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Fear, Limiting Beliefs, and Self-Ownership: Thoughts on Running and Goals

Fear, Limiting Beliefs, and Self-Ownership: Thoughts on Running and Goals
Fear, Limiting Beliefs, and Self-Ownership: Thoughts on Running and Goals

“Running has taken me on adventures great and small, at home and around the world. It has provided me with hope and perseverance on days when I had none – and even, once every great while, warmed me with that fleeting ray of sunshine known as glory.

Running has taught me that I can do anything, just so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that notion is metaphorical and sometimes not. In this way, I have been inspired to attempt things I would have never dreamed possible. And it all started with a single step.” – Martin Dugard

In early September, I went for a long run in Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. I read about the beautiful Seymour Trailway – a 12 km one-way paved road in the middle of the forest – and knew I had to do a long run there. So I ventured out early one Sunday morning to North Vancouver. I “only” had 23 km on my training plan but figured I would run 12 km one-way to the end of the Seymour Trailway and return back for a 24 km run. I was mostly motivated by the views of Seymour Falls Dam and Reservoir awaiting me at the 12 km mark.

Kitsilano Beach Park

While there were plenty of cyclists on the path, there were few runners or pedestrians. I spent much of the run alone. Unlike the seawall or city streets where there are plenty of noises and distractions, the forest is very quiet. It took me a long time to get focused, hit my groove, embrace the hills, choose the right music, and properly tie my shoes. After a “meh” 7 miles, I reached the halfway point and stopped to take in the views at the reservoir and dam. Surrounded by the mountains and nature, you can’t help but feel grateful and calm.

I rallied myself to get back on the road and have a better attitude about the second half of my run.

Here I am in this beautiful place, I am lucky enough to have the time and ability to run, so I better enjoy this. My what a change in attitude can do for one’s run. I was moving up and down the hills feeling stronger and a whole lot better.

Lost Lagoon

I began to truly grasp the notion that I am the only person who is holding me back. External circumstances and other people can impact my progress, but my success in running, work, and life is mostly dependent on me.

Just like no one really cares about my marathon finish time, no one cares whether I go out for a run in the pouring rain, push myself in that track workout, or do my long run.

The training is in my hands and is for me to take ownership of. 

What is stopping me from running a faster marathon, qualifying for Boston one day, or from accomplishing whatever goals I set for myself? I have surrounded myself with positive people, inspiring runners and friends who believe I can achieve my goals. I eat well, strength train, do speed work, try to recover and sleep well. I am doing things to make me a better runner.

Maybe I need to believe in myself more? I also think fear is stopping me.

While I was running up one of the many hills in Lower Seymour I thought to myself: my legs feel pretty good, my breathing is steady, and I don’t feel like death. Why aren’t I pushing myself harder? Because I’m scared of running too fast and burning out before the end of my run.

This realization was such a huge mindset shift.

A few weeks later, I finished up a long run with several miles at a much faster pace than was comfortable. Sure it wasn’t the greatest, but I finished in one piece. I know it will take practice to get used to running at increasingly faster paces, but runs like these help chip away at my fear of running fast.

Kitsilano Beach

I’m also scared of the pain that is sure to come when running fast for an extended period of time. 

Lately I have thought, read, and listened to many podcasts about pain, discomfort, and mental toughness in endurance sports. I’ve come to realize that any feeling my body isn’t used to I almost immediately associate with pain or discomfort. I am working on embracing the discomfort, versus trying to ignore it or force it to go away because that usually doesn’t work.

This Ironman race recap by Vancouver blogger James (who trained for his first Ironman primarily with a yoga practice) encapsulates my feelings well:

When I felt “the hurt”, I went right at it mentally. Dwelling in it and sitting with it. I recognized what it was, simply the body trying to heal, trying to signal. I welcomed it, listened to it until it too understood what “we” were trying to accomplish. My body was part of the team.  And for whatever reason – it responded.  The “hurt” would return again and again in different places, mostly my feet, my neck, wrists and lower back.  Instead of resisting it and “pushing through”, I’d relax into it, acknowledging the natural rhythm of the body and the downs and ups. Perhaps it’s true what they say: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Relaxing into discomfort and practicing ease during my runs, albeit challenging to do, have made running much more enjoyable. The biggest change I have noticed is that I am less scared of failure or “blowing up” in the marathon. 

Obviously my plan isn’t to go out at lightening speed during the marathon. I do want to try my best and have no regrets at the end of the race. Come race day, I’ll be repeating my favourite mantras, writing a few motivating words on my hands, and leaving it all out there on the course.

Kitsilano Beach Park

More on Mental Toughness, Doing Hard Things and Fear

A few blog posts that have inspired me lately:

False Creek and Burrard Bridge

What’s the last thing you did that made you uncomfortable? How do you approach things you are scared of? 

  • Running fast and hard has seemed so scary (and honestly, impossible) since my injury and return to running. It seems like every time that I “run fast,” something goes wrong–I can’t or I get hurt. Running hard at the end of that half marathon helped me so much–I felt capable again, and I believed it and didn’t question it.
    The mind is such a huge part of running–as is the heart.

    • says:

      I can only imagine having an injury in the back of my head to add “fuel” to my fear! It sounds like your recent half marathon was SUCH a positive experience. I am so happy to hear that! That is an amazing feeling, to feel capable again and believe in yourself.

  • I have had some of the same thoughts while running for sure. I also have days where I think I am going die after short runs. Running is unpredictable!

    • says:

      Haha yes it is entirely unpredictable! As much you can try and control what you eat, sleep, rest, etc. sometimes you just never know! I guess that’s partly what keeps us coming back and keeping on running.

  • I can completely relate to this. I often know that i am holding back a little in my runs because like you, I’m scared that if I go harder (which I know I could), I’ll run out of steam by the end of the run or the pain will be too much. Love the idea of changing the mental mindset. Or at least, building myself up to including more and more hard miles each run.

    • says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I’m sure part of it is building my confidence running and just doing more races, slowly I’ll become less cautious 🙂 Hope your marathon training is going well!

  • Carmy says:

    I totally understand. Sometimes when I have 1 interval left, I chicken out because I’m scared of the pain. I’ve been working on the whole mind over matter thing.

    • says:

      I’m getting a bit better of being scared of the pain, I just have this ongoing fear of starting too fast and then crashing and burning. When I listen to podcasts on marathons or read articles and they say don’t start too fast… sometimes I wish that was my problem! Haha. I think it just takes practice. Go kick some ass at intervals!

  • Syd says:

    I think many of us put a heavy emphasis on the “what-if” game, and the negative mindset impacts the task at hand, namely running. For example, with running interval workouts, today I started out faster than my target pace and I thought, “oh I better slow down so I can complete all the intervals at my pace”, but then I thought, “why limit myself, I am feeling good and I am strong, I can run these intervals faster if I feel like it”. And so I did. I think if we think positively while completing a hard run, we can influence how we perform. Similarly, I sometimes visualize myself reaching the finish line of the race I am training for, I pick up my pace when I am visualizing this and think about how great I will feel reaching my goal, I find it helps on race day.

    • says:

      You are one wise lady! I had that mindset shift during a long run a few weeks ago probably for the first time – why limit myself. Slowly I am getting better at thinking that more often but it is certainly a process! The “what if”, now that you say it, I realize is something I’ve ALWAYS struggled with outside of running. I’ve always been a worrier! It’s crazy how much crossover there is between running and life. Thank you for your comments, its given me lots to think about and practice! Or perhaps more accurately, visualize 😉

  • […] has taught me so much about setting goals, conquering fears, and living life in general. Apparently not running can teach you just as […]

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