Fear, Doubt, and Believing In Yourself

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I don’t think I can do this.
I’m not ready to do this.
I can’t run that far.
What if I finish last?
Or what if I get picked up by the struggle bus?
Or worse, what if I get hurt?
I don’t think I can do this…

Why is it so hard to believe in ourselves? Or why is it that despite the fact that we’ve put in weeks or months of hard work that we can convince ourselves that we aren’t ready on the drop of a dime?

Race day is supposed to be our victory lap. The day when we get to prove to ourselves that we’re capable of more than we ever imagined. So why is it that despite the fact that we’ve sacrificed our time and fought our doubts and pre-defined limits for weeks that it’s so easy to give in to the fear that says that we aren’t strong enough to get to the finish line?

I’ll never forget how terrified I was the night before my first half marathon. Or the paralyzing fear that I endured the week before my first marathon. Or in 2016, when I fought back tears when I ran the Chicago Marathon.

Why is it so hard to simply believe in ourselves? Why is it so much easier to go from I worked my ass off to get here to I can’t do this?

Over the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with sports psychologist, Dr. Robert Corb (a.k.a. Dr. Bob), and a few years ago, he explained the concept of loss aversion to me.

It’s easier to envision and remember our failures, losses, mistakes and pain than it is to envision our wins, personal bests and breakthroughs, because it’s a survival tactic.

But just because it’s easier to imagine every single worst case scenario doesn’t mean that we should. In fact, if there’s one thing you shouldn’t do, it’s focus all of your attention on what could go wrong.

Can you prepare yourself for possible race-day speed bumps? Yes. Should you spend all your time convincing yourself that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? Absolutely not.

If there’s one thing you can expect, it’s that running your heart out is going to hurt like hell. You can’t outrun the fact that the pain or doubts will, at times, be louder than your desire to fight through.

So taking the time to imagine that exact moment, when I start searching for a reason to slow down, walk, or find a way to alleviate some of the pain, helps me put the self doubt in check on race day and stay present.

It’s taken me years to understand just what people mean when they say to “embrace pain.” Until now, I’ve always dreaded it and I didn’t understand how anyone could do anything but dread it. I know pain is unavoidable but whenever I find myself deep in the pain cave, I used to struggle to find the joy in it. It sounds almost ludicrous, that joy can live harmoniously with pain and suffering.

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But it can.

We’re all running for something. Whether it’s for your own personal sanity or liberation, it’s no secret that setting a goal to run a distance or finish in a time that you don’t think you’re capable of will change your life.

It’s empowering.

But to get to the finish line, you have to find a way to continue to give your personal best effort while embracing the pain.

And here’s the kicker, reading this won’t teach you how. You have to learn by doing. But the more you can practice, the less powerless you’ll feel when everything hurts and you start to doubt whether you can hold on come race day.

Here’s how: First, write down a list of all the achievements, breakthroughs and workouts you’ve completed training for your race. Then, zero in on why your goal is important to you. Why you decided to work your ass off to make it happen.

It isn’t easy to consistently challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone because failure is inevitable. You aren’t going to knock it out of the park right off the bat. It takes trial and error. It’s in our failures that we learn the most about ourselves. Embrace them. Does failure hurt? Yes. But will it end you? No.

The magic is in the journey. Not the finish line.

It’s so easy to take life for granted. To want to hide from the goals that scare the crap out of you or convince everyone around you that staying within your comfort zone is good enough.

Don’t just survive. Thrive.

Life’s messy, just like running. It never goes as planned and personally, I continue to chase impossible goals because I need that reminder that I’m stronger than my doubts and my fears.

So here’s my advice to anyone struggling with pre-race fear: Redefine what success looks like to you.

One of the reasons I really love the idea of no regrets, no excuses (another gift from Dr. Bob) is that it takes the pressure off of your goal (an outcome goal) and puts the emphasis on the journey and the process (process goals). When you give everything you have each and every moment, regardless of what happens when you finally get to the finish line, there’s no way you can fail.

Next, remember your physical and mental strength. Find a way to not only convince yourself that you’re ready, but to really believe it. Go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re strong until it feels truthful. Doubt is normal, it’s hard not to have doubt. But don’t diminish how hard you’ve worked. Don’t forget to celebrate how much work you put in to prepare for race day. That you’re actually ready and deserve the race you worked for.

People like to say the marathon owes you nothing. Of course it doesn’t. The marathon is a concept. A distance just like any other distance. But it doesn’t matter what distance you’re chasing, you owe it to yourself to spend more time proud of how hard you worked in training and how ready you are for race day than you do on all the things that could go wrong or how you’re bound to crash and burn.

Focus on the moment you’re in. There will be moments in your training and during the race where you’ll doubt if you can hold on. Sometimes, making the decision not to give up is a win. Other times, telling that voice that says that it’s not worth the pain to shut the hell up is the win.

Just give your best effort each and every moment. Only you know what that means.

Fear is natural. Personally, I think it’s a beautiful indication that you care and that you’re invested in yourself. So, just like we do with pain, embrace fear. Easier said than done, right? Absolutely. But I’m swimming in the pre-race fear right alongside you. But even though I’m nervous and afraid, I’m equally excited. Regardless of what happens on race day, I know how hard I worked to get here and how much fun I had along the way. It’s rewarding to give your best effort and discover what you’re capable of.

That’s why I run.

Running isn’t impossible, it just isn’t easy. It may have taken a few years, but I finally believe in myself.

No regrets, no excuses. 

I’ll see you at the starting line.

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