How to Build Back Confidence For Running

How to Build Back Confidence For Running

Building back confidence for running is hard. If you’ve come back from an injury, long break, or just haven’t had great workouts; you know the struggle! I’ve been there dozens of times. You question: will I ever be the same?

How to Build Back Confidence For Running

How to Build Back Confidence While Running:

Running is 1% physical and 99% mental.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there is a lot of mental component to the sport (or any sport, really).  As most people know, most of 2016 and 2017 were not my years for running.  I set two of my favorite distance PRS (5k and 13.1) in January and February of 2016.  After that, I haven’t PRed.  

So here I am almost 2 years later, still running races but with no PRs.  I’ve taken extended breaks from both injuries (last year I fractured my heal) as well as just plain mental burnout.  So I haven’t run for 2 years straight, but I have trained and gone through training cycles. Building back confidence for running has been hard!

I can’t quite say my mental game is exactly where it should be, but it’s getting a lot better.  There have been many races I’ve had race nerves leading up to a race, the night before a race, pre-race anxiety at the starting line, and pre-race stress; Sometimes it can be hard to get your head in the right space and stay calm with those pre-race jitters and performance anxiety.  You want to focus on the race plan, but your heart rate is so high, it feels impossible to beat the race day nerves. B

One thing I’ve done to build back confidence for running is focusing on endurance. As I get back into fitness during the last few months, I’ve pretty much run with no worry about pace or distance unless I’ve raced.  I wrote more about that here. Even though I’m trying not to worry during training, I can’t seem to shake “race day nerves” and beating race day nerves. Sometimes when I show up at a race, I’m not ready to race.

Half of my training miles have been above 9 minutes, and I haven’t worried about that.  Easy runs never give me race anxiety. Building back running confidence means I’m happy to run. It’s been then being injured. Right now, I have a solid foundation and base.  I know my base miles have set my body up to begin doing more speed workouts and hone in on speed.  I will get there.  Who knows how long it will take, but running is lifelong!  I would rather not rush anything and burn out…again.

Most importantly, though, running without time and pace has given me a huge mental break.  Once again, I feel happy about running. I don’t feel like it’s forced or dread getting out there.

So How do you Build Back Mental Confidence for Running?

For me, mental confidence takes a lot more time to develop than physical speed and endurance.  Here are a few techniques I’ve used to build back confidence for running.

  • Stop Negative Self Talk: If you think you’ll run like garbage, you probably will. Last year, I thought I would run like garbage at the Philadelphia marathon…and…I did!  Race day anxiety did exactly what I thought it would. To build back confidence for running, you need to believe in yourself.
  • Stop Comparing: This means stop comparing yourself to others and to yourself. Now that Instagram running is “so big,” it’s easy to look at someone and be like…how do they run fast all of the time.  But worry about yourself (or don’t worry about all). You might have the most confidence in your running, only for it to be destroyed by the comparison trap.
  • Set Smaller Goals to Achieve Your Bigger Ones: For me, I set a smaller goal to get back out there. Then another goal to do a few 5k, then a half, and then begin honing in on speed. Your training plan should include smaller goals, not just one big one. You don’t need to set a huge goal of PRing when you aren’t running or dropping an hour from your marathon.  Set a bite-sized goal and move forward. Achieving these small goals helps build back confidence for running. The more goals you achieve, the more confidence you gain.
  • Visualize: I cannot emphasize this enough, but visualizing running and doing well will help tremendously.  My college swim coach had us visualize swimming well at conferences, and I always felt more confident after that.  Visualization is something that helps build back confidence for running. Making you more confident helps calm race day nerves and race day anxiety.  Visualize the race starts through the finish line.


Building back confidence for running is thought, and it takes time! It’s always important to remember that running is lifelong.  There are races any weekend you want, and if you don’t feel mentally right, you should work on that first.  Race day anxiety and race day nerves take time to beat and build confidence.

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Questions for you:

How do you build back confidence for running when you’ve been out for a while?  

Do you get race day anxiety or race day nerves? 


  1. An important topic that gets overlooked a lot. We tend to focus on endurance and mileage and forget about our mental health. 2017 has been a rough year for me with several injuries and it has been hard to get used to not running the pace I was capable of in years past. For now, I am not trying to focus on speed, but rather on running regularly and not giving up on myself.

  2. I think Steve has a great point about mental health and well, life. None of us are getting paid to run or doing it for a living. If running and racing are not fun, or are causing you more mental anguish and stress instead of RELIEVING stress, it’s time to reevaluate. Either take a break from running, take a break from racing, or change your attitude (and yeah, all of those are easier said than done). A few weeks ago after a rough 10K, I beat myself up worse than the race did and had to take a step back and remember that I do this to support charities and others. Those who benefit from me running a race do not care what time I ran, just that I showed up and supported a cause.

    Sometimes in our lives, running has a different role- not necessarily about times and placing. This year, with several injuries and illnesses I’ve experienced, along with the death of a very close friend, I’m remembering how to enjoy the process. Even if I do not PR at a race or meet any sort of goal, I can still enjoy being with friends. When I look back at all the pictures with Cindy and friends, we were always running a race or group run, but I don’t remember the times. I’m sure some were good runs and some were not good runs, but I just remember that we were together.

    1. I️ completely agree Amy, it’s so important to be happy and actually enjoy what you’re doing at the time.

  3. I’m still struggling through with not comparing myself to others, or my own past performance. 2017 has been a recovery year for me, and I keep thinking back to the previous years when I was in full on marathon training and stronger, and getting those PRs. Well duh, there’s a reason I ran so fast, I was training to run fast. So hard to forget that and look at the current situation!

    1. Sometimes it’s so hard to look at where you are. It’s good you’re able to reflect and 2018 will be your year Lisa!

  4. Running and any sport for that matter have such a huge mental component. You can be in incredible shape but if you let the negative self talk take over then your performance can suffer greatly.

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