Running in the Face of Self-Doubt

This past summer, I spent almost 12 hours at the 65km aid station for the Squamish 50 Miler as a first aid attendant. I got to cheer on so many amazing runners, but there was one runner who stood out to me. They had fallen in this same race last year, broke their hip, and had been unable to run for over 6 months after their accident. Despite this, they were determined to toe the line again this year. They missed the time cut off at my aid station, and while other volunteers helped to pack up all the gear, I sat and listened to them quietly tell me their story. I remember thinking, “Wow, they had no idea whether they were capable of what they set out to do this morning at the start line, and they still showed up and made it this far. What a badass.” 

Writer Aileen enjoying the views on a fun run with friends in Squamish, BC.  PC: Stephanie Wood, @stephedwood

Right now, I’m training for my first 100 miler in February, and I’m experiencing a huge amount of self-doubt. Despite a strong season of hard training and several performances at races that I am very proud of, I still find myself questioning my ability to run 100 miles and my capacity as a runner at all. Constantly. Which has led me to reflect on why this self-doubt seeps in when I compare myself to other runners and when I think back on past experiences that make me feel like I can’t do hard things.

All smiles on a training run in the alpine near Whistler, BC.  PC: Stephanie Wood, @stephedwood

Competition can be great. I certainly feel a love of racing on race day. But at the end of the day, it’s simply fun to run fast, it’s satisfying to explore the extent of your capacity to endure hard things, and I get this almost indescribable feeling of stoke when I see people crush their goals, regardless of who wins or not. 

But sometimes I feel this competition outside of race day turn into jealousy of other runners I know and genuinely love to run with. Sometimes I wonder how others make running and winning look so easy and effortless, and think that because I see somebody run a fast pace on Strava I should be running that fast as well (and feel bad when I don’t). Sometimes I roll my eyes when I see other runners getting crowns on Strava, even though I know that running achievements have so much more value than some arbitrary recognition on social media. Sometimes I feel jealous when I see other runners posting about great runs when my legs have just felt so tired.

This jealousy can make me forget that I really run for myself, and my ability to work towards and crush my goals has everything to do with me and basically nothing to do with the achievements and success of my fellow runners. My sense of pride in my ability to chase my goals doesn’t change in value depending on the success of others. The fears and self-doubt that other runners face might not show, but I think we all have worked through so many challenges to make it to the start of a race, or the beginning of an adventure, or to simply get out and train consistently.

Recognizing this fierce determination in others can be a source of inspiration to us; seeing others finish amazing feats and crush their goals can remind us of our own capacity to do amazing things rather than diminish the importance of the hard things we have done and the challenging goals we are working towards. Try to be genuine and kind to others- not always easy, but I think this can help foster a sense of gratitude for the runners around us and the incredibly inspirational things they have done.

Running the Howe Sound Crest Trail in West Vancouver, BC. PC: Ariane Oro, @arianeoreo

We all have previous life experiences or past failures that can consume us. I have experiences from past trauma and abusive relationships that fuels a constantly nagging voice in my head, telling me I can’t do hard things. It can be so easy to take a victim role, to let this voice consume us and dictate what we think we are capable of. It can be so tempting to use hurdles as an excuse as to why we aren’t a real runner or why we don’t deserve to be at that start line ready to race. We might not have chosen these past experiences to have happened to us, but we can be grateful for them; we can draw strength and determination from these experiences to develop tenacity and grit that we all have inside of us. Because, as hanging out on the trail often reminds us, we really can do hard things.  

I think sometimes the self-doubt won’t go away, so we have to chase our goals anyways while still doubting whether we can succeed. Showing and sharing this self-doubt with others requires a certain amount of vulnerability and trust in those around us. This can be so hard, but we can, in fact, do hard things. I think one of the most challenging and inspirational parts of running is being able to continue despite this vulnerability we see in ourselves and those around us.

All of our past experiences look different for each of us, but we can certainly find commonalities and inspiration in the determination and badassery of the runners around us. Drawing on these collective achievements within our local and global running communities is a great reminder that we have the capacity to keep running in the face of self-doubt, and that we can stay genuine and kind to others while working fiercely towards our own goals. Remember that you are brave despite, and because of, all of the experiences you have been through. We can race hard (or adventure hard, or train hard) and leave all of our efforts out there on the trails, regardless of what the trail throws at us. We really can do way more than we think we can.

*Feature Photo by Coast Mountain Trail Series, WAM 2019 

Aileen McKeown

Aileen McKeown

Aileen is a runner of trails, climber of mountains, swimmer of lakes and oceans, and a huge fan of Lucky Charms and chocolate-covered espresso beans. She hangs out in North Vancouver, BC. You can find her on Instagram @aileeenpatricia

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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2 thoughts on “Running in the Face of Self-Doubt”

  1. Thank you for sharing this article! I appreciate your vulnerability and it’s good to know that others also have these same thoughts of self doubt.

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