It's just a few days from a big race and I'm already anxious. What am I afraid of? Running a bad time? Totally bonking? Looking stupid in front of my friends and patients? Drowning in the open water swim? Getting a flat tire? Perishing on the street? Where does all this performance anxiety come from? After 30 years of competitive running you would think I would have conquered race day jitters, but they are always there...kind of like an old friend...or a fungus!
So, how do I cope with race day jitters? Positive self-talk, preparation, visualization and organization!
A race is just another long training day in the company of a few hundred, or sometimes a few thousand, of your closest friends. Most anxiety comes from fear of the unknown and lots of negative self-talk. Reality? Your friends and family really don't care what your time is, whether you place or not, and the world will not end if you run a bad time! My patients are just amazed this old lady is still racing! Times are irrelevant! Setting high goals will just stress you out! Focus on running your best race that day! Relax! Have fun! Go into the race realizing you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I treat every race as a learning experience. Even if you get kicked in the face in the swim and lose your goggles, get a flat tire or totally bonk on the run; you learn something you can use another day!
There are many things you can do to stay relaxed. Here are just a few I have learned along the way:
- Be prepared! Have a pre-race checklist of everything you need. Set out all of your clothes and gear the night before and go through the list. This includes checking your bike tires and inflating them, if competing in a triathalon. Finding a flat the morning of the race will send your heart rate through the roof. I set everything out on the living room floor then pack my bag. The bike goes on the car the night before after a thorough check. My nutrition is all set out and the coffee pot is prepped!
- Never change anything the day of the race. This is not the time to try that new pair of Newtons! Stick with your routines. Treat this as just another long training day! Eat what you would normally eat before a long workout. Extra sleep always helps, so go to bed early!
- Go to the race with a friend. Having your friends with you can really help diffuse anxiety. Travel to the race together and help each other calm down. DO NOT let your friends make you crazy. Some people actually feed off others anxiety. If this is you, you may be better off with your iPod as your friend while you set up your transition!
- Visualize finishing. Visualize the entire race the night before. Go to the race website if you are not completely familiar with the course. Visualize a nice calm swim, a smooth transition, an awesome bike and a killer run! See yourself run a PR. My best races have been played over in my mind a thousand times before they ever happened. Remember what it felt like the last time you had a great race! Embrace that feeling!
- Get to the race early. Get organized! Find the bathroom and then relax. Warm up and keep up the positive self-talk! Remind yourself that you have done the work and the race is just a celebration of how hard you have pushed yourself and your mental toughness! Claim your reward!
Race day jitters can completely derail your race before it has even started. Don't let the negativity ruin all your hard work and preparation! Relax! Follow these tips and remember to banish the negative, and stay positive throughout the race! Try to have fun! Whether this is your first marathon or your 100th triathlon, remember to celebrate your training and have a great race!