The 5K & Fear of Failure

As I've said before, I have major race phobia. In September, I planned 5K races for the rest of the year to get more experience with races and help me get over my fear. Those included:

The last race was to be the Jingle Bell Run held this past Saturday. Every day after the Turkey Trot, I had an internal debate over whether to do the Jingle Bell Run. It had a lot of positives: completely flat course, within walking distance of my house, on the trail where I usually run, late start, good weather forecast. With all those conditions, I felt I couldn't run it for fun and should really try to PR. This would be my last race of the year, last chance to PR, and last time to redeem my poor performance at the Turkey Trot. Every night when I went to bed, I weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided just to do it. And every morning, I reconsidered. Every day I went onto the race website, but I could not click the register button.

I know that what held me back was the fear of failure. It hurts to try your best and fail. What if, given all those good race conditions, I tried my best and still couldn't go sub-30? I would be devastated. And embarrassed. And feel like a loser. And those race results would permanently live on the internet for not just me to see but anyone searching for me (an irrational fear I have is random people searching for my name and discovering bad race results). Honestly, I had about zero confidence that I could run it in under 30 minutes, even though I'd run the hilly ZooZilla course in under 30 just over a month ago.

Last week I was reviewing my running log. I almost stopped breathing when I found an entry from December 2013. It was just a plain old run, not part of a training run and not speed work. I ran 3.19 miles in 30:30, which was a 9:34 pace. I never caught it because it was more than a 5K, but a 9:34 pace would have been under 30 minutes in a 5K. I'd met my sub-30 5K goal without even recognizing it. And in four of the five 5K races I ran this year, I couldn't run that same time and was over 30 minutes.

That made me even more depressed. Am I not improving? I thought I was getting faster, but maybe I'm not. Maybe all the training I've been doing doesn't make a difference at all. Or maybe I'm just not good at 5Ks. How did I become so fixated on 5Ks anyway?

My spirits were pretty low, and when I tried to look at the big picture I realized this isn't why I run. I don't run to be terrified of races, to feel crushing pressure to meet a goal, to be afraid of failing, to have no confidence in myself, to feel bad about myself. I realized that I wasn't in the right mindset to run the Jingle Bell Run, so I didn't run it.

A part of me is nearly dying inside that I only reached my sub-30 goal once this year, after reaching it without fanfare one year ago. Part of me wants to keep trying for it (and is guilty I didn't run the Jingle Bell Run), but the other part of me, the part that just won out over the other, is too afraid of failing to even try (and never wants to run a 5K again).

Now what do I do? I have two goal races in 2015, a spring and fall half marathon, with two other half marathons as training runs that will give me more race experience. Should I focus on the half marathons and forget about 5Ks? Should I add a 5K race to train for? Do I sign up for a bunch of 5K races to get more comfortable with them?

I'm all out of sorts and not sure what to do, but I need to figure it out soon. I feel like the 5K is this dark cloud hanging over my head. Thanks for any advice you have.

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