Running isn’t supposed to be easy. Tips to unlocking confidence through running. Running should make you uncomfortable. Running is a superpower, but the mythical side effects of confidence and pride only occur if you run hard when it’s hard to run. Discomfort is the magic ingredient. Discomfort is the right of passage and the magic pill that’s offered on the road, the tread, and the race course, daily. Discomfort and pride are cousins. I will do anything for family.
My mom, a physician born and raised in Cuba, taught me it’s better to be bold and weird, and to do your own dance, especially when people are watching. She is the type of woman who can light up a room and move mountains without raising her voice. She also has multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system.
My mom’s MS diagnosis was my kryptonite and running was my superpower. Enter MS Run the US, a point-to-point cross-country relay from Los Angeles to New York City. In 2013, its inaugural year, nobody had heard of this crazy run. Each leg ranged from 150 to 300 miles per runner. At that point, I hadn’t run more than fifty miles. It was February of 2013 and the relay started in March. I had no business signing up to run five marathons in five days just fifteen weeks later, so obviously that’s what I did.
My leg of the relay involved five marathons in five days across Utah. The plan was for MS Run the US founder Ashley Schneider to support me with food and hydration during the run, and we would both stay in the MS Run the US RV during the evenings in between Marathons.
On the eve of the first 26.2 leg, I was questioning whether I could actually do this. I had done training involving back-to-back long runs, a few 50 milers, but I literally did not know if I could complete 130 miles of running. I was inspired by the feats of endurance all stars like Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, and Rich Roll had accomplished. I knew 5 marathons in 5 days was a small accomplishment in ultramarathon lore. I had perspective cloaked in debilitating doubt.
Day one started with 28.5 miles from Main Street in Milford, Utah heading east. By day three, at 80 cumulative miles, spirits were high and emotions were higher. I started to feel the miles, thousands of steps in the right direction, and some hot spots on my feet setting in. Positioned squarely in the middle of promise and potential, I had to go inward. Day four: 107 miles. had prepared for physical discomfort when I signed the dotted line. I knew my legs would ache, my arches would rub raw, and my shoulders would tense. That was the good stuff. The true painful moments were in the crevices of my mind. I was feeling defeated and fatigued, but as the days progressed I knew giving up wasn’t an option and the pain reinforced my larger goal—finish. All I could do was listen to Beyonce on repeat. For hours. I was slowly losing my mind. Little did I know that these moments that I thought were eroding me were the necessary building blocks for tomorrow’s epic transcendence.
Day five: 131 miles. Nothing made sense but forward. Ultras are mental. Running was my super power. I finished under the finish line banner wearing a superhero cape. I couldn’t fix my mom. But we weren’t going down without a fight. 131 miles across Utah in five days. Sweat is magic. This is the confidence I turn to on a rainy day.
If you’re searching for a confidence boost, get uncomfortable. Sign up for the distance you fear or commit to a run with your fast friend. Confidence is a muscle worth exercising. Just like picking up a weight in the gym, discomfort is the catalyst for the mental shift that resilience requires.
What story are you telling yourself? The mental gymnastics are your biggest hurdle or asset depending on the narrative you tell yourself. Champions run towards the discomfort, not away from it.
Here are my biggest tips for braving an uncomfortable run:
- Use nerves as fuel. This means you care. If you’re nervous, your brain is lighting up.
- Focus on what you can control like fuel, gear, race strategy and route logistics.
- Plan what you’re going to tell yourself during the uncomfortable moments. The moments of discomfort will come. Coach yourself in those moments like you would a friend.
- Breathe. Take six deep breaths (in and out) for one minute right before the pre-race announcements at the start line. This also works the night before to calm the mind and sleep!
- Tell yourself you’re a champion until you believe it. This works every time.
Movement is fertilizer for the brain. Lacing up plants seeds of action. Some runs are about silencing doubt while others are small victories in the pursuit of bravery. They aren’t all eventful or celebrated publicly, but you know when you’ve run towards the discomfort or cowarded away from it. From the mentally tough tempo run to the very first time you laced up after an injury, they are all deposits in the confidence bank.
The ache in your lungs. The burn in your legs. As the miles pass and greatness beckons, ask yourself “why not me?” It will not get easier, but you will get stronger.