Dear Team Chaski,
While training alone during the COVID-19 pandemic my motivation and confidence hit some low points. I've found myself struggling with insecurity, lack of confidence, anxiety, fear of racing, imposter syndrome etc. Can you help?! Do you have any good resources you've used? What have you struggled with here as a successful coach and athlete?
-- Reba N.
All runners are aware of the ups and downs that come with consistent training, both physically with regard to injuries and mentally when considering confidence and motivation. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away racing schedules, training partners, and for some, their motivation and confidence.
We put Reba's question to Team Chaski, as pretty much all are well-versed in these issues, both through coaching and their own experiences as runners themselves. Below, they provide some great tips, tricks, and resources for runners of all levels who might need a little boost of motivation as we head into the holiday season and the new year.
Writing/saying positive affirmations are great tools for building confidence and removing anxieties and fears. Try doing it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. This will make it easier to seep into the subconscious as there are fewer distractions.
I always stress that your training will be there for you and to be confident in your preparation. Also, it’s ok when it hurts. It’s supposed to and staying engaged when it hurts is important. Some kind of positive self-talk always helps too (keep rolling, you can hang, stay on this mile...)
Surround yourself with people that make you feel happy and fulfilled (and try to avoid people that make you feel miserable and like you're not valuable). Seek out energy-givers, not energy-takers!
If you're in a bad spot -- and this sounds kind of cheesy but I've actually been doing it -- it can help to establish some kind of concrete "positivity bank". This can be running-focused where you write down a positive accomplishment that day ('I ran today even though I was super tired' or 'I crushed that workout'). It could also be more general where you just try to write down something genuine and positive about yourself each day.
Just like you invest in quality running shoes that will help your physical training, make an investment to help your mental training. Whether that's buying a new journal or giving yourself 10 minutes to reflect on the positives, these small investments can make just as much of a difference as those new shoes you were eyeing.
My coach in college had us all read Mind Gym and that book changed me as an athlete and a coach!
Looking for more awesome reads? Check out these great books below
Think Like a Warrior: The Five Inner Beliefs That Make You Unstoppable, by Darrin Donnelly
First You Run, Then You Walk: Pedestrian Thoughts, by Tom Hart
Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
There are times when we need to give ourselves "permission" to run for the pure joy of it. Take a step back and remember why you began running and what part of running makes you the happiest. Leave the GPS watch at home and go out and find that joy again.
Run in a place that makes you happy and forget about pace, distance and splits.
It may also be helpful to run for someone else who you care about or a meaningful charity that is important to you. This can give some perspective on your running and racing.
With many of my athletes who struggle with race anxiety, fear of failure, and other performance-related fears, I often take them through worst-case scenarios:
“Okay ya run terrible tomorrow. What happens then? Life goes on right? Mom and Dad still love you. I still care about you. You’re still a good student, person, etc.”
Many times people go, “yeah I guess if I completely bomb it’s not the end of the world.”
I will also walk them through some of what they’re nervous about. If they’re worried about the start of a cross country meet, walk them through how to handle getting out too slow, too fast, falling down, etc. Preparing for all different scenarios can mitigate some of those anxieties.
I also remind athletes of the simple fact that training hurts and they do that every day, so this day is no different. It will hurt but you’ll live.
Lastly, and most difficult as a coach is figuring out who needs to be fired up and who needs calming down. For some athletes, the conversation is more like “I know you can do this, but you gotta believe it. You can’t be sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Go take what’s yours. Nobody is handing it to you.”
And another athlete might need, “Hey, no pressure. Enjoy racing. At the end of the day, it isn’t life or death. I’m proud of you no matter what.”
As an athlete, take some time to explore what makes you perform the best. Do you require positive reinforcement to gain the confidence necessary to crush it on race day? Or do you thrive off of tough love?
As someone who has always suffered from imposter syndrome, I struggle with giving myself credit for my accomplishments and believing in my capabilities. I tend to worry too much about what other people think and I constantly feel like I need to prove myself. A strategy that I find really helpful is truly following my own interests, even if they are not conventionally cool/popular or will get me ranked in the top 10 Ultrarunner Of The Year.
My imposter syndrome tends to be worse when I am doing something because I think it is what someone else wants me to do (like a sponsor). A strategy that helps me combat these types of thoughts is something I heard on a non-running/non-mindset podcast (My Favorite Murder), "the critic is you". That is, whoever you think is judging you is actually your own mind judging yourself.
As Kyle said, ultimately the people who care about you will still care about you no matter how you run. We are our own harshest critic and when we own that, we can start to quiet that voice.
Like what you read but not sure you're ready to commit to a full coaching program? All of our coaches offer Chaski consultation sessions where you can ask them about anything and everything related to running. Click here to learn more.