With race season can come overwhelming pre-race jitters and nerves. Race anxiety can be experienced by any of us and it’s important to remember that there are tools we can use to lessen this stress and allow us to run free to our full potential on race day. Race anxiety affects every level of runner and chances are the same nerves and anxiety you are experiencing before your races is experienced by the world-class athletes you see on TV. We all experience race anxiety at some level and there are tools we can use to make sure our nerves don’t get the best of us on race day. Every race is another opportunity to practice!
RACE PREP AND ANXIETY
First of all, one race does not define you or your racing journey. Yes, it’s important and you’ve spent a lot of time preparing. No one wants to waste a perfectly good opportunity to run fast. But the second these thoughts start putting pressure on you, it can turn into a negative. The race should always be a celebration of the hard work you put in to get where you are. To make it to any start line healthy and ready to race is a moment to be celebrated and that is what you should lead with. The reason that we race is to strive for that perfect race when everything clicks. In reality, these races only happen a handful of times in a racing career. So what about the rest? They’re wonderful opportunities to learn, take risks and challenge ourselves to find what our true potential is on the racecourse. Head into each opportunity grateful for the opportunity and ready to learn!
When nerves or anxiety set in before a race, use this time to reflect back on the training you’ve done and the journey you’ve traveled to get to this moment. Keeping a training log is a really helpful tool to both keep you accountable and keep you motivated. It can be really fun to look back on past weeks, months and even years of training to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned to prepare you for your future races. So much is done online nowadays, that I recommend finding a training log you can actually write in and keep for yourself. Having a moment each day to write down your training thoughts/feedback is very helpful and in my experience has been more helpful than logging training in an electronic format. Regardless, both options work! Looking back on training helps to remind you that you’ve already done hard things in training and you can do hard things in racing. Seeing it on paper helps to refocus those nerves on the positive. You’re simply attempting to do something you’ve already practiced many times before!
Visualization is a very helpful tool to calm your nerves and remind you that you are in full control on race day. Control the controllables and remember that it’s important to take some time to find calmness and clarity before your race. This can be done weeks or days before your race, but the important thing is to give it a try! When nerves and anxiety kick in, it’s often because we’re being consumed by the thought of things that are out of our control. Poor sleep? Missed PR? Tough starting position? Instead of focusing on the “what if’s” and the things that are out of our control, focus on the controllables and the process of race day. Use visualisation to find calmness and simplicity in the race day experience. Here are tips to begin a pre-race visualization routine:
- Find a quiet space where you can sit and relax
- Close your eyes and start going through your race day starting from the very beginning when you wake up to the very end when you’re eating your favorite post-race celebration meal (a good night sleep, waking up at a certain time before your race, eating a great breakfast, preparing your race day gear, riding to the course, meeting friends or family at the race, picking up your race bib, running through the warm-up process, running your race and the thoughts you hope to have, getting to that last mile and finishing fast and strong with a big ol' smile, delicious post-race meal, etc...).
- Don't forget to visualize the tough spots where you know you’ll have to be strong and keep your HEAD UP, WINGS OUT! Mentally embrace the moments where you will get to test your limits without fear.
Control what you can control and get organized. No plan ever goes exactly according to plan, so don’t try to worry about having everything work out perfectly on race day. Plan for a couple of things to be tough. Extra-long bathroom line-ups? Lightning delay? Heavy traffic and you get to the course a little later than planned? These things can be out of our control, but there’s a lot that we can plan for and it can help ease our nerves and anxiety leading up to and on race day. The more you can prepare for the controllables, the calmer you will feel. This can mean:
- lay out your race day clothes and bag the night before so you don’t have to scramble on race morning.
- travel with foods/liquids you know will keep your stomach happy on race weekend (oatmeal for the morning? Nuun for hydration?)
- bring extra clothes (racing and warm-up) to prepare for any type of race weather.
- plan to have your transportation plan clearly laid out for race day
- if you can visit the course prior to race day that will help you get a lay of the land so you know where to go (this will also help with your pre-race visualization!)
The goal is to simply do the best you can on the day! We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the perfect race. Social media is full of people celebrating great races, Boston qualifiers, new PR’s, amazing comeback stories, Strava PR’s, etc. We live in a world where it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what everyone else is doing and begin to compare ourselves thinking that it should be our turn to have an amazing race. Yes, that is the goal, but remember that we can only control what we can control. Trust your body and it’s timing. Good things happen when the time is right and everything else is an opportunity to learn. Do your best, be kind to yourself and know that good things are going to happen but we can’t always control exactly when they happen. Do the best you can and the rest will fall into place!