Rationalise your demons, embrace your self-doubt

I’m sat here on a Friday night and the wife’s gone out, the boy’s is in bed and the dogs are both farting/snoring in equal measure. It’s two days to the Brighton Half Marathon – my fifth (I think) Brighton Half and one of many, many half marathons in total. I’m contemplating How Sunday might go wrong and what will happen if I don’t race well.

This weekend’s race indicates I am half way through a sixteen-week training plan in preparation for a full marathon (I’ve run even more marathons than I have half marathons) – there are only 8 weeks until D-Day – the Brighton Marathon – and my goal of a sub 3 hour marathon.

So I am someone who is extremely experienced (as a runner, at least!) and should know exactly what he is doing. I still get nervous, excited, worried, butterfly-tummied, nauseous, the lot. I’ve come to realise that running is so incredibly important to me and that nobody else really cares. That’s not to say the people around me don’t care about me and that I don’t get the encouragement I want – that’s not the case at all. I get SO much love and encouragement. What I mean is that I’m the only person who cares about my performance enough to apply so much pressure to myself that on occasions I want to cry. I enter races and put so much of myself into them that often I walk a very tight line between being extremely motivated and being on the edge of an emotional abys. There are times when I sit and contemplate what I’m trying to achieve and I shake all over, my heart rate goes crazy and I well up thinking about various people and different experiences in my life. I don’t win races, I don’t have a coach and I don’t have to feed my family with the proceeds of my competing. I choose to run these races and I bloody love (and hate) them!

So why do I sit on a Friday night worrying about my performance, that I might not succeed and that I could fall to bits out on the road when really, I just need to finish. Not even finish, actually – I think I just need to give it a go and even then, it’s only really if I want to do it. It’s surely irrational, unnecessary and unhealthy, right?

If I had a pound for every time someone said to me ‘that’s nothing to you, a half marathon must be easy’, I’d probably have about twenty quid. It’s not true at all. The distance doesn’t matter and my level of experience doesn’t matter, I’ll still leave my guts on the road. But why? Why do I run so hard that I puke, why do I force myself to train when it’s freezing cold and pissing rain in every direction? Why do I get up at 6am to get my long run done in time to get home and spend quality time with the boy? Surely other people must ask themselves these questions, too. Please tell me you do.

I don’t worry about self-doubt at all. After years of suffering with anxiety, I’ve learned to embrace it. I think if it’s used properly, self-doubt can inspire, motivate and encourage you to push beyond your expectations and stay there until the end of the race. But that comes with practice and the ability to manage it. If you can’t embrace self-doubt and worry then you’re likely to fall to pieces. If you don’t know when to ease back with the pressure or to mentally take yourself to another place to calm down, it could all be over before you even start.

Being a personal trainer, it’s my job to tell people how to train for endurance events. It’s my job to condition your body, get your muscles ready to run for hours and hours and to make sure you’re as flexible, powerful, fast and robust as possible. But as a personal trainer who has a fascination with motivation and inspiration, I need to also say that it’s important to rationalise everything you do; you need to have strong enough reasons to make sacrifices in training and you need to develop your fortitude to be able to talk yourself into going beyond your expectations.

Learning the route is so important to performance in an endurance event. Turning up and racing is fine, but if you haven’t explored the course, you don’t know where the uphill sections are, where the water stations will be and where the landmarks are or where the biggest crowds will cheer you on. When you know where all this stuff is, you can start to mentally rehearse how to deal with those sections, ticking them off as you go along. Looking forward to a drink at mile 4, your wife or husband being at mile 7, the turnaround point leaving just 2 miles to go and the statue meaning it’s the final straight – all of these things give you small targets within the ultimate goal of completion. If you are able to understand how you might feel, it will not come as a shock on race day.

So, it’s Friday night and I’m sat here full of self-doubt and worried that I won’t reach my goal on Sunday. If I don’t run sub 1.25, I have told myself I will ease back on my marathon training and change my goal to simply completing the race (possibly in fancy dress) rather than pulling myself inside out. I’m in the sort of shape that on a good day, I could run a 1.22 on Sunday. But I’m also running so inconsistently that I could struggle to hit 1.27. There are two certainties for the race, though. The first is that I will stand on the start line as nervous as hell and wishing I had trained harder. The second is that I will go into the race fully prepared mentally and will not give in. I’ve never not tried my hardest.


About kevin betts

Personal trainer, marathon runner and most interested in motivation and goal setting. I run for peace of mind, but also to create a bit of turmoil to get through.

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