How to Build Back Mental Confidence

How to Build Back Mental Confidence

Running is 1% physically 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, with no PRs.  I’ve been trotting along with running.  I’ve taken extended breaks from both injury (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.

I can’t quite say my mental game is exactly where it should be, but it’s getting a lot better.  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.

Half of my training miles have been above 9 minutes, and I haven’t worried about it.  I’ve run and gone about my day.  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 with running.  Thinking out loud, I don’t feel like it’s forced or dread getting out there.

So How do you Build Back Mental Confidence?

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

  • 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!
  • 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 just worry about yourself (or don’t worry about all)…and I’m too old school for Strava, so I’ll let you remove comparison traps there for yourself.
  • 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.  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.
  • 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.

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.

Questions for you:

How do you stay mentally strong with any sport?  

What are some mental techniques you use?


6 responses

  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.

  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!

  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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