January 8 2018
Our resident run coach advises on the point at which runners should enlist trained help to reach their running goals.
You do your speed work. You lift weights. Your nutrition is solid. You get your shut-eye (well, mostly). But what you may not be working on is the critical piece for running success—confidence.
When it comes to nailing a better training run or a speedier race, bolstering your self-belief can make all the difference.
Related: 4 Ways To Up Your Running Confidence
“A lot of confidence comes from knowing that when the effort becomes uncomfortable, we are capable of dealing with it and pushing through it,” says Jason Karp, Ph.D., exercise physiologist, running coach and author of The Inner Runner.
A little confidence-boosting can go a long way. Training to trust yourself will make you feel better and stronger on every run. If you are going after a personal best on race day, you will be able to cross the finish line stronger and faster than ever before.
“I call confidence your mental muscle, and like any other muscle in your body, you have to exercise it,” says Dr. Jim Taylor, sports psychologist and sub-3-hour marathoner.
Adopt these 10 tips and you’ll be a better runner—physically and mentally.
Train with the entire speed continuum from very slow to very fast, advises Karp. Doing so makes you a more complete runner who has the confidence to switch gears at will—a big advantage in any race.
You don’t want to get to a marathon starting line having only run 20 miles per week. “If you do the physical work, the races take care of themselves,” says Karp, adding knowing that you’re prepared will make you more sure of yourself.
Attempt to pick up the pace toward the end of a run. Don’t worry if you crash and burn, says Karp—just try it. “By finishing runs and workouts faster than what you started at, you’ll gain confidence to do the same thing in a race.”
You’ll gain confidence by becoming invested in the process, be it a detailed race strategy or a simple training run. Starting every run with intention will make you feel more positive.
Relax your shoulders, unclench your hands and make sure your spine is straight. If you’re running with extra tension or slumped over, you’re making the miles harder, so practice this in training.
Fine-tune the key tools of imagery and self-talk, says Taylor, and you’ll be less likely to bonk mid-run, have pre-race jitters or succumb to any other challenge. Visualize yourself striding strongly up a hill. Tell yourself you’re awesome. Before your race, swipe through a few old race photos to generate positive emotions, such as pride and excitement—all of it adds up to more confidence on the starting line.
According to Taylor, the foundation of confidence is feeling you are as prepared as you can be to run your best that day. He advises maximizing every aspect of your running including training, tapering, nutrition and the all-important sleep.
The more you expose yourself to challenges, be it bad weather, a faster pace or hilly terrain, the better you’ll be able to navigate surprises that are out of your control. “Confidence is the final piece of the running-success puzzle,” says Taylor. “If you don’t believe in your own ability, you’re not going to run that pace—you think instead you’re going to blow up.”
When you know people believe in you, it’s easier to believe in yourself. Women tend to gain more confidence with social support from family, friends and teammates, so surround yourself with positivity.
During every race or training run, stay positive. “As a race progresses, your body will turn against you,” warns Taylor. “If your mind listens to your body and it also turns against you, you’re done,” so don’t let it!