This is a question I had been asking myself for a while. The first year that I was in OCR, I participated in 4 events. I couldn’t wait for more- so in 2015 I participated in 9 events, a little more than double the original amount. Following that was 2016 where I participated in 6 events. At the end of the year, I left with an empty feeling. Why was OCR not giving me the satisfaction it had the previous year?
Anyone who knows me would tell you that most of my life I was an idealist and a dreamer. I spent years dreaming of the things I could do and the goals I could accomplish. In my mid-20’s, I stopped believing in myself; I had a dead end job I hated, I was having issues in my relationship and I was just overall pretty unhappy. I stopped trying to accomplish things because I didn’t see what I was capable of accomplishing. When I discovered OCR, all of that changed. I started to feel like I was accomplishing something real again. The sense of amazement when I crossed those finish lines revitalized me and made me feel like I was someone. I could do something amazing. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
The more races I did, the more I wanted to do. I even started to dream of one day participating in the OCR World Championships. I wanted to qualify the right way, but even if I didn’t qualify, I dreamed of one day being there with my friends and the group that I had come to love, MudRunFun. All of that changed in 2016 though. I made several mistakes on the road to attempting to qualify for OCRWC.
Let me start by saying I’m not one of the fast people. I’m a solid middle of the pack runner. I’m not your 20 minute 5k person- in fact just this past year I was happy to break 30 minutes in the 5k. I never excelled at sports when I was younger- I was just average. When I started doing OCR, I found something I loved and I naively believed it would be easy to do well at. I underestimated all the hard work that went into training to do well at an event like Savage Race, Spartan Race or the late Battlefrog Series. I entered my first competitive OCR wave at Warrior Dash- and while I didn’t do bad, I also didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. Worse yet, I didn’t have fun like I wanted to. See I had come to associate obstacle racing with ‘fun.’ I was used to having fun on course and being entertained. When I started attempting to run competitively, what I didn’t realize is that it was more of a every-man-for-himself deal and it lost its fun for me. That was just the beginning though.
I did Savage Race and Rugged Maniac last year for fun. I didn’t aim for a time goal and didn’t try to do them competitively. Temporarily I regained my love of OCR in a fun sense. I traveled to Atlanta for the Tough Mudder, which is all about teamwork and challenges you overcome with a team, and of course I loved every minute of it.
When I should have been training to become a better, faster, stronger athlete, my own doubts came through in various hidden ways. I began to sabotage my own attempts. At the beginning of the year, I was so excited to try to qualify for World’s. I tried harder, attempted to run faster, and challenged myself to do better. But when a race was challenging or difficult for me, I mentally gave up. I sabotaged myself with thoughts like, “you aren’t good enough to do this,” or “you’re missing out on all the fun you could be having by being worried about your time.” I started to doubt whether I’d be able to master the skills needed to do better in these events. The frustration built every time I ‘failed’ something and I started putting in less and less time. I wrote it off and made excuses about not having enough time to train properly. I began to register for regular road races for 2017 because I knew I had no one to compete against except myself- and running was something I actually felt good at, compared to strength training, which I felt I sucked at.
Two really challenging races sealed the deal for me last year. First was Bonefrog, which I ran in September, which is really still summer here in Florida. That race wrecked me and left me with not a shred of self confidence left. I struggled intensely during that event- the heat and humidity gave me a mild form of heat illness and dehydration, which caused my performance and ability to suffer. Towards the end of that race, I was feeling less and less enthused by OCR.
Then came the Spartan Beast in South Carolina. I went up there assuming I would run with the team that was going. Being a middle of the packer, I’m usually with a good percentage of MudRunFun during races. However, this time, the first group took off and left me in the dust and the second group was doing more walking than running, and I wanted to at least try to run the majority of it. I felt abandoned and unloved by the people who professed to value teamwork above all else. Furthermore, I felt humiliated when, at the end of the event, a group of people came up to me from the team talking about how ‘easy’ the course had been for them. It took a lot out of me to finish that course. It took all my mental and physical strength. It wasn’t ‘easy’ for me. While I felt accomplished to have completed the course, I also felt like I wasn’t good enough because it seemed much more difficult for me than it was for other people. My self-doubt was crippling me.
It took me a long time after doing that Spartan Race in South Carolina to be able to admit it to myself, but the reason I temporarily left OCR was because I felt I’d never be good enough. I masked it in my Achilles tendinitis at first- even though that was a real injury, I used it as an excuse to not do more OCR events. I also used work as an excuse- because I can’t take weekends off as easily as I used to, I reasoned that I wouldn’t be able to attend as many OCR events as I originally intended. “I would love to do this, but I don’t think I can,” or “Maybe one day I’ll be good enough, but I’m not now.” When in fact, I hadn’t really even given it that much of a chance to be successful. The outcome of this thinking was that I sabotaged my training and ended up not even investing enough time into it to give it a chance to be successful before quitting. I convinced myself that I would be happy with less OCR in my life and that regular road racing would bring me more happiness. While I do like regular road racing, I’ve since realized that my true passion is OCR- and even taking a break from it doesn’t change that. Going to Terrain Race this weekend played a huge part in that realization- when I was out on the course, I remembered how happy OCR made me and how much I missed it. This sequence of events also reminded me how every time in my life something hadn’t gone right, or I hadn’t gotten something done on the first few tries, I’d given up. It happened with horse racing when I fell off my horse at age 7, it happened in ballet when i couldn’t do a particular sequence of moves on the first try and it happened in gymnastics when I gave up because I didn’t do well when I tried the uneven parallel bars for the first time. I had a habit of giving up when things didn’t go my way, but when I began running and racing I promised myself that I wouldn’t give it up as easily.
The actions of confidence come first, the feelings of confidence come later.
This was always one of my favorite quotes, but I realized I wasn’t living by it myself. I kept telling myself I’d wait to try again until I was ‘ready,’ but the truth is I will never be ready. Things will always intimidate me. I felt like I couldn’t achieve or even work on my goals until I felt more confident. But this way of thinking was backwards- I’ve realized how many things I’ve been putting off waiting until I felt more confident. In reality, doing more of the things that scare me will help give me the confidence I need.
There’s always room for improvement.
I recently read a book called Mindset, by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. In it, she describes two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. People with fixed mindsets believe their talents and intelligence are fixed, so they spend their lives trying to prove themselves. When they do experience failure (which is to be avoided at all costs to them), they experience terrible shame and see it as proof of not being good enough.
People with growth mindsets believe there is always room to improve. They believe that talents and intelligence can be developed through practice, so they continuously take challenges to shake up their beliefs and expand their talents and minds.
I’ve realized I’ve been operating with a fixed mindset. When I started to work on a new talent or discipline, I’d give up as soon as it became clear that I wasn’t ‘naturally’ good at it. Struggle for me equated to, “I can’t; I’m not good enough.” The new mindset that I’m working on practicing reframes that statement as, “I am learning; I will grow better with practice.” I’m not saying its foolproof, but this has allowed me to keep working towards goals I was previously willing to give up on because I didn’t show enough potential.
While I’m not clear on what the future holds for me, I know giving up obstacle racing is not the answer. There’s always room for improvement- always. And it never hurts to try just one more time.
Has self doubt ever gotten the better of you? Has it caused you to stop doing something you once loved out of fear that you wouldn’t be good at it?