Wednesday, April 7, 2010

MIA: Race Speed Confidence

In the aftermath of Saturday's race, I've been thinking quite a lot about speed - speed as it relates to racing, speed as it relates to me, and speed as it relates to everybody else. One thing I took away from my performance that day is that I'm completely uncomfortable taking the lead in a race situation. What I mean by that is when I overtook the leader of our mini-pack at mile 5, I remember peeking back a few times within the first quarter mile to see whether he was going to take back his lead. (So maybe getting lost by mile 6 was bound to happen anyway!) Similarly, when I was running by myself, alone on an island, in the last 3-4 miles of the race, I couldn't help myself from peeking every so often to see if someone was coming to chase me down. The easy excuse is that I've never found myself in a similar situation before and so could not have been expected to know how I was supposed to act. But if I were to be honest with myself, I've watched enough telecasts of races to know that checking your backside as often as I did is not appropriate race strategy (if it was, they'd find some way to incorporate a rearview mirror to your running attire!) Yet, I couldn't help myself from doing that mid-race because I was so nervous and awkward to be where I was - alone and in the top ten, for at least a portion of the race. For once, I was more "the hunted" than "the hunter" which isn't quite as easy a role reversal to play as I'd imagine it'd be. I was unsure of my place (do I belong with the top dogs?), my pace (am I running too fast or too slow?), my time (can I get a PR? Can I come close?) and my threshold for pain. Most of all though, I lacked confidence in my own speed.

Looking back into my archived past, it's a bit ironic that I've blogged about my thoughts on speed during early April in each of the past two years. While I've always iterated that speed is extremely personal and interpretative and relative, I've never yet regarded myself as the speedy one. Maybe it's because I've never been considered an athlete growing up or maybe it's because I've yet to win an award of any significance, but my mind just lacks confidence whenever I'm asked to talk about or showcase my speed. It's almost like I don't take myself seriously enough when similarly fast people are around. It's a bit sad that I give myself every reason to FAIL before the race even begins. No wonder I grabbed 4th AG and missed out on an award...I never even truly believed I could win!

Based on what transpired Saturday, I've been having long serious discussions with myself to convince me that I'm a good runner. I seriously can't believe that I use to badger the cyclists and race the kids up hills just because I could. Now, just a couple years later, despite being slightly faster overall, I am for some reason afraid to close the deal on a race that I'm already leading in. I think it's ridiculous and a minor travesty. I have to get this aspect of my mental game in order before NJM.

Any advice, suggestions, and insights you might have, please throw them my way. If you can find me a cure, I'd be your indentured servant forever...if only they allow that sort of thing. Would you settle for my eternal gratitude instead?

Have a great rest of the week, everyone. Cherry Blossom 10 Miler for me in D.C. this weekend. It should be fun. Details to come.


kevin f forde said...

there comes a time for all runners when they have to start beliving in their own ability,it would seem that time is now for you my friend.
Whatever you're doing in training it's paying off,don't question it,go w/ it,learn to embrace the new level you're at.
Good luck at Cherry Blossom 10 this weekend,fun race,did it once in 02-03 if memory serves correct

Anne said...

Sounds like you already know the answer to your question Lam - as the saying goes "think you can, think you can't, either way you're right" Henri Ford
...perhaps you need to analyze less and just do it :)

Betsy said...

I think you need to win something. Then, there will be no arguing with yourself about whether or not you can do it - the proof will be right there in the trophy you're holding. And honestly, the only reason you're not dominating your age group (and possibly overall awards) is because you are racing in New York City. I see your PRs; you have the talent. I recommend that you go to a smaller area, enter a 5K, kick ass, and see what it feels like to lead a race. Once you've done it, then you can take that confidence back home with you, run NY 13.1 next year, and get that age group award.

Matt said...

I tend to agree with Betsy's comment...personally, I'd enter a race (maybe a smaller event) and not have a time goal. Instead, I would set a goal of winning or top 3 AG, etc. and let the time be whatever it is. Don't worry about your pace, just chase down whoever is between you and your goal and see what the time is when you're finished.

Everyone else can see you are talented enough to be a front of the pack runner; now all you have to do is convince yourself. I bet if you raced instead of ran, you would surprise yourself with the outcome.

aron said...

oh Lam, its time for you to start believing in yourself!!! seriously, look at the things you do, look at the amazing races you have had, the hard training, all the time and effort you put it... you are awesome!!! you just need to start believing it just like we all do. think of all those things you tell all of us and put them back on yourself. didn't you tell someone once "don't deny your awesomeness"? i think its time to start telling yourself that.

on the other hand, one of the best pieces of advice i got last year though was to stop thinking so much and JUST RUN.

