When Self-Doubt Takes Hold

Last week I blithely, yet proudly, mentioned to a friend that I had done a PB on the hilly 7km loop from my house through Desa Sri Hartamas/Mont Kiara. My father-in-law had just died suddenly and unexpectedly in Denmark, and my husband had flown home for the funeral, so I guess I was using my legs to blow out some mental cobwebs.

‘Oh I never run PBs in training,’ my friend replied matter-of-factly. A-ha! Of course she doesn’t. Just this past weekend she stood on the podium of a 15km race and received a well-earned trophy for third place. My friend, and probably most runners, keep their best for race day. Most runners, aided by adrenaline and motivation to succeed, can out-perform themselves when there’s a medal to be gained. However, I find that nerves get the better of me so that my adrenaline levels peak before the race begins, and I’m lucky to make it from the portaloo to the start line in time for the gun. For my last race, I didn’t even manage that!

In the run-up to the MPIB 2014 12 km race next Sunday, I have found myself crippled with self-doubt. I have a a severe case of performance anxiety, so bad, that yesterday I was wondering whether it was time to drop this whole racing lark altogether and just run for pleasure. (I’ve had similar anxiety issues about work in the past so it’s not as if my personality isn’t being consistent). Despite my injury, I’ve trained hard in the past 12 months, and I can see from my Garmin logs that my training pace is noticeably higher than it was in December 2012. I’ve also done speed-work since September, something I had never heard of a year ago. So, on paper, anyone would expect that I will run faster in this year’s race than last, when I was unexpectedly awarded 10th place and won some nice prizes and a trophy. This time, I’m terrified that on race day, I won’t be able to come up with the goods, that I will fail to get placed, that I won’t live up to expectations.

The philosophy about running for fun, running to be part of something whether it be a community or a race, has been somewhat overwhelmed by anxiety over whether I can out-perform myself (and others) in this upcoming race. I think it’s safe to say, that even if I’d been born with Paula Radcliffe’s lungs and pre-injury legs, my brain would have sabotaged any chance of World Championship medals. It must take an astounding level of mental toughness to withstand the expectations of a nation on top of one’s own expectations, at a task at which there is only one chance.

This morning, in an attempt at quelling my nerves, I ran much of the MPIB 12 km route with my husband. Last year I remember cursing aloud good-humouredly as I struggled up some of the hills. Despite the physical effort, I enjoyed the absurdity of the situation I had put myself in at sunrise on a Sunday morning. This morning I wasn’t cursing so much but aware that my suffering was self-imposed, I was metaphorically shaking my head at having signed up for a race at all! Darn, but it was hard going. Of course, running hard is similar to childbirth-once home I was hit by a sense of achievement and euphoria, the physical sensations felt en route slightly forgotten.

The route for the MPIB 12 km is very, very challenging with much of the first 5 km uphill. Anyone who completes the race in any time deserves a bloody medal – and should feel a sense of achievement and boost to their self-esteem! Somehow, in realizing this today, I recaptured a sense of why I run, and why I need to push myself through my fear of races. My body is capable of far more than my mind will ever give it credit for and my mind has been doing a fairly decent job lately of sabotaging my running joy. This morning’s run allowed me to stick two rude fingers up at the little voice that keeps undermining me, the voice that continuously tells me that I am never good enough. The endorphin effect was as short-lived as an epidural but strong enough to convince me to try to race on Sunday – with lower expectations. I’ve decided that I don’t need to do a PB on race day – even if I’ve managed to do one today in training – if the pressure to do so takes away every ounce of pleasurable anticipation and replaces it with dread. Who’s pressurizing me anyway, other than my own ego? I’m no Paula Radcliffe after all. Being capable of hauling my ass around a hilly 12km route next Sunday is simply going to have to be good enough, PB or not. Actually, getting to the start line in time, and near the front, will be the bigger achievement! No kidding!

Wherever you are, runner, walker, couch surfer, whether you’re facing a race or other less trivial challenges in your life, whatever your dreams and ambitions, I wish you all the best as we head into a new calendar year. Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you haven’t tried running, I recommend that you try it ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy New Year.

Johanna x

 

 

MWM Training Session 2

Image 3

As an introvert (who does a good impression of an extrovert), the solitary nature of running appeals to me. But even introverts, and solitary runners, can benefit from company and sometimes they even enjoy it.
Such was the case yesterday at the Malaysia Women Marathon training session, the second in a series of running clinics organised by MWM Race Director Karen Loh in the lead-up to the 10km, 21km, and 42km MWM races on March 16th in Shah Alam.
The meeting point yesterday was Padang Merbok. This is the start and finish location of a number of popular races including the upcoming MPIB 12 km on January 5th. It’s reasonable to expect a car park to be deserted at 6 AM on the last Sunday before Christmas but this place was a hubbub of activity in the dark as runners gathered to embark on their LSDs in the relative cool early morning air. I know – only people who live in the Tropics consider 24 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity to be cool!
Race Director Karen, accompanied by the MWM half marathon mentors, Lorna Wong and Sheela Samivellu, explained that the running session would consist of two 6 km loops along the hilly – very hilly – terrain of Bukit Tunku. For any ladies who had signed up for the MPIB race, this was a great opportunity to check out some of the route.

MWMrouteclinic
Hilly route! Two loops added up to 13.5km on my watch.

After our warm-up, ย around 20 ladies and our mentors, took off. Weย did the first loop, which turned out to be almost 7 km, slow and steady, passing and greeting many other runners en route. Each runner ran at a pace they found comfortable so we ended up breaking into small groups. It was nice to chat and run, and as always happens when I run with company, I marvelled at how much easier it is, than running alone. Just like life I guess.
After refreshments – water, isotonic drinks, mandarin oranges and apples, kindly provided by Karen – we set off a second time, with instructions to try the route at a higher pace. I was a little faster than the leading group and was very fortunate, though somewhat apprehensive, when Sheela, MWM mentor and local champion runner, accompanied me up a hill and started to pace me. We ran the rest, around 4km, of the route together and no kidding it was the fastest I’ve run for anything over 1km – ever. If it had been a race, I’d have slowed or even stopped, but because I was running with Sheela I didn’t want to humiliate myself by showing weakness. There were several lessons learned there, not only about the undiscovered power and speed in my legs, but more importantly I suspect, the importance of the mind in pushing through discomfort in the search for glory (or just a sense of achievement which feels glorious).

MWM1
Post-run stretching and mentoring session.

Back at the car park, Karen once again doled out refreshments, before the group gathered to chat, take photos and do a Q&A session with the mentors. Interval workouts and tempo runs were discussed, before I jokingly, but really quite seriously, enquired if the MWM ladies could meet up and run together every week. Karen informed us that there are plans in place to set up an MWM runners club. As soon as more details are available, I will of course post them here.

Image 4
L-R: Johanna (The Expat Runner), Sue-Ling (who acted as a sweeper during the run), Karen (Race Director) & Lorna (Mentor)

There were many different levels of runners at yesterday’s session. For some it was about pushing themselves up hills, resisting the urge to slow to a walk; for me it was about pushing past my fear of running fast. Irrespective of what our individual ambitions or self-imposed limitations were, every single person at the clinic had three things in common: each one of us was Dreaming, Believing, and Becoming. That’s what MWM is about.

To register for the Malaysia Women Marathon clickย here.

Sheela, Half Marathon mentor, champion runner and my personal hero yesterday, is third from the right.
Sheela, Half Marathon mentor, champion runner and my personal hero yesterday, is third from the right.

Thank you to Karen Loh for most of the photos shown in this post.