The Confidence Game In Running, Riding & Life


Confidence! (Photo:

Confidence. We all struggle with it. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Because I struggle with it in running, as in most things.

The last two months have been a real confidence struggle for me. And it all comes down to the day I fell off a horse.

Since then, I’ve been struggling through injury to get back into running shape, riding shape, and mental shape to believe that I can do the things I set out to do—score a personal record in a September half marathon, run an October marathon, continue to make progress as a runner and a horseback rider.

Shaken confidence is pernicious. It takes root like a tree and begins to shade every thing you do.

You thought you were making progress as a runner? Think again. You won’t be able to run a sub-2 hour half-marathon this fall. Not gonna happen! Maybe next year, kid.

You think you’re a good enough rider to play polo? Not even close. Maybe you should just give up. Hang up your mallet and call it a day. Or else you’re going to fall again!

A Christmas Story comes to mind. I feel like I have a chorus of naysayers in my brain chanting, You’ll shoot your eye out!

They’re the type of thoughts that, if given in to, undermine your best efforts and all but guarantee a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Thankfully, I’m a fairly stubborn and goal oriented person. I thrive on new challenges and am not afraid to do something because I might be bad at it. I was a terrible runner when I started and a terrible polo player. Neither sport has come naturally to me. I’ve fought to get better at each and I’ve fought hard for the confidence I’ve won. I’m not going to let it all slip away without a fight.


Confidence! Yay! (Photo: Phil Hospod)

Oh, it’s on.

For the first time since June 1, I had a run last week that helped restore my confidence in myself. It was a 4-mile tempo run through Central Park.

Heading out that day, I looked at my training schedule and sighed. Tempo runs have always been my nemesis. I’m rarely able to hit my prescribed paces, stumbling through them half-heartedly. So when I set out for the park, I fully expected to run four miles slower than my plan called for, especially with the lingering tightness in my hip.

Even after a warm-up, my first mile was slow. But my first mile in Central Park is always slow because it includes one of the two worst hills on my route, which I crest right at the 1-mile mark.

Then, in the second mile, something magical happened. Or rather, something didn’t happen. My hip didn’t tighten up as it has been. I didn’t start fatiguing like I have been on my recent hot runs. And I didn’t want to give up. Instead, I pushed the pace.

On my second mile, I hit my target pace on the nose. I looked at my watch and smiled. And just like that, my confidence in my ability as a runner was restored.

My next two miles were exactly what a tempo run is supposed to me—comfortably hard. For the first time, perhaps in my eight years as a runner, comfortably hard was just that: both comfortable and hard.


Does that man look confident? Yes, yes he does. (Photo: Public Domain U.S.)

I found a little more gas in my legs and ran the next two miles faster than my prescribed tempo pace. I know you’re not supposed to do that. But it just felt so good to be able to run fast and pain free. I didn’t sprint, but I felt like a racehorse that someone had just let out into an open field.

Speaking of horses, I’ve ridden three times since my fall eight weeks ago. As in running, my confidence there has been shattered. I’m tense and overly anxious in my saddle. Higher-speed drills that were no problem last summer suddenly scare me. I’m riding like a beginner who is afraid to fall. And, really, the only difference between then and now is my confidence. I still know how to ride. I’m the same person who’s been taking polo lessons for two years. But my confidence is gone, and with it, many of the skills I’ve learned up to this point.

In my last lesson, I was so nervous that I wanted to skip the scrimmage to work on more riding drills—just getting comfortable in the saddle again without having to worry about a polo mallet.

My instructor left it up to me, but he encouraged me to play a few chukkers—that’s polo speak for periods. And you know what? He was right. With my mind focused on game strategy, and not obsessing over riding, I forgot to be nervous and my body naturally did what it knows how to do—ride the darn horse.

Was it my best game? Certainly not. I was slow and not always getting where I needed to be. But I scored one goal on a penalty shot, connected with the ball on a few solid plays, and didn’t foul anyone. That alone is a win. But the scrimmage also helped restore some of my confidence in my ability as a rider.

I know it will be a process. But with my running confidence re-found, I’m sure that my riding confidence is not far behind. I certainly hope so. Because being insecure is a lot less fun than being self-assured.

Stay confident, my friends.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a regular contributor to, the host of NYRR's On The Run web + TV show, and a race announcer at events like the TCS New York City Marathon. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now she freelances as a running reporter. She's run 7 marathons, 20 halves, 6 triathlons, sings in an '80s cover band, spoils her dog + travels compulsively.

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07 2013

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