Courage over Confidence, by Phoebe Wright


This is the fifth blog from Phoebe Wright. When Phoebe and I speak, I encourage her to write about things that are close to her heart. Her four previous blogs have shown RunBlogRun readers what is in the heart of a middle distance runner.

In this column, Courage over Confidence, Phoebe Wright speaks about some of her most important races. Those moments that change us, challenge us and scare us. But those moments, dear readers, are when we are most alive.


Courage over confidence.

Disclaimer: I didn't make that up. I think it was someone's twitter bio. And we can all assume that person stole their bio off a Chinese Fortune cookie. Because that's where everyone gets their most cherished life advice. I think? Anyways, I stole it. Thanks mysterious twitter bio man.

When someone asks "what was your best race?" a couple races come to mind. They are all my "bests" for different reasons. The most obvious best race (it is the best on paper) of mine was Prefontaine 2010. It is my PR race. It is the race I try to recreate--which means right now it is the race that haunts me in a weird way. Recreating the past causes a whole mess of emotions it seems--it's like nostalgia, but with a little of "I hate myself for not being able to get back there." It's the race where everything came together. I knew lining up that something special was going to happen. I could not have possibly been more prepared for that race. If confidence was a smell, people would have smelled my sweet confidence-cologne smell for miles (ok, let's be real. Confidence probably would smell like B.O and a powerbar). I woke up and felt so good. I ordered something online that morning and the back of my credit card CCV number was 158. I pretty much knew that 2-minute barrier was mine to destroy because the universe via a credit card, plus my gut told me so.

During that race, that might be the time of my life where I felt invincible. If the world crumbled during that minute and 58 seconds, I am certain I would have survived.

But was it my best race? I'm honestly not sure. Because another equally emotionally charged race comes to mind--a race no one even knows about: Penn Relays 2007 4x800m. We lost, and I got my ass beat. I was a 2:12 runner up against a 2:02 Anna Willard. Did I have confidence in my ability? Not a chance. I knew she was going to drag me around that track in a slow-motion train wreck type fashion. But I didn't have a choice to fail. I had to do everything I could to at least try to give my team a chance. I was ready to bleed. And I did. I ran PRs in the en route 400m, 500m, 600m, 700m, and then ended with a massive 6 second 800m PR. I literally ran my guts out (Yeah I puked for an hour at least afterward).

(At) Prefontaine, I had confidence. It was like I was playing poker and had a flush. Yeah, another chick might be sitting on a royal flush (which she probably cheated to get), but I couldn't control that. I knew that I had a bomb hand and was ready to go all in. The risk of losing was minimal.

But if at Pre I had a flush, Penn I had at best a pair of 2's. I knew I was just going to have to bluff my way though it. Penn relays, I had courage. People say that confidence is key. And they are right, it is almost a prerequisite for success to be confident. But confidence is a product of not only self worth, but also the environment. Those people who say, "Confidence is a choice" lack critical thinking skills.

Am I confident that I summit Mt. Everest right now? No. Absolutely not. Because I know I haven't prepared for it. I know just the sheer odds of failure are just way too damn high. Just like if I have a bad build up leading into a race, it is hard to find sources of confidence. You derive confidence not only from your ability, but also your preparation. A lot of times, the preparation just goes bad, and you can't control it. Then what?

But courage--that's a personal choice. It is something you are 100% in control of. Did I know Anna was going to attempt to kill me? Yeah. I just didn't care. I was going to make her work for it. That was my personal choice that she could never take away.

In a lot of ways, courage gets you a lot farther than confidence. In a lot of ways it gives you confidence. Being able to look failure in the face and say "bring it!" is better than not acknowledging the possibility of failure at all.

Courage Over Confidence.

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