Confidence Building: How Running a Marathon Changed My Perspective

There are a lot of self-help articles out there on how to gain confidence.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned: confidence is only achieved through action.  Pushing yourself beyond your limits, even if it makes you uncomfortable, is what builds confidence.  While this is a running blog, and I’m going to tie this back to training for my first marathon, I want you to know that this applies to all areas of life.  The more I consciously take action, the more confident in my abilities I become.  There is a phrase that says “training for a marathon will change your life”.  For me, it was true.  Here’s my story.

Training for a marathon taught me that taking a step back, breaking the work that needs to be done into smaller steps, and viewing it in a day by day perspective is an effective way to approach challenging tasks.


In 2014, I decided to run a marathon.

I’m not sure why I made the decision. I’ve never been particularly athletic. I didn’t play team sports when I was younger (marching band doesn’t count). In addition, I was blessed with a quick metabolism so never really needed to maintain a regular fitness routine. In fact, just the year prior, I couldn’t even get through a full mile at a slow jog without stopping. But something about the challenge of long distance running really appealed to me. In 2013, I trained for a ran several distances – 5k, 10k, half marathon.

At my first 10k in August of 2013

At my first 10k in August of 2013

After completing business school in the fall of 2014, I found myself with extra time and thought, “why not?”. I didn’t even believe I could do it, it more seemed like a far off goal to stretch towards. A hobby to keep me busy. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I got to work.

When you first look at a training plan for a marathon, you can’t help but be overwhelmed. Plans are usually 12-16 weeks long, and at the peak of the training you complete training runs of around 20 miles. I distinctly remember looking at that plan and legitimately wondering how I would ever get to place where I could do that. I got the advice from many people to just trust the plan, and to take the training one day at a time, building confidence with each run.

As I started training, I quickly realized that this was a great new hobby.

I found myself exploring new parts of Atlanta to get the runs in, and doing things I never thought I’d do – like get up at 4 am to run or slog through the rain for several hours (and legitimately enjoy it!). Along the way, I met new people and worked out many problems while pounding the pavement. Before long, I felt like a “real” runner.

Each week brought a new milestone – my first 14 mile run, 15 mile run, etc. My 16 mile run did not go well. My legs could hardly move at the end and all I could think about is that 26.2 miles is a long way, and that if I couldn’t get through 16….how would I do 26? Again, my more experienced running friends told me to trust the training and take it day by day, and I pushed on.

The site of the 16 miler that had me doubting it all.

The site of the 16 miler that had me doubting it all.

Completing my first 20 miler brought clarity. At the beginning of training, I was not an athlete who could do such a long run. But with the right focus on activities that brought me closer to my goal, it came within reach. A few weeks later, I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, the Rock n Roll DC Marathon through Washington, DC. It was hard, I was recovering from the flu, it was cold and raining, and it HURT. But I did it. I ran a marathon! The feeling of accomplishment is hard to even begin to put into words.

The moment I became a marathoner with my best friend, Christina (left)

The moment I became a marathoner with my best friend, Christina (left)

The high from the race lasted for weeks, but the mindset change was permanent.

The lessons I learned bled over to every area of my life, especially my professional one. When working on something big, looking at all that needs to happen can be incredibly overwhelming. Training for a marathon taught me that taking a step back, breaking the work that needs to be done into smaller steps, and viewing it in a day by day perspective is an effective way to approach challenging tasks.

This approach leads to one important thing: accepting more stretch assignments.

How training for a marathon helped me grow professionally Click To Tweet

Why do people shy away from stretch projects?

Because they don’t think they have the skills necessary, and the thought of failing will hold them back, especially when there are real business results and their reputation on the line. Sound familiar? Is this something that kills your confidence in the workplace? Something crazy happened after crossing that finish line for me: nothing seemed out of my reach anymore. I felt invincible, like I literally could do anything I put my mind to, no matter how hard it seemed.

I knew that I would have to work for it, and I may not be great right away, but I could get there if I put in the work.

It started within a few months with my job search. I applied for positions where I thought I may not have all of the skills, but felt that I could learn them and do the job well. Not too much time passed before I got one of those very positions.

The stretching didn’t stop there – I found myself volunteering for and owning projects that seemed intimidating on the surface. Even when I’m terrified, I still push forward and know that I’ll figure it out. Running a marathon has changed my confidence in my ability to do hard things. Sure, I’ve had missteps, but I’ve grown more in the past 18 months than at any other point in my career. My fear of failure has been overcome with my desire to be amazing.

A great way to figure out your next goal - ask yourself what you would do if you could not fail. Then go for it. Action leads to self confidence. Motivation | Self Confidence | Running | Inspiration | Quotes

So what’s the lesson for you? Am I telling you to run a marathon? Not exactly.

The idea of running a marathon may not appeal to you, and that’s okay. Find something that you’ve wanted to do in your personal life and just give it a go. Maybe it’s learning a new language or developing your cooking skills.  Perhaps it’s setting a big scary fundraising goal to help out your favorite charity. Tackling a new hobby is a “safe” way to test your ability to work towards stretch assignments because nothing is on the line. Craft a plan and get to work, but take time after a few months to reflect on what you’ve been able to achieve with the right approach, dedication, and support. I promise you it will bleed into other areas of your life, and your confidence will start to build.

Tell me in the comments – what would you do if you knew you could not fail?  What’s holding you back from going for it?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Click To Tweet

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  1. What an inspiring post! I am so glad you made that decision to run. It can seem overwhelming, but you are spot on… makes you feel like you can do anything.

  2. Hey Jess. Happy Holidays!
    This is such a great post that I was inspired to comment. As a writer (like my wife), you’re probably always looking for a book idea (or maybe not, but go with me here). The topic you’ve presented would be an excellent one to expound upon in book form. There are so many running books on training, dieting, speed/pacing, the aerobic benefits, etc., but very few on the mental benefits of running and how it can improve your overall focus, confidence, happiness, perseverance and, ultimately, success in the workplace and at home. After all, running is a self-improvement project. A continuous, never-ending project (if a person chooses that for her or himself). Your post is a near outline for the book and so on-point!
    I wish you a Happy New Year and hope that 2017 brings you PR’s at every distance!

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting, James. I actually have dreams of writing a book one day, but not in a running topic (more about talent development as a manager). I have some new stuff planned for the blog more along the lines of this post in 2017, so I’m looking forward to your feedback! Happy New year to you! Are you training for any spring races?

  3. As I’m reading this post- I could not imagine that I was in the exact same boat as you. I was definitely not an athletic person (not at all), I hated running and avoided running at all cost, and for some reason- when this one mom just asked us to sign up for the marathon for the sake of signing up, and we did- that’s how everything changed!
    I couldn’t run more than two miles at first!
    Last year when we did our very first marathon- I couldn’t believe that I just ran a marathon! I just couldn’t believe it!
    Bummer that I couldn’t run this year’s marathon but I hope to keep up my running and keep on building my confidence!!!

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