How I Started Running With Confidence

Simon Scotting running past "seven sisters' building in Moscow

me running in Moscow, June 2013

I needed confidence to run the Moscow Marathon.

My previous attempts to run the Moscow Marathon were abandoned before I even started the races. Now I had a confidence deficit.

In 2013, an eye exam a month before the marathon revealed retinal tears in both eyes. This required immediate treatment (laser photocoagulation) and several months to heal. I missed the marathon.

In 2014, our second son was born two months before the marathon. Our first son was only two years old, and I was primarily taking care of him while running a business in Moscow remotely from London. Sometimes I would schedule calls for the part of the afternoon when I took my toddler son to a nearby playground. If I wasn’t on a call or pushing him on the swings, I tried to squeeze in some push-ups and pull-ups. This was the only training I could do during this short, intense summer. I missed the marathon.

In 2015, I wondered if something else would prevent me from properly training for the Moscow Marathon. I wanted to finish the marathon without walking and pushing my limits. Running had been something I did occasionally to/from the gym, and something on a treadmill to avoid the Moscow elements.

My Concerns:

Concern #1 – There was no strategy with my running. It was just a random thing I did. I needed to get serious.

Solution: I found a training plan. Easy.

 

Concern #2 – My lack of confidence to run a full marathon came from distance anxiety. I needed to know I could run the full 42.2km (26.2mi). Different training plans tend to focus on an individual metric such as distance, pace, time, heart rate, and other variables.

Solution: I followed a distance-focused training plan would be best to build my confidence. The marathon training plan was 14 weeks long and with the Moscow Marathon 2015 on Sunday 20 September, I needed to start the plan on Tuesday 16 June. It was still February so I had plenty of time to build my distance confidence.

 

Concern #3. I’m embarrassed to admit I lacked confidence to start the 14 week marathon training plan. I was starting from a deficit of confidence in my fitness. I had enough fitness to even start a marathon training plan, but not the confidence.

Solution: I entered a shorter race (smaller project) to build fitness and confidence before training for the marathon (main project). The Moscow Half-Marathon 2015 would be on Sunday 17 May. I found an 8 week half-marathon training plan. Perfect! I had a few weeks to get ready for the half-marathon training plan. This meant gear preparation and scheduling.

 

Concern #4: Moscow was emerging from the “deep winter” period, but the days were still below freezing (-3C/27F). Most people stay indoors and only venture from their well-heated home to reach another well-heated building. For me, and probably most other people, this was a mental block to running outside.

Solution: Ran on an indoor treadmill during the week, run outside for the weekly long run. The training sessions during the week were less than 1 hour, so I used a treadmill in a gym near my office. I used a slight elevation setting (0.02) on the treadmill to make it closer to real street running.

My plan had 3 training sessions during the week and a (gradually extending) long run on Sunday:

Mon.Tue.Wed.Thu.Fri.Sat.Sun.
short runrestspeed intervalsresthill intervalsrestlong run
treadmilltreadmilltreadmillstreet

I decided to wake up early on Sundays  to do the long run. This meant running in the dark with temperatures below freezing, and some snow on the ground. It helped to think of the long runs in the dark, cold mornings as a “extra challenge”. I was exercising my body and my willpower. I layered my running gear:

  • technical fabric t-shirt (soft polyester to avoid chafing in upper body)
  • spandex undershorts (to avoid chafing between thighs)
  • mesh-lined running pants (warmth)
  • synthetic blend running socks (to avoid foot chafing)
  • running gloves (warmth)
  • fleece-lined wooly hat or hand-band/ear-warmer thing (warmth)
  • zip-up fleece jacket with neck coverage (warmth)
  • regular running shoes (duh)

Running outside in the Moscow winter was not as bad as expected. Moscow has a “dry” cold and not much wind. This means Moscow does not feel as chilly as places with wet, windy winters. I felt cold for 5-10 minutes, then I warmed up nicely. I experimented with unzipping or removing warm items while I ran to avoid overheating.

 

Concern #5: I wanted to optimize my running technique to avoid risk of injury and increase my running efficiency.

I could handle the half-marathon distance without optimizing my running technique, but I needed serious technique improvement to handle the longer full-marathon training runs.

Solution: Wore “barefoot” running shoes during treadmill sessions to improve my technique. This also meant I did not need to bring socks. Barefoot shoes don’t need them, and are machine-washable. Using running shorts with a built-in liner meant no underpants, so my weekday running kit consisted of only:

The barefoot running shoes, rolled-up clothes, and reusable plastic bag (for sweaty post-run gear) fit nicely into my work bag. I packed my bag the night before planned training days to reduce stress and avoid reasons to skip sessions.

Heel-striking in barefoot running shoes hurts so you look for new ways to make contact with the ground. Gradually I adjusted to landing on the ball of my foot. My calf and shin muscles were ached for weeks as they adapted to a new way of moving. It felt unnatural and required a big mental focus. My speed decreased significantly.

These were temporary discomforts to the improve my technique. Eventually my pace improved and naturally surpassed my previous heel-strike pace. I was running faster and farther with less effort.

running in the cold, dark nights builds confidence for running in less-than-perfect conditions

Morning runs in Moscow during the winter. The city glows bright through the long, dark nights

 

Concern #6: I would forget to do the runs or be too busy to do them.

Solution: Put the entire training plan into my calendar. Planning around the sessions avoided conflicts. I arrived at work an hour early to compensate for the extra hour I was taking at lunch. This involved waking up and going to sleep earlier. I entered this in my schedule too.

For the long runs on Sundays, I planned on waking up at 6am. I budgeted 5:30 minutes per kilometre (about 9 minutes per mile), and rounded this up to 1 hour per 10km (6 mi). A 10km (6mi) run would finish around 7am, a 15km (9mi) run would finish at 7.30am, etc. This helped manage Irina’s expectations of my return, and what time the pancakes should be ready.

The training regime was new and I was excited to follow it. The weekday lunch sessions were smooth. After the treadmill, I did a quick 15-minute stretch and a cold shower to stop the sweating.

What I learned about building confidence:

  • I wanted to run a marathon for years, why was I failing to even start? Lack of motivation and skill/confidence caused my failure to execute.
  • To motivate myself, I asked: What was my alternative? Was I happy to accept that? I was unhappy with my failed marathon story. I was not able to accept that. It bothered me.
  • To build skills, I asked: What do I need to know? Skills and confidence are interwoven. What would make me more confident? I was lacking the confidence to run long distances.
  • I used a smaller project (half-marathon) to build skills and confidence for my main project (full marathon).
  • The full marathon seemed overwhelming. I focused only the plan for each day. It was easier to trust in the plan I was following.
  • Just having a plan is not enough. I needed a procedure to execute the plan. Blocking time in my calendar made me schedule other activities to avoid conflicts.

I felt good about my training plan and preparations. This provided momentum until I felt some progress. My confidence was building to start a full marathon training plan.

Now I needed to finish my first half-marathon.