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The Problem With Confidence

Confidence is normally a good thing, right? I mean, without it, you don’t get very far. Because it’s only when you have confidence in your ability to be a good runner/student/employee/writer/cook/etc that you actually start succeeding in it.

And it can be interesting to watch your confidence grow as you improve in something, which in turn, feeds your confidence. It’s a never-ending, awesome cycle that builds you up and never lets you down.

Or does it?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence. About how the amount of confidence that you have in yourself can really affect your outlook, as well as your abilities. Too little, and you sell yourself short and don’t live up to your potential. But what about when you have too much?


Over-confidence can lead to just as many pitfalls as not having enough. And I’m not just talking about the braggy-type of over-confidence in your own self worth. I also mean having an over-confidence in your own abilities. In some fields, I’d imagine having too much confidence could be a little dangerous. With running – it just leads to some stupid, painful runs.

My problem with confidence came after a great winter/spring of running. I watched my times improve, and got used to running a certain pace. I became confident in my ability to run fast. The only problem was – I stopped racing as much and training as hard. Yet, for whatever reason, in the back of my mind I still expected my pace to stay the same. Obviously not a logical conclusion, but what can I say. Sometimes I think confidence can drown out logical thought.


And then I started marathon training again. I started logging more miles and longer runs than I had in months. In weather that was hotter and more humid than ever. All-the-while expecting my pace to stay the same. I bet you can all guess where this story is going…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a really tough long run followed by an even tougher race. And all that confidence I had once been feeling drained right away. Although I have to admit that this felt pretty crappy at first, it only took a little bit of reflection to realize this was a blessing in disguise.

Losing my confidence in my endurance/speed made me take a step back and start thinking about things logically. Running is tough, we all know that. Maintaining a certain high level of fitness is tougher. Combine that with crazy heat and humidity, and it’s easy to start feeling even more out of shape than you really are.

So what’s a girl to do in that situation? Since I can’t go back and change the past to make myself do a better job at maintaining my base, I can only change my approach to training.

Adjusting Expectations

Even if I had been a really dedicated runner and kept up a good speed and endurance base over the past couple of months, chances are my pace would have dropped once the heat index started rising. High temperatures and high levels of humidity aren’t exactly a runner’s best friend. In fact, according to Jeff Galloway, your pace starts dropping once the temperature rises above 55 degrees.

The following chart is meant to show how heat impacts your pace. Even though it’s developed for race paces, it gives you a general idea (source):

55-60 degrees – 1% – 8:05
60-65 degrees – 3% – 8:15
65-70 degrees – 5% – 8:25
70-75 degrees – 7% – 8:35
75-80 degrees – 12% – 8:58
80-85 degrees – 20% – 9:35
Above 85 degrees – Forget it… run for fun

Lately temperatures in New England have been 85 – 90 degrees ON TOP OF high humidity. Which means trying to run fast in these conditions is not only extremely difficult, but it’s also kind of dumb.

So yesterday during my long run, I did something a little different. Something smart. Something I should’ve been doing all along.

I started out slow. I stopped caring about my pace and just eased into my run.

slow road.jpg(source)

And you know what? It wasn’t awful. Surprisingly, even though I was dripping wet within a couple of miles, I actually found myself enjoying the run. The first run I’ve really enjoyed in a long time. As the miles went on, I found my mood getting better. By the time I reached double digits I was smiling with excitement just to be out there running. And the best part of it all – I found myself speeding up, without even meaning to.

Was it my fastest run ever? Nope. But I got those miles in. And afterward I gained a little bit of that old confidence in running back (but not too much!).

Sometimes training smart means checking that over-confidence at the door and slowing down. Of course I hope that I’ll be able to speed up once the temperatures cool down (and my endurance gets better), but if slowing down means I’ll be able to get in my long runs and enjoy them, then so be it.


30 Responses to The Problem With Confidence

  1. First of all, I like that chart – proof to me that feeling very slow in this heat and humidity is ok! Also, I kind of feel good now about my long run on Sat – it was 9:36s and super hot/humid…so maybe that bodes well for this upcoming marathon? Maybe….maybe not.

    Oh Lord, when it comes to running confidence I am the worst – I waver back and forth from “I’m awesome” to “I don’t even know why I’m trying, I’m so bad.” I have the hardest time knowing if I’m setting my goals and expectations too high. I’m always afraid that I think I’m better in my mind than I physically am. But, maybe that’s just it….whatever your mind thinks you can be physically, it will eventually rise to through training. Mostly though, I just need to have the confidence to believe in myself (If that makes any sense). Which is why I’m hoping that by acting, behaving, embodying what I think a runner who runs a “XX:XX” marathon would be like, I’ll become that. We’ll see if it actually works.

    I am sorry for this novel!

    • Yes!! I love this last part. When it comes to setting goals, you just have to believe you can do it. And I think that the more you do to feel like an XX:XX marathoner, the better your chances of becoming one will be!