Joe Garland said...

Sure, it's fun to lead a race, with the police car or motorcycle ahead, lights flashing. But as far as the race itself is concerned, no matter where I am I just focus on doing my thing. Whether it's a crowded HM, like NYC, or one not so much, like the Bronx.

I came in second in an HM in 1984, one of my best races, and the leader was out of sight pretty early (he'd get a silver medal in the Olympic Marathon a few months later) and I just soldiered completely alone in a slight drizzle through suburban streets at an even pace for the duration, getting a PR in the process. Of course, when you lose, as one paper put it, "by a mile" with a 1:10, you have no illusions about really being "fast," which is one of the great things about the sport. You always know how you stand against the elites so your struggle must be with your own abilities and on one else's.

My job is to run as fast as I can and where that puts me in the standings takes care of itself. (Club results, of course, being time- and not place-based.)

Age-group awards are nice enough, yet they depend on who shows up. The ones I cherish are from NYRR club races (such as last Saturday's), and, of course, the Marathon. But I'd trade 30 seconds in a 10K for a couple of age-group places any day.

Anonymous said...

1.) get faster. With all due respect Betsy, a 1:24 HM or a 18:36 5k won't win many races ANYWHERE. There is little to be gained by winning a small-town race with few entrants and you are unlikely to be pushed in the manner you seek.

2.) RUN TRACK MEETS THIS SUMMER. 1500m/ mile/ 5000k. This will teach you how to race w/o placing the same demands as a full road race would. Since you are on the track you wont get lost ;)and you can keep everyone in sight and focus on the competition.

Anonymous said...

i think confidence is such a hard thing to develop. i totally struggle with it too. it helps me to remember the good days when i am fast and know that it's happened before. the tough part is obviously trying to tell yourself that it's not a fluke. so i commiserate with you.

but i agree with others who said you need to win something. anything. so pick a small race and just beast it. when i won my ag in a small race it just pumped me up so much that i thought i could do anything!

carpeviam said...

Wait a minute. Wasn't it about this time last year that you were questioning yourself as a runner? It may not have been due to exact circumstances, but I vaguely remember something similar.

Is this seasonal? Instead of allergies and depression, you have "seasonal confidence?"

You're SO good. I envy the speed and endurance you have.

Chin up. ;)

Adam said...

The great thing about running is that it is all against yourself. I truly believe that even Ryan Hall (or Meb) focus less on the competition and more on running their own race. I think that your troubles may be solved by setting your own race plan and executing it flawlessly....and then being comfortable if that puts you in 11th or 1st.

Of course, I did a happy dance when I got 2nd in my age group for a 5K with 150 people running!

(BTW - I agree with your tweet on the comments here :)

Julie said...

Hi Lam,
You are a great runner who is very fast!! Yes, you are talented and analyze like no one else I know:) Just one of the things that I love about you! You will get that medal or trophie soon!! I promise you...I am right about this one:) Have faith and believe in yourself!!

Good luck this weekend with your Cherry Blossom ten mile:)

J said...

I think you need to win a race too! I think it will help you be more confident that you can lead and win! You do have the speed and endurance! You are a great athlete!

bill carter said...


There was a time not all that long ago when I felt you and I were kind of on the same level. But as you have gotten faster and faster (and now truly fast!) I think you are truly coming into your own. A little less doubt would suit you well as I think you are making great strides. BTW, I am expecting a breakthrough time in the marathon this year.

Take care LL!

Marty said...

That confidence will come with better speed!

I know you want to break 3 hours, so you need to get your times down in the shorter distances. It will give you more room for error on marathon day.

A 1:24 half is 6:25 pace; that means you can only slow down 27 seconds per mile for a full marathon if you want to break 3:00. That's too close!

You should have prepared to run hard at Cherry Blossom. A 1:02 would have put you in good standing. But since you just ran a 22 mile long run, that's probably out.

Perhaps run a 5k next weekend. Go sub 18.

After NJ, definitely run some track meets as suggested above. It'll be good to focus on something other than marathon-specific training for a while. Do the NYRR Tuesday Night Speed Series at Randall's Island this spring. I'll be there.

Good luck.

cg9m said...

came to your blog via another (nice site, btw!). a thought along the lines of what matt said..perhaps you can round up a group that races at close to your pace (within 20-30s) and stage mock races among yourselves a few times a month, where the sole purpose is "to win." this helped me improve more than anything when i was a youngster :) it's ideal if you can find folks of similar attitudes, too (ie, whose egos don't get bruised if they lose on a given day.)

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