On Confidence

Two things happen to me, without fail, about two weeks before a big race:

1. I decide I really need to buckle down in terms of nutrition. This means cutting refined sugar, fried things, and alcohol, while increasing the intake of healthy foods. And don’t forget hydration! I’m too much of a glutton to eat and drink very moderately all of the time, but for 2 measly weeks pre-race, I can do it.

2. My confidence begins to falter. With the race looming, I’m suddenly out of training time. D’oh! It’s during this time when I begin scrounging around for data points that support my hopeful hypothesis of success at the race. This is what I’ve come up with so far in terms of the Oakland Half Marathon:

  • I’m a much stronger runner than I was last year, when I ran Oakland in 2:05:40. There’s no doubt in my mind that I can at least run a course record, if not a personal record.
  • My recent short distance speeds (800’s, 5K) are both faster than my times in 2012.
  • My current overall training is very similar to what I was doing pre-Healdsburg (minus the 10+ mile runs), which I ran in 2:00:37.
  • Oakland won’t have any major hills, unlike Healdsburg, which totally killed my chances of a sub-2 half marathon.

However, one thing was biting away at me, as I mentioned in my last post: I had not done any significant, continuous runs longer than 9 miles for this training cycle. All of my longer runs were dedicated to Running for a Better Oakland, and my student unfortunately had some injuries during both the 10-mile and 12-mile attempts. So, I came up with the brilliant idea to run 12 miles this morning, 10 days before the race. Then, I thought, why not kill 2 birds with one stone and combine my last long run with my last speed workout? Genius!

Initially, my plan was to run 2 miles warm-up, 3 miles tempo/half-marathon pace (HMP), 2 miles rest, 3 miles HMP, 2 miles cool-down. Then, on Tuesday, I discussed my plans while having dinner with the Gypsy Runner. This is a portion of our scintillating discussion:

Me: So, I’m thinking about doing (insert the plan I just wrote about above) on Thursday morning. But I’m also thinking that maybe I should run 3 miles warm-up, 6 miles HMP, and 3 miles cool-down. What do you think?
GR: Well, what would give you the most confidence?
Me: Hm…. probably the second choice… but it’ll be harder (gulp).
GR: (Gives me a knowing look, like “You know what’s best for you, do I really have to spell it out?”)

We then had an interesting conversation about confidence, and how we each have different areas of confidence. Unfortunately, running (and sports in general) is never something I’ve ever been very confident about. I’m just beginning to get tiny bits of it through racing and building up data, but seriously — growing up as a very uncoordinated person who did not excel in sports (unless you count the 2 years of junior varsity soccer and the 165 I bowled one time) does not lend itself to athletic confidence. I know that the Gypsy Runner is right when he says that his racing ability is half physical and half mental, and that I could benefit from believing in myself a lot more than I do.

Anyway, back to the long tempo run scheduled for this morning. I wish I could report that it was all roses, unicorns, and rainbows, but sadly, it was not. I knew I was in trouble when I struggled to maintain an easy 10:40/mile during the warm-up. I was hoping for a miracle transformation when I started my HMP miles, but unfortunately, the fastest pace I could muster was a 9:21 (goal was 9:05 or thereabouts). After 2 miles of the attempted HMP, I really wanted to stop. However, knowing that I could not maintain 6 miles of 9:22, I told myself that I should at least run one more mile at high intensity. If I couldn’t get the physical training, at least I’d complete the mental part. So I pushed myself to 1 more mile at 9:27, then jogged for another mile. Instead of doing another 3 at 9:20, which seemed impossible to me at that point, I decided to go for a confidence-boosting alternative, which was to run negative splits over 3 miles by effort, not pace. My plan was to run the first mile at medium-hard effort, the next at hard effort, and the last at very hard effort. It wasn’t pretty, or fast, but I did it, eking out 3 miles at 10:08, 9:57, and 9:48.

In my last mile, I ran into DD, who told me that she was also struggling. She mentioned that humidity might be a factor, which I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. When I got home, I looked up the weather and saw that the humidity was at 83%! That’s ridiculously high for the Bay Area (yes, we’re ridiculously spoiled most of the year with great running weather and no, I shouldn’t be complaining, but there it is). Well, that is one major factor to explain the slow slog. The second one is that perhaps I should not have done all of my various PT exercises at 10:30 p.m. last night. Oops. That probably explains some muscle fatigue.

But, to be honest, I didn’t get myself too down about this run, even if it was a bit disappointing. For one thing, I think it’s a major outlier – i.e., this data point does not fit with the rest of the set. If I were doing statistical analysis, I’d probably throw it out. Second, I knew that this run didn’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it would’ve been a confidence boost if it had gone well, but I knew it would also be sort of artificial. One run does not completely alter the months of training behind me, for better or worse. Third, I had some great words of encouragement and wisdom from my running friends on DailyMile. Thanks you guys! And finally, I did achieve several important goals with this run, which were to get 2 solid hours on my feet and to “get my mind right” — i.e., mentally train myself and get ready to push and suffer during the race.

With that, I’ll sign off with two quotes about courage that I found on the internet. They speak to me because I feel like courage (or lack thereof) is deeply connected to my issues with confidence in my running ability. Not to mention that the quotes about courage were way cooler than the ones about confidence.

What about you? What makes you confident (or not confident)?

(I know, this one is  super cheesy, but it’s relevant because I’m always telling myself that I’m not a fast runner.)


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Goals, random
11 comments on “On Confidence
  1. Tennille says:

    Sounds like a solid effort and, honestly, like your body and the heat/humidity might have been doing you some favors. 3easy, 6HMP, 3easy 10 days before a half in the humidity is *really* hard. (For comparison, my marathon plan suggested 6 easy, 6 MP as the max pre-race long-run, which, scaled down to HM would be 3 easy, 3 HMP)

    I think you executed perfectly on a hard, but not *too* hard long run. 13.1 is just 1.1 more than you did. So distance isn’t an issue anymore and you have that knowledge to take with you to the start line. All you have to worry about is pace. But, you’ve got the great city of Oakland to cheer you on (awesome crowd support at that race! Next year I may try to join you!) and the other runners and adrenaline. I think you’re in great shape for an awesome outcome and I look forward to hearing/reading about it!

    • Jen says:

      Haha, I guess that’s what happens when I “go rogue” and make up my own workouts. 🙂 Your logic totally makes sense and also makes me feel better. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

      You should totally run Oakland with me next year! They had an amazing deal at last year’s SFM expo – $40 for the half, which is what I paid.

  2. Dominick S. says:

    Gypsy is a wise man…50% mental and 50% physical is my take on running as well. The work you put in during training just builds the confidence (sometimes subconsciously) that you will need on race day. I struggled with this when I first started running, I put so many limits on what I thought my body could handle, I have been wrong so many times, our bodies are amazing! You got! YOU GOT IT. YOU KNOW IT.

    • Jen says:

      Yes, you’re absolutely right. I have about a 90% fail rate in terms of predicting what I do on race day (usually for the better). Regardless of my time, all I can do is try my best and see what happens.

  3. Cathryn says:

    I agree, you’re going to be fine!! In the UK, they say that if the dress rehearsal is rubbish then the opening night is going to be amazing. So according to British legend, you’ve got this!!

  4. Angela says:

    Yep, I agree — you will be MORE than fine. 10 days is plenty of time to recover before a half!

  5. Jan says:

    I agree that running is a huge mental game! I bet you’ll be fine for your half. The Hal Higdon half marathon program I’m following now has a 12-miler scheduled a week before the race.

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4/28/19: London Marathon

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