Building Confidence for Trail Racing
More often than not, I meet athletes who have all the talent and motivation in the world, yet they still underperform on race day. Some athletes won’t even start the race unless they are 110 percent ready to toe the line - and there is nothing wrong with this approach. Everyone gets nervous and has doubts running through their head, even the pros and elites.
When taking a deeper look, the largest gap between athletes performing at or above their potential in a race and underperforming often boils down to self-confidence, or a lack thereof. A lack of confidence will not only impact an athlete’s race performance, but will also bleed into all facets of life - friendships, work, relationships, and hobbies. I see it happen every day.
Distance running is a tough sport that can whittle away at self-confidence after just one bad race effort and re-building that lost confidence doesn’t happen overnight. It requires commitment. I have worked on this for years, and I still have some days where I am on top of the world and other days where I doubt myself in everything I do. Here are a few key tips to build your self-confidence to be able to better execute on race day.
Stop comparing on social media
This includes, but is not limited to, Strava, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Your self-worth and contribution to society is not defined by the number of followers or likes that you have on a post. However, in a world that is now dominated by social media, it is easy to get caught up in the seemingly perfect lives and runs of those that you “follow” on these platforms. Pictures and words are only snapshots of someone’s life and do NOT always portray a day-to-day reality.
When you are struggling and more likely to compare, give your accounts a rest. This is one way to easily boost self-confidence and focus on yourself rather than relying on unrealistic comparisons. A quick way to accomplish this is by setting time limits on certain apps so that you don't inadvertently spend an hour scrolling through Instagram or stalking your favorite runners on Strava.
A result is just a number on a piece of paper
Results don’t define a person, nor do they make someone more or less likable. Some particularly successful athletes can start to think they are invincible or in a separate category altogether. Injury or other unforeseen obstacles tends to be a time when reality comes crashing down and forces an athlete to define himself or herself outside of running.
Attending Duke as a D1 track and cross country athlete, I had been one of the most highly recruited high schoolers in the nation. With three national titles to my credit, including the 2007 Footlocker Cross Country National Championship, I felt all the pressure in the world to continue this success in college. However, life had a different plan for me.
I was injured for two and a half years straight. No racing whatsoever. I did more pool running than land running and guess what? People still liked me. When I went from the very top of the sport to (literally) rock bottom, I learned that Ashley was a complete and real person beneath the runner, and people still liked me without that label. Learning to embrace this concept can take the pressure away from performance and actually lead to better results and greater self-confidence on the start line.
Be a “glass half full” person
Confidence comes from looking at the positives and little wins, rather than the negatives, or little obstacles. While human nature may cause us to dwell on the negative, this not only brings you and your self-confidence down but brings everyone else around you down. Unknowingly, pessimism is inherently selfish because it affects people around you.
A positive attitude is contagious and each day is a new opportunity to share yourself with the world in the best way possible. By focusing daily on little wins and things you have done well, you propel yourself forward in a way that the eternal pessimist never will.
For me - a stress fracture prone-athlete - I tend to value health and the ability to enjoy the outdoors without crutches or pain. Each morning, I think of one thing for which I am grateful. As small as this may seem, it’s an easy and positive way to start the day.
Seize the opportunity
Realize that confidence (and race performance) isn’t a linear path. People want to believe that "work in equals results out". Right? Well, not exactly. Inevitably, at some point in your career, you will face adversity, injury, or poor results. This is often, and rationally, correlated with a decrease in confidence for a runner.
While it seems hard to improve self-confidence while you are doing poorly at something, this is actually the perfect time to regain confidence. During injury or after a bad performance, I allow myself a 24-hour pity party (cut off at EXACTLY 24 hours), and then move on with life. Remember you are not solely defined as a runner. It is up to you to define your complete self whether you are a wife, husband, artist, coach, consultant, friend, etc. Injury gives you a prime opportunity to reflect and figure out who you are beyond running and competition.
Building confidence, and translating that confidence to a positive race day experience, is not an overnight process. It takes time and most likely will include some bumps and adversity along the way. The best piece of cliché advice is to always enjoy the process, run happy, and stop worrying about controlling the outcome of each and every race. These tips, along with hard work, will get you to that start line ready to perform above your potential.
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