Every runner has moments of doubt—and that's not always bad. Wondering if you're up to the challenge of a first marathon reflects a healthy investment in the outcome. And if you haven't trained properly, your concerns are valid. But other worries—especially those triggered by outside influences—can create a self-defeating sense of intimidation.
These doubts go deeper and are rooted in negative emotions, says Windee Weiss, Ph.D., a sports psychologist who is an associate professor at the University of Northern Iowa School of Health, Physical Education and Leisure Services. "Realism accepts that a demand may be tough but doesn't place a judgment on it," she says. "Intimidation assumes you won't have the goods to meet the demand."
Failure-oriented stress can cause a host of problems (learn to Avoid the Common Running Stress Traps). It can tighten muscles so that they fatigue faster, hamper coordination so you can't find your stride, distract you from your goals, and undermine mental toughness.
Here's how to get past common sources of intimidation and run your best, without doubt.
They're everywhere—at the starting line, on the road, among your running buddies. Don't just stew over others' times—tap their achievements for inspiration.
Catherine Andrews of Washington, D.C., felt fast among friends but recently joined a running group of six-minute-milers knowing she'd be a laggard. "I joined to be more motivated," she says. Andrews soon stepped up to tempo work and speed running. "It made a difference within weeks," she says. If you can't embrace a faster group, at least quit comparing. "Focus on the true satisfaction of running the way you want to run," Weiss says.
More: 5 Ways to Race Faster
A Tough Course
When Beth Strickland of Brooklyn completed her first marathon at Walt Disney World in 6:33, friends prodded her toward the San Francisco Marathon. "It has a six-hour time limit and many hills," she says. "If I tried and didn't make it, I'm not sure I'd attempt another."
While Strickland decided to tackle one or two flatter courses first, sports psychologist Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., cautions against getting derailed by general impressions. Instead, prepare. Use online street-view maps to review a course's geography. If hills are the issue, make them part of your weekly training. Practice mantras to keep your inner dialogue positive.
People Who Train More
Banish guilt over your presumed lack of dedication by acknowledging that your training reflects your life, not someone else's. What's more, training needs are different depending on one's goals. If you're truly not satisfied with your results, you'll have to change your training (and learn how to Have More Fun on Every Run). "No amount of confidence-building will improve your performance above what you've trained to do," says Doug Hankes, Ph.D., a sports psychologist for the athletic department at Auburn University.