Building running confidence and copy with anxiety

Despite taking up running over 3 years ago I still find that I struggle really badly with nerves, particularly before training runs.  Now the last 3 or so years haven't been easy, I've struggled with numerous injuries - soft tissue damage to the foot, IT band issues, a broken 5th metatarsal (not caused by running I might add) and my ankles have twisted so many times that they're very weak so I have to avoid uneven surfaces wherever possible.  In addition, prior to starting running, I hadn't exercised in years, so was extremely unfit.  But despite that, I've dug in and managed to complete a 5 mile road race, a 10k and a half marathon within the first 15 months.

Since then, however, I have experienced a lot of problems with running form and confidence.  I do tend to run alone as whenever I run with larger groups or running clubs I find the nerves affect me so badly that I fail to enjoy the run.  I've only entered those 3 races above and each time I've done that, training has become a huge chore because the nerves and the doubts set in.  That said, race day hasn't gone too badly but I've hated each and every second of them and vowed to never do it again.  "They" say that the adrenalin rush takes over, not in my case, I hated every single second of the Lichfield 10k. 

What also plays on my mind is that everybody I know who runs is much better than I am.  I have a best friend who is the best female runner in the county and she seems to just find it easy.  My form has always been erratic - I can eat all the right things and have 9 hours sleep and yet I struggle to run 3 miles and yet occasionally I wake up on a Sunday morning hungover and can run 11 miles with ease.  If I could pinpoint what makes me run well, I'd do it but I can't.  Its neither diet, training or weather conditions.  For every decent run, I have to endure about 10 dreadful ones where I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack.  This leads to me feeling extremely frustrated with myself. 

What I guess I am asking for is advice on how to combat these nerves.  I accept I'm never going to be as good as my friend because quite honestly she's made better than I am, but I would like to feel confident and enjoy more of the productive runs than the dreadful ones I usually seem to experience. 

For further info, I'm currently running at 9 and a half minute per mile pace, which is down from where I was earlier in the year (around 8 mins 40).  I'm 4 months post metatarsal break so am trying to build my form back up to where I was.    Oh, I also have hereditary high blood pressure, does this make a difference? 

Sorry if this all sounds defeatest but I would really like some advice. 


  • Is there anything you enjoy about running?

    If I found it as crap as you describe I wouldn't bother. I'd do something else.

  • Yes, I absolutely love those runs you occasionally get when everything feels easy.  Unfortunately these happen less and less frequently of late. 

  • It is very impressive that despite your reservations you have stuck at it.

    I would suggest dipping your toes into "parkrun". These are free weekly 5k runs. You can volunteer to steward if initially you are to stressed to enter. You will meet a lot of like minded people and realise it is not about time, but about getting out and enjoying running.

    You just need to register and print off your details prior to going

    Maybe also slow down your long runs. If you feel like you are going to have a heart attack you are running to quickly. Slowing down will mean you will recover quicker and benefit aerobically. Maybe not being fully recovered from previous runs is one reason why you have so many bad runs? Which in the long term will help you get quicker.

    Above remember it is meant to be fun.image

  • Consider why it matters to you that they are faster than you. Why are you running, for yourself, or to impress others/your friends? If you're doing it for other people and it's making you that miserable, try something else for a while.

    Yes, your friend will look easy racing hard when she's in full training and fit and running well, but she may not have found it easy when she started, or after a long period out with injury, and might not find it that easy when she's pushing herself hard in training in order to be able to be so apparently effortless when racing. She has got there through consistency over a long period of time. There's no point making unrealistic comparisons with others, and part of the beauty of running as a sport is that you can be utterly selfish and just think about yourself and your personal goals.

    I suggest that you go about training with something other than speed in mind. How about setting yourself a fundraising target for a race and raise money for a charity that you care about, or try something new where you have no speed expectations like a triathlon or adventure race. Get the fun back into your running, then worry about speed.

  • Zoe, it isn't really clear what motivates you to run, is it the training or the races? Also don't assum that everyone enjoys themselves that much, a lot of training is either boring or you don't feel so good that day etc. And races can be tough. Sometimes especially when the weather is bad like the last two days, the satisifaction is getting in a hot shower when you get back in, and a bit of pride that you pushed yourself to get out the door.

    As someone has already pointed out, don't compare yourself with this other girl. Anyone who knows they will win or place in their next race is bound to feel different to the rest of us.

    I notice you haven't repeated a race distance, do you have targets for improvement at any of those distances?

