Untethered Confidence

"Johnny Crain wins the Open 15k during the Tulsa Run on October 25, 2014. JOEY JOHNSON/For the Tulsa World"

The goal for 2019: To run with this type of confidence again.

In 2014 I had been training by myself around work and grad school putting in several 120-mile weeks. I found a 15K race within driving distance on one of the only free weekends I had. I was trying to achieve a standard on the roads to qualify for the U.S Half Marathon Championships and had no big marks as a recent college grad.

I emailed the race to see if I would be allowed in the elite field. I was denied but told I could sign up and race if I was interested. They had to do what they thought was best for the event.

With a chip on my shoulder, I toed the start line, feeling ready but unknown as a runner.

I remember being in the front pack with other great runners who had way better credentials than myself. Most notably the 5th place finisher from the 2012 U.S Olympic Marathon Trials. I had no measuring stick of where I was at, as I coached myself and trained alone.

Early in the race, I accidentally clipped a competitor's heels. This led to a fiery exchange - one that continued throughout the race. With 3 miles to go, the front pack had whittled down to just five contenders. Tensions reached a boiling point, and the athlete I had clipped earlier shoved me as he inched up front. A few choice words were said, and the racing really began.

Instead of focusing on how far I had to run compared or pain I was feeling, all I could think about was proving I could compete with the best. I wouldn’t be intimated by the “favorites”.

I turned and looked at another competitor and said: “Let’s drop this D-Bag.” I then did something that isn't normally recommended in long-distance races...with miles to go, I fired the engines to 100% and ran as hard as I possibly could.

Pulling away with an aggressive move felt freeing

The lead pack instantly became a one person, with a move that I knew I couldn't hold to the finish line.

Call it stubbornness, stupidity, blind confidence, or whatever you want. I just sent it.

I was in the hurt box those last few miles

With a little over a mile left, I held about a 15-second gap on second place. (The guy I had fought with was now off the back of the chase pack). The realization set in that the move I had made was too aggressive. It was too late to go back. As my legs screamed, it was time to be gritty for a finish line that couldn't come soon enough. The last mile, I clawed hard while trying to mask how much I was hurting. I never looked back. I had my eyes straight ahead the entire way, knowing just a glance could give second place the hope of catching me. Struggling down the final straightaway, I held on to win by four seconds.

The guy who wasn't in the elite field, who showed up on his own accord, whose name the race directors didn't know even after, won the race.

That confidence and competitiveness within myself is a fire that’s hard to reignite sometimes. Races like that come so few and far between. Self-doubt and worries can be crippling. But as long as I keep stoking that fire, the flames will leap toward the sky again.

Confidence was easy to come by in College

In 2019, I want to return to this real confidence. It’s not found in pleasantries, Instagram likes, or pump-up music. That type of feel-good confidence fades away when the pressure turns up. True confidence comes from deep within. It’s a knowing that exists no matter what the world has to say about you, and it doesn’t bend or melt with pressure.

The "knowing" as my former Coach and mentor Al would say comes from making the right decisions every single day and not over thinking the process. It's a feeling of knowing you are going to succeed, even before you step to the line.

That’s the type of confidence I am searching for again. That’s the mindset of a champion.