  2. Well, this makes me feel a little better, because I always feel SO slow/horrible in the heat:( Everyone says “oh, you’ll get used to it!”…but it doesn’t matter that I run every day in it, drink plenty of water, etc…I never really get used to it!

    I was feeling so good this spring after doing a lot of speed/tempo runs for my 10 miler, and building up my endurance in my HIM training, AND THEN I sprained my foot, and now have not run since May. Sooo sad and frustrating to start back at almost zero again. But you’re not starting back nearly as far as me, so don’t worry, all that work you’re putting in now will pay off soon, especially as the temperatures start to drop:).

    • Maybe I’m being too negative, but I don’t think you can ever really get used to it. Meaning, even if you start being able to tolerate it a little better, I think it always slows down your times.

      And I feel your frustration! I’ve come back from an injury before and know how tough it can be to feel like you’re starting from Square 1 again. But hang in there – you will gain your fitness back!!

  3. amen sister! i totally struggled with training through last summer. but i tried to look at it like altitude training. i was addling challenge to my workouts without having to “do” anything different. it didn’t always help mentally, i would still get super down on myself when i wasn’t seeing the numbers i wanted to see…but it paid off in the fall when those temps were back to being in the 50’s. it was magical :)

    • I love this perspective! I need to start looking at it as an additional challenge that’ll make me stronger. And of course, it’ll make the 50 degree fall temperatures feel that much more amazing.

  4. I love this and I’m so glad you put it out there. I have definitely lost some running endurance since decreasing my mileage and I know I’ve gotten slower, but when I go out there with appropriate expectations, I still love running. I am so glad that you were able to have an enjoyable long run. You are an incredibly strong runner and you will be running your old pace again soon, but for now, I’m glad you have found a way to maintain your joy on the road.

    • Thank you Becky! I’m glad you’ve been able to find enjoyment in running again too. Sometimes I think going through these phases and changing up why we run is one of the best things we can do to stay motivated with it.

  5. I love this! I think we all have moments of over-confidence and learning from our mistakes is all we can do.

    I’m so glad you had a fun long run and were able to forget about pace. I have no doubt that your speed will return in the next few weeks! That’s the beauty of running. There’s almost always room for improvement.

    And that chart is kind of discouraging! That means I should only run for fun from April-September. Oh well, I guess that’s what treadmills are for :)

    • Haha, yes! As you know, I have nothing against the treadmill. Sometimes I’d just rather run fast than slog through hot miles outside.

  6. Great post, Lauren! I struggle with confidence all the time – running and non-running. I think that’s why I’m not so great at speedwork, because I go into it not feeling very confident I can get through it, and push through feeling uncomfortable. It’s such a process getting over that and feeling confident – I think I’m working on it though.

    This heat has been so tough! I did the same thing as you and just tried to enjoy my long run and not worry about pace. It was super slow, but I made it! Slowing down was the only thing that got me through it. You’re an awesome runner, and I have no doubt your confidence will come back to where it needs to be soon :) thanks for another great post!

    • Thank you Kelly!! I think speed work is one of the best tests (and potential boosters) of your confidence. I always feel nervous and unsure going in, but once I’m able to do the workout, I get a huge surge of confidence.

  7. I’ve had to adjust my expectations a lot recently, so I can relate to this very much. I think it is totally normal for runners to go through ups and downs in confidence, and as well as ups and downs in fitness. If we all stayed at our peak fitness all of the time, we would be worn down pretty fast. I think your confidence is absolutely a positive trait, and I don’t think you have too much of it. Confidence is a must for succeeding as a runner, and it can have nothing to do with pace and current fitness level. You can be confident that you’re a hard worker and that your body will do what you want it to do if you put in the miles. (And of course the heat is a huge factor in slowing down, as you said very well.) That being said, of course it’s hard to see yourself be slower than you know you used to be, but what I’ve realized is that it’s kind of fun to watch yourself build back fitness after a break or setback. Once you see that first bit of improvement, I think that will bring on a lot of excitement and rebuild confidence.
    Amazing reflection, as always, Lauren. I really enjoyed this post and please don’t lose one ounce of your confidence! I know you will get back to where you want to be.

    • You make some really great points here, and have actually made me think more about this. I love that you pointed out that confidence goes beyond your current pace/fitness level. I definitely believe that’s true, so I haven’t really lost all my confidence as a runner. Maybe confidence isn’t the best word to use here, but I think my struggles lately have been more in the area of my confidence in my ability to hold a certain pace at this current moment. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though – it has made me start training smarter. And you’re right – watching yourself gain fitness back is definitely fun.

      Anyway, thanks for the really thoughtful comment Corey!

  8. You couldn’t have made a more timely post. I was getting very discouraged. I had never heard the great than 85 degree thing before either. Thank you so much for posting this!

    • I’m sorry you’ve been feeling discouraged lately. You’re definitely not alone in that department! But I’m trying not to let it bring me down and instead think of myself as getting stronger for pushing through some tough runs. Hopefully you’ll be able to do the same!