    I have lots of trouble with anxiety and I already have had a heart attack but I've managed to half-deal with worrying about my next run (I had some therapy to help). What makes you have that sort of worry?


  • I don't think I want to get faster to impress my friends, in fact I definitely don't, but I'd just like to see all the fruits of my 3 year labours pay off a bit, whether that's by running consistently or by building up my speed.  Its been quite a while since I had a period of consistently. 

    I cannot possibly compare myself to my friend as she's a bit of a one off.  She ran on a treadmill at the gym for 15 years, joined a local club and started running very impressive times.  Even at joining stage she was the best runner at the club and then she got poached by another club.  Admittedly she does train hard with them but she's been extremely fortunate to have never been injured. 

    I think the last few injuries have taken their toll on me most notably on my positivity.  That said, I do keep on trying and I will definitely consider a Park run, in fact I'll print off the form now.  image

  • Hi Joe Volcano - Its definitely not races that motivate me to run, its the feeling of euphoria after a good run which motivates me to go out in horrible weather.  I do quite a lot of sport - swimming, rowing, cross training and weight training - but nothing motivates me more and frustrates me more than running.  It is without doubt the most difficult sport I participate in.  I can leave the pool for months and go back in and swim a mile, no problemo but running - arrrrgggghhhh!!!  But there's no feeling like the one that you get when you've gone out on a Sunday morning and conquerred 6 miles and enjoyed it.  I actually punch the air like Rocky! 

    I would like to get back to where I was at in March this year, which was running at 9 minute mile pace over 7 miles comfortably.  I ran 6 miles twice last week in an average of 9.35, which isn't bad.  I felt good to and then I went out a few days later and had a rough run, another run one on the Monday and a diabolical one on Saturday which has really affected my confidence.  I'm out again tonight and I have no idea what mileage to aim for other than to go out aiming to do 3 and extending it if I feel ok. 

    I'm very tough on myself though.  And another thing that frustrates me, is that I cannot lower my blood pressure.  Its actually higher now than it was before I started running.  And that was another factor when I started running back in June 2009, I wanted to be healthier and fitter.  Maybe therapy is the answer for me!?

  • Hi Zoe. You say that you don't feel like you see the fruits of your labours.  Of course you know inside that your blood pressure is probably better now than it would have been.... but that's so difficult to measure and attribute specifically to the running you've done.

    Do you follow any sort of structured training programme?  I get the impression that you go out and do your best (go your fastest) at every run (of course, I really might be wrong - so sorry).

    From what you say, 5K or10K is a fair distance for to focus on (you know best, but I'd guess 10K).   Get a training programme from on-line.  It's a long time since I followed a programme for this distance... so just found this one as an example  You see a mixture of running distances and running paces there... all put together to get a good 10K time.

    There's a lot of 'easy' running... which should be so slow that you could, if you wanted, hold a pretty good conversation....  you should not be feeling like having a heart-attack!

    Maybe by bringing this sort of structured plan into your running, might help you feel a bit less anxious.

    I know my sister would tell you to go for acupuncture or hypnotherapy.  Maybe she's right.

    Whatever you do, good luck.

  • Not much to add from the above, but ditto Scooby with the parkrun, it will help your nerves and also you get to see a lot more people of differing abilities, and you will see you are not alone!

    As Wales says a training plan is a good idea, it means you can do what the training plan says and so the stress of thinking what to do is taken away, but dont reach so far ahead it puts you off.

    Enter some easier races you know you can do, you dont always have to challenge yourself too hard

    Also you may like to introduce some variety in your running. If you always run longer steady runs, do some intervals. If you always run on road, try offroad. If you always run with music, try without, or vice versa.
    it might help with getting some spark back! good luck

  • Well I've just signed up with Parkrun, there's one fairly near to where I live on Saturday morning.  I've also printed off the training plan - thanks for that.  Already feeling more positive about going out for a run! Thanks all for the advice! Its much appreciated. 

  • Great news about parkrun.

    Keep updating the thread. Let us know how you get on with the training program. Having a thread were you can share thoughts, both positive and negative is great motivation.

  • You seem to be someone who builds mountains to climb for yourself, but then climbing them makes you unhappy.

    If I felt like that, I wouldn't climb any. I'd just go out by myself and run any old how and enjoy myself doing that.

    Speed and performance don't have to matter to you. It's health and happiness that are the more important things. You can simply enjoy your running for what it is, rather than treating it as an ordeal or something you have to get better at.


