique strengths and abilities.
But we are often striving for an impossible perfection, one that we have to let go of. Life is never going to be perfect, not one single person on this planet is perfect, nor have they ever been, and you wouldn’t want to be perfect either, because that leaves no room to grow, no room to be better and strive for more, you would have nothing left to do if you were perfect.
Perfectionism leads to self destructive behavior, and that is only harming us more, both physically and mentally. It leads us to feel like we will never be good enough, and we are trying to build confidence, allow ourselves to feel good about who we are.
The sooner we can let go of striving to be perfect, the better.
Have multiple role models you look up to for this reason. Nobody’s perfect and even your favorite role models will make mistakes sometimes, appreciate them if they admit them, but also remember that they may not be able to show them.
Build your inspiration from multiple sources.
Building Your Confidence as a Runner
Once you have worked on your belief in yourself as best you can, we can move on to some techniques that are going to increase the likelihood you will succeed in the race, and you will go to the start line with your head held high.
Look How Far You Have Already Come
We have 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day, 85% are negative.
We are wired for survival, not for thriving and being happy. We will always have those negative thoughts, but it is what you are doing with them that matters.
You are already working through those thoughts in a positive way. Every day when you get out there for a run and you feel tired or want to stop early but don’t, you are building that toughness.
The narrative you tell yourself matters, so stop saying you are weak or are a quitter, you wouldn’t be doing this if you were.
Just look at a typical run, how many hills did you go up? How many miles did you do in heat? Cold? Humidity? How many times could you have stopped but didn’t?
We as runners are naturally tough, we have a willingness to push aside feelings and discomfort, even if we don’t feel good or it is raining or cold, we get it done.
Take some confidence in that.
When you pushed through the struggle in previous races, did you see it as, “Wow I got lucky”?
Switch that to, yes, I did that, “I am tougher than I think, I proved it then, and I will again”.
Mental toughness isn’t something you are born with, it is something you develop over time. Once you have pushed through or when you know you can work that hard, you will learn you can do hard things and you will be able to again. Reflect on a race you shocked yourself, you have done it before and can do it again
You have to poke holes in your theory that you are worthless or slow or weak or not good enough. Find reasons why that is not the case.
Part of confidence is knowing the course. You can go see the course and run on parts of it if you live close, google maps it, watch course previews on youtube, see yourself passing the monuments, the road names, the mile markers smoothly.
If you arrive at the event a day to a few days before, if you can, get someone to drive you around it, so you can visualize it and start to prepare for it in your mind.
If you find yourself feeling really nervous thinking about the race, jump in some local races on a whim (check with coach first, make sure it fits with your plan), it will show you the good of racing, but not give you enough time to panic. If you can make them a similar terrain or elevation to where your race is going to be, even better.
Start Building a Pre Performance Routine
We get a lot of confidence from feeling prepared, and figuring out what you are going to do on race day is a great way to calm your nerves and get confidence instead.
Start to figure out when you are going to have your coffee (how many hours before?), What are you going to wear? When are you going to change into your shoes? How are you going to get to the start line? What will you need in the starting area before the race begins?
If something chafed badly or doesn’t feel good, make a decision. Is there something you can change to prevent that? Or is that an inevitable part of running for you that you need to figure a way around.
For example, chafing under my armpit, always happens in races, so I rub on a lubricating agent before the race.
If that is you, put it aside for your race day bag, ready to take (no scrambling the morning of). Lots of runners will also get thigh chafing, inevitable, so changing shorts may not help, it is just inevitable, but taking products to prevent will.
How about the upset stomach you felt during your long run. Could it have been your night before meal if you had chilli? Your morning of meal? What can you change?
Or if you felt like you were squinting the whole time during your long run, which gave you a headache, could you wear a hat in the race?
Once you have your race day outfit and shoes, be sure you have worn it at least twice, for at least one long run and one workout.
Think of your race day outfit as a superhero costume. Save those items for workouts and races. Some people call them “go shoes” or having compression socks was always my go to, something that when you put it on, you are ready to go. Or if you are a Running4Real Superstar, you could wear your R4R shirt to remind you that the community is behind you, gives you confidence that they are there with you.
One way to increase your awareness of yourself is to start practicing mindfulness, this means finding an anchor and attaching it to something you will do every day.
If you can, sitting down on the floor and focusing on your breath, or if you struggle to find the time to do that, you can do it while you brush your teeth or drive to work.
What you want to do is use an anchor, for most people, that is breathing, focusing on your breath while you sit and breathe in and out feeling your belly rise and fall, with your hand on your belly moving too, or if you are brushing your teeth, feeling the bristles traveling across your teeth, the vibrating of the toothbrush in your hand, the taste of the toothpaste.
You want to just pay attention to everything associated with what you are experiencing in that moment.
As soon as you feel your attention wandering to a thought of something you need to do, or anything outside of that, gently bring it back .
Don’t get mad at yourself, we all do it, just start focusing back on what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be long 1-2 minutes, which is why the toothbrushing works well, but that is it.
Giving to Others
If you don’t have the confidence yet to believe in who you are, remember that a rising tide lifts all boats. If you can support others and raise others who are reaching for their dreams, it will raise you too, and show you what you do have value in too, by inspiring you to help.
If you help someone else out who is worse off than you, it will give you an appreciation for what you have and what you do know.
Des Linden helped out Shalane Flanagan in the early part of the Boston Marathon in 2018 as she wasn’t feeling good. Des ended up winning the race.
We have talked about building confidence in who you are, and hopefully the tips above have helped, but if race day is closing in, my 14 tips on handling pre race anxiety may come in handy.
Now, at the end of the day, I can give you all the confidence tips in the world, but if you are obsessed with your goal and achieving it, you are going to struggle regardless as you are going to place too much pressure on your shoulders.
Caring a little less about results produces better results overall. Many runners think if they do x they will have self confidence, but it must come first, you must first believe in yourself before you can achieve anything. Keep that in mind as you work towards a big goal.
If you feel like you have prepared the best you can based on your circumstances, that is the best source of confidence you could have, rely on that.
Still have some worries?
My cheatsheet will help you eliminate those and help you hold your head high, you are ready.