  9. running in this heat is almost unbearable. I have been running so much slower but I know that it is because of this awful heat

  10. I think runners are usually the most competitive with themselves…which is the trouble with comparing race times in different seasons (this post also reminds me of coming back from injury).

  11. i love this!!! i am totally having this problem lately majorly and beating myself up over it. i keep doing it even though i know i should not. i expect myself to be as fast as i was two months ago and now i can hardly log my normal miles and my normal speed. i really need to take a page from your book!

  12. I think about confidence in this way a lot actually! I had a pretty similar experience this past fall after taking a break from running over the summer. I expected myself to be able to run like I had been in the spring (when training for a half marathon) but I quickly figured out that wasn’t the case. I even experienced a little bit of an injury, but luckily I slowed down before it got too serious.

  13. First, I laughed out loud at that “overconfidence” poster – too funny!

    I completely agree with you thoughts about the danger of overconfidence while training and racing. I think it applies to other areas of life, too – being overconfident in your job or your academics may cause you to feel you don’t need to take steps to improve your performance, and may cause you to take a heavy fall if you make a mistake. Perhaps the best combo is a healthy level of confidence with a dose of humbleness, as well as the ability to forgive yourself for mistakes and sub-perfect performances.

    Isn’t it great how everything in life related to running? :)

  14. I definitely know how it feels to expect you’ll run a certain pace…but then run much slower. I ran a big PR in last November’s NYC Marathon and so I had this huge confidence boost. I wanted to get right back into workouts and races as soon as I took a few weeks off. Buttt, I ended up jumping back in to things too fast, getting burnt out, and ultimately running slower in some Spring races. In the last month or so, I’ve finally started to get my mojo back, but it’s not easy to compare this year’s times with last year’s times.

    I think that Corey makes a good point though – if we want to be lifelong runners, we can’t expect to always be at our peak. Being a competitive runner means having PR races and awesome mileage weeks, but it also means that sometimes training will not be so great. I think how we handle those “off” times and what we learn from them are what matter most!

  15. I think confidence is a really, really hard thing, both in running and in life. Overconfidence can definitely be a problem in some areas, which is why I’m glad I’m not 100% confident as a nurse…that lack of confidence keeps you on your toes, but it’s also an uneasy feeling. I had a pretty good round of spring marathon training/racing, and I keep thinking that even if I don’t keep up that level of training, I’ll still run great! Well, this heat is nasty and for some reason I still think that as a seasoned runner I should be able to push through and easily run 7:30’s and such. Oh no no no. Eight minute miles seem hard when it’s 95 degrees!

    I think as experienced runners, it’s important to realize that the tough times in this heat will still translate to good marathon times in the fall when the temperatures drop again. The mental game there is a different type of confidence that you have to have in your training.

  16. Oh Lauren, you are so wise!!!!!!! I believe highly in being confident but overconfidence can lead to disappointment as you’ve written. The heat has always been my nemesis- even at Boston- I felt it was too hot for me to run a PR. I think adjusting your training until the heat calms down is sooo smart and this training will help you SO much in the months to come. I promise!

  17. Ahhh this post really hit home for me. I’ve been juggling thoughts on my marathon training plan and whats really right for me. I get on an ego kick and knock out a lot of miles in a week, and realize its way more mileage than what my training guide calls for. This makes me think I need to tone it down a lot, but then I read blogs by far more seasoned runners (such as yours) and I think “well if they are cover 45 miles during week 2 of marathon training, my 26 miles at week 2 is NOTHING!”
    then again, its my FIRST marathon and i dont want to burn out/fall out from injury too early. ahhh the great balancing act that is training! so hard to master!

    • Even as a seasoned runner, I know the feeling! There are many runners out there putting in some really high mileage weeks (especially in this little blog world), and it can be easy to compare myself to what they’re doing and feel like I’m not running enough. But everyone’s body is different, and especially for your first marathon, you have to make sure you don’t run miles just for the sake of miles…since you could easily get injured.

      Also, I’ve actually been meaning to write a post about my thoughts on running high mileage during marathon training (something I used to do but don’t anymore…running high mileage, that is) for awhile now and your comment finally gave me the push to do it – so thank you! But to hopefully make you feel better, I’m several weeks into marathon training and have not even hit 40 miles a week yet. So please don’t feel like you are doing nothing, especially compared to me :) In these past few years, I have come to really look at quality of runs vs. quantity. I keep reminding myself that the overall number of miles I run per week matters less than the quality of those runs I put in.

  18. Wow, definitely not something I would’ve thought about before, but then I’m not much of a runner either. I’m so glad you took that run so slow and just let yourself enjoy running. :)

  19. Okay so i read your posts and was really shocked by how much I can relate to them! I thought i was the only one with confidence issues! In fact I think I have it bad …my confidence is below the negative i get so distracted when im running by other people i just think people are judging me when i run and that just slows me down as i look at every person i run past. In fact I get upset when people say hi to me or acknowledge me on my runs? Is social shyness okay in this situation? or am i going too far with it? i just dont like being smiled at when im running because to me running is a sacred thing …and im not a big fan of people

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