Surveys. Who doesn’t love them as much as they love to make fun of them? All but the biggest survey-taking dopes out there know that these things never actually reveal any great truths about who you are. At best they may reveal something about who you think you are or, even more likely, who you think you are when there’s a chance someone’s looking; after all, we know these survey results are going to be read by someone, if not the people who made the survey then everyone who sees it on facebook. Yet we love them, oh how we love them, the way we love terrible TV commercials and screamingly awful tabloid headlines as we wait in line at Schnuck’s.
So yeah, I took a survey. This one was about—are you ready for this?—running. A professor at the university where I used to work apparently is doing research on the relationship between confidence and distance running and was looking to get some data through an online survey that got sent to my running group through one of its members. How could I resist? Because this was someone’s legitimate research project and not some clickbait thing, I didn’t get any pithy results describing my running confidence in a cheery (or snarky) summary. It did, however, make me think about the relationship between my running and my confidence in my running.
I secretly suspect—secretly hope, because don’t we all hope some survey proves something unique about us?—that I might end up skewing the results. For me, confidence and performance don’t have a whole lot to do with each other. If I’ve trained well and I’m not injured, I’m more likely to run well, regardless of how confident I feel—and those things being true doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll feel confident. There have been times I’ve felt completely sure I was going to crush a particular race, get a massive PR, win my age group, and generally surpass even my most exalted expectations—and none of that happened, not even close, didn’t even meet my expectations, didn’t even slightly underperform, but absolutely bombed it. Granted, there have been times I’ve felt confident and run well, but I’ve come to believe that how I feel emotionally doesn’t have much to do with anything. I feel depressed a lot of the time. My life is anything but depressing; right now in fact it's damn good. Ergo, my feelings are suspect. I trust them about as little as I trust a ten-question survey that promises to reveal the depths of my soul based on the type of hat I like.
Right now I’m feeling less than confident about my chances of getting a BQ at my target marathon in November. More importantly, however, I base these “feelings” on what seems to me like pretty solid evidence. None of the running I’ve done at race pace has been truly commanding. Even when I hit the pace, I still take a lot of breaks in which I come to a full stop to drink or eat. I can’t do that during the race, as sadly, even if I ask nicely, they will not stop the timeclock every time I need to sip some Gatorade or nibble a pretzel. Most of all, my body feels taxed to the limit during these runs, and I haven’t gotten anywhere close to 26.2. Oh I know, I know; I can already hear the chorus of “But it will be different during the race!” Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. If I’m taxed now, I’ll go bankrupt during the marathon. It’s happened before, and while past performance is no guarantee of future results, it’s a more solid basis for prediction than any pithy feel-good aphorism would be.
Funny thing about that, though: I’m coaching a women’s running group for new runners whose first 5K race is this Saturday, and I’ve been doling out the happy like you wouldn’t believe. I tell them they look great. I tell them they’re running strong. I tell them they’re going to crush this 5K and have a blast doing so. So how come I can go rah-rah-rah to them and expect them to buy it when I won’t buy, rent, or even so much as click on an ad for other people’s confidence in me? Well, obviously it’s easier to tell other people to believe things you don’t believe yourself; if that weren’t a facet of the human race, where would the politicians, cult leaders, used car salesmen and other assorted con artists be? In this case, though, I am not trying to sell the group on anything. I’ve been running with them for eight weeks, and I’ve seen their effort along with their results. They are ready, and they’re gonna do great. Train well, run well. Train poorly and all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to do a damn thing for you when it’s mile 16 and you feel the needle of your body drop to “empty” and you realize you’ve still got over ten miles to ... aw crap this is gonna suck.
Yeah, I know, I know. A positive attitude might not help you get a BQ but a negative attitude definitely won’t … will it? For all that people like to warn about being defeatist, I’ve found that negativity, or at least what people perceive as such, can actually keep me going. I’m not running well. I need to keep trying. I may not BQ at Indy. I need to keep trying. I’m not confident that I’ll make my goal. Say, what’d I do with those Gu Chomps? Better stock up; I’ve got a lot more running to do.