6 Tips to Overcome Running Fears

The Idea of a First Race

"A first-time 5K can be more daunting for a beginner than a marquee marathon is for an experienced runner," Hankes says. "There are many more unknowns." So take comfort in your courage to sign up in the first place. Talk to seasoned runners about their experiences. "Ask what they think would have been helpful, looking back," Hankes says. But keep the stakes low and focus on having fun. On race day, try running with a friend. "Tying your pace to someone else's takes pressure off," Weiss says. For more first-timer tricks, follow our guide to Everything Beginners Need to Know About Racing.

More: 10 Tips for Beginning Runners

Entering a Mega-Race

TV cameras, elite athletes, mobs of people, online tracking, mythic features (think Boston's Heartbreak Hill)—they're all distractions. "The essence of mental training is getting your head out of the way and letting your body do what it's trained for," Hankes says. Build a routine that makes every race feel familiar, by incorporating the 10 Mental Tricks for Race Success, and honing elements like the amount of socializing before the race, your music playlist, and mantras geared to different sections of the course. Defuse pressure to perform by imagining life a week later. "Don't make the race more than it is," he says.

Saying "I'm a Runner"

Even after running her first half-marathon last fall, Beth Probst of Iron River, Wisconsin, says she feels uncomfortable calling herself a runner. "I like to be good at what I do," she says. "If I'm not trying to be a runner, I don't have to justify being mediocre at it." Runners of all levels often equate the phrase with speed. But in reality the words represent a lifestyle. Probst should embrace her new identity, says Kamphoff, of The Runner's Edge in Mankato, Minnesota. Acknowledging one's effort has benefits: "You start eating better, boosting core strength, telling people about running," she says. "That's what makes you a 'real' runner."

More: 5 Ways to Find Motivation to Run

Rewire Your Brain

The right steps to take when you're worrying too much:

Fears and doubts are natural. But dwelling on them—or ignoring them—can prevent you from improving, says sports psychologist Doug Hankes.

Be on the lookout for the following warning signs that your fears are holding you back.

  1. You're focused on potential race outcomes, and not the process of improving. Sure, there's a chance you won't set a PR in a race. But your training time is better spent focusing on confidence-building workouts like tempo and long runs rather than worrying about "what if's."
  2. You're ruminating about the source of your intimidation. Performance anxieties need to be dealt with before race day. ID your trouble zone and practice ways to conquer doubts. For example, if in past events you've slowed down in the final stretch, finish the last mile or two of each workout fast.
  3. You're questioning your commitment to your sport. Sounds like you've forgotten or misplaced the joy of running that once motivated you. Temporarily set aside any time goals and spend your next few workouts having fun. Do whatever you can to ditch the stress of "performing."

More: Half Marathon Training Tips for Beginners

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