Ask TS : Fighting Doubt

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How do you fight off the feelings of doubt or imposter syndrome?


Oooof. I feel like this is something we all struggle with from time to time, but I’ve rebranded it as a sign of growth for myself!  Honestly, trail running is such a supportive and accepting community, the only time I really experience this is due to my own thoughts.  Those are red flags for me.  If I am reacting in a way that causes me to have doubts about my place, I know that is about ME.  Because I am a slower runner, chasing cut-offs frequently, it’s easy to go there.  If I start having thoughts that people are “just being nice” or placating me, I know that’s about ME, and I try to see their words and actions as genuine (because they are!!!).  Self doubt stems from discomfort.  Discomfort is a sign of personal growth. We think that other people are judging us, but we have to remember that pretty much everyone else is focused on their performance, their body, their thoughts.  We are our own worst critics.  The other thing I remember is that so often in this sport, we are pushing boundaries.  When we push boundaries, we are entering the zone of uncertainty. Doubt feasts on uncertainty. Fortunately, so does growth.  So be curious. Be kind to yourself, and let yourself feel supported in this awesome community!


As someone that is currently there at the moment, I can say it’s a work-in-progress. Getting off of social media could be beneficial to you; remembering why you do ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, and writing your goal(s) physically and sticking it in a regular space that you’ll see it. Everyone’s lives on social media look perfect- and they’re not; they’re the highlights, so I try to remember that. That we’re all struggling somewhere, and the thing we’re seeing online may have been the best thing to that person in a long time. 


I plan my training with plenty of time before the big event/race, and build up my fitness and confidence gradually.  I find my weakness during my training period, and try to improve that area. If you prepare very well, you will feel more confident. To have a certain level of fear is not so bad.  I usually try to convert fear to excitement and motivation with humbleness.


We all belong in these outdoor spaces, regardless of ethnicity, gender, size, or experience. When these feelings arise, you need to remind yourself of this…that you do belong in these spaces.  And then get out there and own your space!  If you love trail running and you love the outdoors, then you belong there.  When I first signed on as a geology major in college, I was new to trails and the back country, and one of the slowest to hike and keep up, meaning I’d usually catch up to the group just as the professor would finish talking and everyone would be off again!  I never doubted myself, and practice solved the issue of being the last one to come in.  These days I may not always be the first and that’s totally okay.  I know I still belong, and I’ll get to where I need to be when I get there.


This one hits home! I struggle with this in my professional and athletic journey.  It’s challenging when I compare myself to others.  So that would be my first piece of advice, don’t compare. Secondly, my coach has me keep a written journal.  I find myself returning to old journal entries to see the actual growth that is occurring in my life.  That helps me see the actual work I put in to be who I am in my profession and as an athlete.  Seeing that written down gives a starting point to stop doubting myself and believe. Believe in my effort. Believe that I belong. Believe that I am the best version of myself in whatever I set my mind to.


Self-doubt and the imposter syndrome are real. There are very few people out there who don’t have to fight those feelings. I have found that the best antidotes are self-honesty and community. If I’m honest with myself about my training then I can erase most doubts because I know to set my expectations of what I can do according to what I have done: input equals output. I try to be honestly self-critical of myself so that I can feel confident about my strengths and use those strengths to my advantage, and so that I can call out my weaknesses and work to improve them. Also, I surround myself with a strong community of runners who support me and who I can support. This helps me feel a strong sense of belonging which helps slay the imposter syndrome.


I try to remember, every day, that it’s all bullshit. The racing, the competition, the sport in general – and I say this in the most affectionate way, so stick with me here. My point is that it’s all just a game that we humans have created which means any value system assigned to it is equally as arbitrary. So trying to determine my own worth in relation to it all ends up feeling pointless. This can be helpful thinking on the opposite end of the confidence spectrum, too.


Instead of fighting the feelings, recognize that they exist and keep on doing your thing. These feelings are normal, especially as you grow in any area. Remember what got you into the sport when you started. Keeping my ‘why’ in mind and enjoying the fact that I ‘get’ to do this, rather than being forced to, can go a long way to refreshing that early love of trails – without the added judgment and self-criticism. Being YOU will also help keep you from feeling like an imposter.  


When I have the feelings of doubt or imposter syndrome I reach out to family, friends, and Trail Sisters. I try to be as vulnerable with them as I can to understand what I am feeling and why I am feeling that way. Having such a supportive group helps clear up feelings that can consume my happy, go lucky side. I also love listening to podcasts and reading articles on how other womxn runners overcome similar issues.


Reach out to people that know and love you. Write down the thoughts on how they view you. Read through those any time your brain tries to tell you otherwise.

Trail Sisters

Ask the Trail Sisters Panel of Experts is made up of inspirational and knowledgeable women who share a love for trail running, hiking, and the outdoors. These women volunteer their time and expertise to help others enjoy a better experience on the trails.

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Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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