Janelle Lincks Writes About Overcoming Self Doubt

This article was written by Janelle Lincks and first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Trail Times. Janelle is based out of Boulder where she works as a gardener. As well, she is a competitive trail runner recently sponsored by ATRA switchback member inov-8. Photo: @arapahoe_basin.

“Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt. And you overcome doubt by going through it.” – Thomas Merton

Running offers opportunities for growth on numerous planes of being. When I write about running inevitably I find myself writing about life. When we train our bodies we train our minds. Workouts and races are often microcosms of the challenges and struggles we may confront in the events of our lives. In high school I had a coach who gave our team some workouts that seemed insurmountable. I remember a set of 24 hill repeats that felt outrageous in the beginning and totally impossible in the middle. I remember to a greater degree the incredible sense of accomplishment I felt lying in the grass after the 24th hill. I don’t remember feeling fitter or relating that workout to success later in the season. I don’t even know if that workout was about gaining fitness. As we ambled off for a cooldown our coach told us, “Now that mountain of homework won’t seem so bad,” And ya know what? It didn’t.

Every runner has felt the near overwhelming sense of doubt that arises when they are pushing their body to the limit. The final turn in an 800 when your body is screaming, the death march of mile 25 in a marathon; even stepping out the door for a jog can seem to be an impossible feat. When the mind is filled with doubt, the only thought in your head is “STOP.” What follows is only known to the spirit willing that body to continue moving. Though it is silent, all around may be inactive and serene, there is an internal battle not only familiar to running, but one that seems elemental to human experience.

Doubt and faith rage against each other, enormous doubt that you can get a body swelling with lead across a line to the end of your suffering. Doubt that you’ll hold your place in the race. Doubt that your PR is within reach. Doubt that any of this really matters anyway. Just stop, step over that white line from the red track to the green turf and put an end to this madness. Yet nine times out of ten faith overpowers all of those doubts. Look at the results of any race and see how few, if any DNFs there are. Despite the seemingly louder voice of doubt in those silent moments known only to the runner a power of faith prevails. Faith in the human body to persist, faith in the will to drive us forward, faith in this pattern of movement ancient to our kind that has the power to free us from the chains of doubt. And it can only arise in its prime form when it is called to counter such strong doubt. Its strength comes from the intensity of these battles, and it carries over into life.

Janelle Lincks 3rd place 2020 Moab Trail Marathon

Leading figure in positive psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, writes in his book Flow “The foremost reason happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of humans in mind.” The past couple of years have proven that despite all of our progress toward stabilizing our existence on this planet chaos and uncertainty loom ever present and ready to disrupt all that we know. So what can running – a simple hobby – do for us in the face of this? Well, what can anything do for us in the face of universal chaos really.

In Flow, Csikszentmihalyi writes that people report the happiest times of their lives include those when they are facing challenges in striving to achieve their goal. The most difficult race I’ve ever run is also my favorite race. I truly did not know – both times I ran it – if I could finish the Moab Trail Marathon. You actually pass the finish line going into the final 5k of the race, which is easily the most difficult 5k I’ve ever run. Despite the pain and the incredible frustration at yet another petrified dune to run up, and the utter exhaustion brought on by a trail marathon, I do not regret the race. I cherish every moment of it. It was my first marathon and upon finishing it just under four hours the first time around, laying on the red slick rock looking up at the sky, the same feeling I felt in a hill workout a decade earlier overwhelmed me with pride and joy.

Running is a friend most of us are privileged to always have to turn to in times of need. Though it may seem to turn on us at times, it is in these moments that we are made: When the strength of our spirit and our faith in the power of this human tradition of movement overcomes the challenge of our environment and the greater challenge of our own minds.


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