  • Well I went out last night and did 3 miles and it was torture.  Speed only 9.47 average pace per mile and I had a full on body ache followed by cramp in my feet (that's a first!???) BUT I didn't stop.  I endured 28 odd minutes of torture.  I did punch the air afterwards though and a lovely old lady stopped to tell me that I had a lovely figure!  Bless her!

  • zoe,

    I used to go over on my ankle quite often. Last time I went to physio she gave me exercises to do which included Leg press, leg curl, leg extension. Havent had a problem since then. May be something to think about.

    Do you do any running at slower pace  - so not worrying about time but thinking about keeping heart rate low. So that way you can meet on a objective on a run, without having the worry about the pace.

  • To be honest, I don't think its possible to go any slower than I do, otherwise I'll be walking.  That's the problem.  If I had a race pace of 8 minutes per mile, I could slow to 10 mins and find it easy.  Starting at 10 mins per mile feels like I'm crawling so to go any slower would mean walking.  What really p*sses me off is that some days I can wake up and run miles without any problems whatsoever.  I probably should add, though that I also suffer with menorhagia so I could very well be anaemic a lot of the time.  Given all my ailments and bad luck, I really ought to throw the towel in and find something else to do but I'm addicted to running and the buzz I get when it all comes together is better than any other feeling I experience. 

    I did go for physio through work when I'm twisted my ankle for the gazillionth time.  I did some balance exercises but I must admit after 4 weeks I was still wobbling all over the place on one leg so I gave up.  It was running on soft ground, through fields and on grass that caused my ankle issues so I'm very nervous of running on anything other than paths and tarmac now.  Especially having broken my fifth metarsal only recently.  I can still feel a faint twinge in my foot every now and then. 

    Last night's run wasn't bad from a breathing perspective, my legs felt extremely tired and when that happens, my brain just tells me to stop.  The fact that I didn't stop, I take as a huge positive. 

  • I did the balance exercises and wobble boards etc for earlier sprains, but it was the exercises that worked other parts of the leg rather than just the ankle that seems to have made the difference.


    What also plays on my mind is that everybody I know who runs is much better than I am. 

    You sound like me!  I'm still struggling a lot with my running but learning slowly again to enjoy it and not trying to push or punish myself on every run is a major factor in that. I'm going to guess that you're a total perfectionist, have completely unreasonable expectations for yourself and nothing less than 100% is good enough.  Am I right?!

    I know it's easy for everyone to advise to concentrate only on your own times and your own improvements but sometimes it's difficult to block out the voices that tell you that you're not good enough.  For me, this makes me try to run harder, run faster and then feel like a total failure if I don't meet my random objective of the day.

    I'm probably not the best person to give advice but, just now, I'm working on slowing my runs down and enjoying the views or, as someone else suggested, keeping my heart rate low and enjoying the fact that I'm improving my aerobic capabilities.  Unless you're a speed demon, you should be able to run at 10-10:30 min miles if 9.47 is a push for you just now - I can fairly march when I'm walking and even that's over a 12min mile! 

     When I did the Aviemore half marathon recently I didn't wear my timing chip so that if I "failed" it wouldn't be so "public" (for the two people who might wonder what I ran!!!).  This allowed me to enjoy it soooo much more, and I set my watch to show distance run rather than pace so that helped too.  You need to take the pressure off yourself somehow. 

    I think getting your health issues sorted would probably help too - I had a horrible time earlier this year when I was iron deficient and I can't explain how much better I felt when I got that under control.  I know there's debate on the internet about the significance of low ferritin but my study of one concluded that it has a major impact!

    I know that your issues will be to do with more than just running and I'm very early on in dealing with my own running issues but I'm starting to feel much better about it and myself and I'm sure you can as well. 

    Basically, allow yourself to be less than perfect and see what happens... I promise, the world won't end! image


  • Rubbish runner (sounds rude to say that!), what a fab email! I can totally relate to everything you say! Funny you should mention aviemore, it was my aforementioned gifted friend who won that! What I may do (after a few days rest to replenish irons levels as have had a very bad day today) is leave the watch off and set off at a really slow pace with no expectation other than to enjoy the fresh air and view.

    I am so competitive with myself it's untrue and my biggest demon is those little voices in my head that say I can't do it. But thanks for commenting on the thread as its comforting to know others have very similar struggles! image
  • My advice would be to ditch the watch for a while, just go for some runs for the fun of it, not how far or how fast, and if you've any particular favourite routes maybe use them, or alternatively, go for an explore and see where your feet take you.

    Also, all runners have bad days, I promise you image

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