Stacey Margaret Jones: Crisis of Confidence – Run Your Race

Stacey Margaret Jones Crisis of Confidence - Run Your Race

Training to Avert a Crisis of Confidence

Every once in a while a friend of mine will take up running and will seek support or information from me as she gets into the sport. This is a good feeling for me, since it is a relatively new experience to be consulted on matters of fitness.

I will give shoe, hydration and nutrition advice. We’ll talk about useful routines and pitfalls to avoid, races and training programs. I’ll have a lot to say, and she’ll listen. And I’ll remember all the things I asked Sarah, my running sensei, and try to be as helpful as she was to me.

And then, my friend will run her first race, report her time to me, and I’ll realize that all this time I should have been asking her questions, because while I was in the middle of the pack, in the middle of the course, just trying to make it to the end, she was already finished, having brunch and polishing her medal.

This might be a slight exaggeration, but every couple of years, I will stand by as a witness to how the power of natural talent and, sometimes, previous youthful experience, make a new runner into a powerful contender, and someone who can leave me, and my ten years of training and improving, in the dust.

I imagine everyone who is pursuing a goal or level of achievement in any area suffers from time to time from crises of confidence when comparing herself to others, to their accomplishments, to their talent, to their work ethic, and to what seems to be the ease with which they breeze through obstacles that may be holding us back.

As I was coming out of my summer “off” period and into fall training for the Memphis Half-Marathon, and ultimately the Little Rock Marathon, I found myself in this kind of funk. I looked at all the miles I would be covering to train for both races, how slowly I would run them compared to my faster friends, and it all felt so … futile.

Yes, I took 14 minutes off my marathon time, between my first in New York and my second in Little Rock, but it still took me more than 5 and a half hours to finish that second one. I’ve worked for a couple of years to reduce my half-marathon time from my personal record of 2:18:22, and haven’t been able to pull it off, while many of my friends are running sub-two-hour marathons as a matter of course.

My husband, who is fabulously supportive, even when I’m getting the whole household up at 5 a.m. several days a week to fit in my runs and when I’m gone for hours on the weekend to do my long runs, keeps reminding me how far I’ve come since 2003 when I could not run around the block.

He also likes to remind me that those fast athletes aren’t accomplishing what I’m able to achieve: hours longer out on the course. “Those marathon winners are done in, what?, two and a half hours? You’re out their running for three more hours. That’s amazing!”

I guess I’m an endurance artist, though I would rather not be. But I know that more training, pushing myself more and running with faster partners would help me get to where I want to go when I watch those athletic performances with envy.

So I am doing that, putting more speedwork in my training program and running more days per week, and more miles per run. That is, however, only part of the battle with this crisis of confidence.

My unhappiness doesn’t come from resentment of my friends and their abilities, because I’m honestly impressed and happy for them. It doesn’t come from disappointment in what I’ve been able to do in the 10 years I’ve been running, because I have made real and measurable improvements.

It comes from arbitrarily comparing myself with others on a single variable: finishing time, and leaving out all the other factors that make a difference in who we are as athletes, why we run, how we benefit and what we’re doing there, each time we cross a start line. Those variables shouldn’t be considered in a contest, but in a full picture of who we are, and all we have to be grateful for.

I have to remind myself that I like solitary athletic pursuits for a reason; I don’t want to compete with anyone else but myself, and I don’t want to let anyone else down by underperforming.

As I move further into this running year, I need to stop letting myself down by comparing myself to others so I can put this crisis out of its – and my – misery. I’ll set my own goals, hit the trail and learn from all that happens, failures and successes.

And that will be how this crisis is averted.

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