The Confidence Game In Running, Riding & Life

confidence

Confidence! (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

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

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.

confidence

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

About 

Karla Bruning is a regular contributor to SHAPE.com, 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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29

07 2013

14 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    I feel like confidence wanes and crests for me. I’ll go a week or two riding a high of confidence and hit new PRs like THAT, and then I’ll go a while feeling a little blue not quite hitting my goals and my confidence will wane. I wish my confidence was more even keel, but on the bad weeks I tell myself it’s only going to get better and sometimes I almost believe it! hah.

    As long as we keep moving forward we’ll reach our goals. Just have to take it one step and one ride at a time!
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..Running, Planking and My Idol, Scott JurekMy Profile

  2. 3

    Confidence, or the lack of, has always been my downfall when it comes to anything athletic, particularly in my competitive riding days in the hunter ring. I would try to use positive visualization and only manage to visualize myself going over the jump without my horse! Apparently I am very good a negative visualization. I believe anything to do with riding is even more dependent on confidence because you have to pass on that sense of confidence to your equine partner.
    You have managed to literally “get back on the horse” which is the most important first step. With each ride you will feel more confident again! I did have many falls, but had even more really positive and enjoyable rides, you will too. (And I was always told you were never a REAL rider until you had 10 spectacular falls under your belt)
    Kristi Raz recently posted..Childbirth and HillsMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning
      4

      Aiya, 10 falls?! I’m probably about half way there over the course of my lifetime. I’ll be happy if I never have another! But you’re totally right about being confident if for no other reason than passing that confidence on to your horse. It’s SO important. I’m getting there, slowly but surely.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Happy Anniversary To My Favorite Running BuddyMy Profile

  3. 5

    Ha, I love the photo of hubby!
    Sadye recently posted..Thanks to these folks, I’m off and ridingMy Profile

  4. 7

    Great run — well done! CP has a few tough hills. I’d walk over from where we were staying and start on one of the downs, past the swimming pool. Can’t think of an easy tempo course around there. Great venue for running though.
    Ewen recently posted..Hoka Bondi and the Bush Capital 16kMy Profile

  5. 9

    I definitely needed this post. Although I have nowhere near the reason to have my confidence shaken as you have, mine is lost. I was rising high after my last PR Half Marathon and then my ability to run seems to have just disappeared. I feel like I’ve regressed. I’m still waiting for the good run to restore my confidence. Congratulations on findings yours! I know you’ll get that sub-2 half marathon time! :)
    Kellie recently posted..Week in Training (And I Even Cooked…Twice!) 7/22-7/28My Profile

    • Karla Bruning
      10

      Thanks, Kellie! I know you’ll get there too. It’s normal to have a lull after a big PR. The post half-marathon blues are as normal as the post marathon blues. Keep on plugging and you’ll find your mojo again!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Happy Anniversary To My Favorite Running BuddyMy Profile

  6. 11

    Boy, did this resonate with me today. After bailing on my full marathon in May, my confidence isn’t where it needs to be to train for two tough runs this fall. Thanks for inspiring me to keep trying!

    And I’m absolutely totally 100% certain you’re going to rock your races this fall!!
    Janice Brown recently posted..Running lessons: Pay attention to the signsMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning
      12

      Thanks, Janice. I didn’t run a marathon in 2011 because I was mentally exhausted from training. I ran one half-marathon and crash and burned at a PR attempt. But I came back in 2012 physically and mentally strong and ready to run. It resulted in a spectacular string of PRs. I feel like there’s a constant ebb and flow with running confidence, motivation and the like. You’ll get there again! Like you said, you’ve just gotta keep trying.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Happy Anniversary To My Favorite Running BuddyMy Profile

  7. 13

    Karla,
    I’m sorry to hear your confidence was shaken! I loved your post about getting back on the horse, but totally understand how these things can affect you. I was plagued with chronic issues for the last 3 years. I was JUST feeling like I was getting to a really good place, then had that bad sprain in early June. I’m just recently physically able to get out there and start back (and we’re just talking up to a 1.5 miles now!). I feel for you, and I’m glad you had a good run and game to get you back on track! -Diann

    • Karla Bruning
      14

      Diann, I’m so sorry about the sprain. How frustrating. But at least you’re back at it! I know how frustrating it is to start from scratch–that’s where I was after knee surgery 10 years ago. Just know you will get back in shape and that 1.5 will turn into 2 and 3 and so on. Hope you’re finally on the upswing!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Happy Anniversary To My Favorite Running BuddyMy Profile


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