Soul Doubt

It’s hard to run well when you doubt yourself to a debilitating degree. Sometimes, it’s hard to run at all if you let self-doubt get the best of you. I’ll admit to this fault of mine over the past couple of months as the weather began to change from crap to awesome. Through the winters I had relegated myself to running on the treadmill, mainly to have somewhere warm and bright to run instead of trudging through the biting, cold air under pitch-black morning skies. I needed a psuedo-summer environment to trick my mental state into forcing my legs forward….in place, of course. But then the season changed and the mornings grew lighter sooner, and the afternoons were full of clear skies, bright sun and an air just warm enough to run without restriction….and I stayed on the treadmill.
In the past, the act of running was enhanced exponentially by the actual experience of being outside, observing the changes in the seasons and just feeling the euphoria that comes with running near naked on the dirt path that cuts through my city. I get to see the animals come out, the human animals come out (which is sometimes good, sometimes bad), the trees grow and flowers sprout and so on. It’s just an amazing experience to be a part of, so when the season changed and I stayed inside on the treadmill, something relatively depressing and lame was going on inside me. Where once I could barely wait to bound out the door into the sun I now cowered from the light like a vampire with insomnia.
I was doubting myself. After spending so much time training the years prior and then stopping almost completely, running sporadically throughout the week or skipping mulitple weeks at a time, I just wasn’t ready to expose my lack of running fitness to the outside world. It’s one thing to be inside on a treadmill where no one can really tell your actual pace and you can stop the machine and step off if it gets too much, but it’s another thing to run labored and hunched over, your tongue hanging out like flypaper, blindingly white skin exposed for all the world to see…and still have 3 miles till you get back home. I know…it’s not THAT bad…but in my mind it was. In my mind I was EMBARRASED to go from 120 miles a week and 5:30 pace, to 20 miles in a good week and a labored 7:00 pace. So I stayed inside with my hobbit feet stuck to a rotating piece of rubber.
There was only so much of that I could take though and when the weather turned from awesome to exceptional, I just HAD to get out there. But I still had my doubts if I would enjoy the experience or not. I still doubted I was good enough to put my running out in public, so maybe it helped that I started doing it pre-sunrise. Whatever the reason, after taking the first few precarious steps onto the pavement, the doubt just sort of melted away. And as I moved further into the miles, it continued to wash away behind me. And when I hit the dirt trail I’m so familiar with it had evaporated with my effort and I was left there feeling completely….stupid. What was I so doubtful about again?
And here’s the thing. I’ve been through this lesson over and over and over again. No matter how much I’ve trained, no matter how much success I’ve had leading up to a race or a workout, before it all starts I’m a bundle of doubt and fear. Did I do ENOUGH? Should I have tried HARDER? Am I just not GOOD? And then as soon as I start putting one foot in front of the other…it almost always works out. Actually, when I have a healthy amount of doubt running through my mind, I tend to have my BEST races…but that’s because I actually START racing. And in that is the key. I know of runners who have so much doubt that they sometimes don’t even start. Or if they do start they carry it with them into the race and quit. That’s TOO MUCH doubt. And conversely, I know those who are so frickin’ confident that they have no problem starting a race, but when things start to go south they are so shocked that they give up. The key is striking the appropriate balance between the two, having enough confidence in your workouts to get you to the line, but holding enough reservation not to expect an idyllic outcome.
I hate to admit to it, but these past few months I was succombing to the negative side of doubt, allowing myself to become overwhelmed to the point that I was missing out on amazing running experiences. And to think….all it took was just TRYING. All it took was to recognize my doubt and realize the only way to move past it is to run through it, quite literally. Remaining in doubt certainly wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I don’t know what I was waiting for really. I’m just glad to say I’m past all that now. The doubt about my abilities are gone and I’m back to training….outdoors even. See you on the trail.

3 responses to “Soul Doubt

  1. I’m lucky where I live it never gets cold enough to keep me indoors but even so I find myself less excited about going out the door when it’s a bit cooler. There’s something about a warm morning that just make you want to move, and cold mornings just seem to scream GO BACK TO BED. I also have the problem of not wanting to run in front of other people because I lack confidence in my own ability – I am hoping that will fade as my fitness increases.

    • Ugh…cold winters in mostly dark days are the worst. Running is so much mental and to fight against that everyday certainly takes its toll. Appreciate the warm weather you’ve got! As far as self-doubt goes…runners are always in the same boat of struggle, and it’s good to keep that in perspective. It always gives me hope just to see runners out there…not matter the speed.

  2. Thanks, I try to keep things in perspective and not obsess over them too much but it does help to know I’m not the only one who doubts himself from time to time. It’s definitely encouraging 🙂

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