Running in Fear

In personality psychology, approach-avoid motivation theory describes motivation as the energization of behavior, which stems from either the desire for achieving positive outcomes (approach) or from the desire to avoid negative outcomes (avoid). A common example is a student who is studious. The student could be studying a lot because they wish to get an A in the course, or because they wish to learn as much as possible or because they want to make their parents proud. The point is that in approach motivation, the person desires a positive event. It’s also possible that the student studies a lot because they don’t want to fail the course, or because they don’t want to be ashamed that they did poorly on the exam, or they worry about disappointing their parents. In avoid motivation, the person wishes to avoid a negative event.

When it comes to racing, I realized that I race best when I race in fear. I don’t mean in fear the way Angie and Kobi might be when there are bears in the woods, but in fear of just missing a PR, or getting passed by someone at the last minute after dueling with them for miles, or losing out on an award.

Because I run with a Forerunner 10 (or a dumb Garmin as Ben likes to call it), I can only see my pace and distance on the screen because that’s how I set it up. If I want to see the amount of time that has passed, I need to push another button to see it and I only do this when I’m a pacer. So during races, unless there are time clocks out on the course, I have little idea of what my time will be. I know what my average pace needs to be and I know whether I’ve been hitting it or missing it during a race, so I have some idea of whether I might be hitting my time goal or not, but if I’m close, well, I just don’t know.

When Ben found out that I set up my Garmin this way, he was a bit surprised. He was even more surprised when he found out that I actually like not knowing whether I’m close or comfortably under my time goal. He thought I would want to know if I was comfortably under so that way I could run in confidence knowing I got my PR in hand.

“I prefer to run in fear,” I said. “Being afraid makes me tolerate the pain late in the race. If I know I’m comfortably under, well, understandably I’m going to slow down a bit. But if I don’t know, if I think I’m close, well I’m afraid of missing my goal. So I’m forced to push through the pain and keep running fast. I’d rather not know. I want to be afraid.”

Maybe if I were a better faster runner (à la elite), I’d have a more approach motivation because I’m running for a podium place. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps I’d just run in more fear because the stakes are so much higher.

What about you? Do you run in fear? 

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7 thoughts on “Running in Fear

  1. Oh, I love this post. I totally do better in running when fear is attached. When I last ran Run For The Red, I was nauseas the morning off. I was so scared, it gave me the boost I needed. On the other hand, that fear is what hurt me as a figure skater. In practice, I always won. But put me on the ice in competition and that fear got to my head and I blew apart. It’s amazing how the same thing can work so well and so terribly in different scenarios. My mind was meant for running I guess!

    • Yes, I definitely get an adrenaline rush from fear. I wonder if fear was detrimental to figure skating because it requires precision and finesse. Running is just running and you don’t have a choreography that you need to remember.

  2. I feel the same way. I always run in fear of missing the goals I set for myself. The ugly downside though is a lot of pre-race anxiety! I think my husband was ready to leave me the day before my recent marathon. haha

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