Ask yourself the question: Who are you as a runner? Are you a mileage junkie who barely breaks a sweat on a long run or are you the speedster who crushes intervals on the track? Do you embrace the discomfort of a fast 5K or would you prefer to endure through the toughness of a marathon?
The perceptions we hold of ourselves, including of both our strengths and our weaknesses as runners, can have a profound impact on how well we perform and how much we enjoy what we’re doing. When we convince ourselves that we’re good at something, say a particular type of workout or a specific race distance, we are far more likely to succeed at it and enjoy doing it much more. Alternatively, if we believe we aren’t very good or lack confidence in our ability–to run a certain distance or hit a specific pace–we are also more likely to perform poorly and worse still, report a miserable experience.
How we view ourselves will depend partly on what we’ve previously accomplished–such as the longest distance run in training or the fastest pace held during a tough workout–as well as how we felt while doing it–did you finish your long run feeling strong and did you nail the splits during your workout. To help inform our self-perceptions, our training provides us with important feedback. It can suggest if/how we’re progressing and whether we’re on track to achieve our goals.
Confidence and self-efficacy–one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task–are both essential to success as a runner. While working on one’s weaknesses is important, it’s equally necessary to continue to reinforce our strengths and build our confidence further. This can and should be done by doing runs and workouts you enjoy and are good at but also by doing the types and frequency of runs that you know or believe are necessary for success.
Those training for a longer run or race will want to increase the length of their longest run to develop the confidence needed to know you’re ready to go the full distance. Better still, the more long runs you successfully complete, the more you should feel prepared about your ability to endure. Those training for a specific goal time should also aim to run workouts at or slightly faster than race pace. The closer and more often you come to race pace in training, the easier it should feel on race day.
What does this mean for you?
First, take a long, honest look at who and where you are as a runner. What are your strengths? What have you already accomplished and what did or didn’t you do to get there?
Next, think about who you want to be. What are your goals, your ambitions, where do you want to be as a runner? Think about what steps might be necessary to get there and what specifically you need to do to be successful. Should you run a bit more mileage? Do more speedwork? Are you failing to get adequate sleep and recovery? It could be many things. Of those options, think about what you most enjoy and what you’re good at and aim to prioritize your strengths over your weaknesses.
Understanding who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow plays a major role in making our goals a reality. Using our self-perceptions–developing new ones and reinforcing old ones–is a valuable and effective means of being a better runner.