So your race is here and you are nervous. This is not something to be concerned with. Being a little nervous before a race means you care about your performance. And why shouldn’t you? A lot of hard physical, mental and emotional work went into getting you to the starting line, not to mention all of the sacrifices you made along the way. That said, there is a fine line, between being nervous and allowing anxiety get the best of you. Allowing anxiety to get the best of you can not only put a damper on the enjoyment of your race, it can significantly hinder your performance.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are some guidelines to help you take charge of pre-race nervousness:
1. Stay away from the starting line until right before the start of your race
Staying away from the start of the race is something I’ve done consistently before every race in my 20+ years of competitive running. There’s a lot of energy and hustle and bustle at the start of a race. And if you’re not careful, you can become swept up in it. Being swept up in the excitement is okay as long as you don’t allow yourself to lose focus and end up running your first few miles too quickly. Being swept up in the conversations of runners who are doubting the effectiveness of their training, on the other hand, can cause you to doubt the effectiveness of your training.
The last thing that you need is to be thinking about is whether you should have done that last 20 miler or set of 800’s. That’s all in the past. You can’t change it, so it’s not worth thinking about; certainly at this moment. Instead, find a quiet place away from the starting line where you can turn inward, meditate, pray and prepare your mind and your body for race effort you’re about to ask from it. Then join the excitement at the line.
2. Control what you can (shoes, clothes, thoughts, attitude)
Focus on the things that you can control. There is no more fitness that you can gain at this point. What is done is done. All of your training is behind you as well as what you ate the night before, what you ate the morning of the race, the shoes that you have on your feet…all of it is now in the past.
The only thing that you can control is what is happening in the present moment, with the biggest being your thoughts. And the good news is that you can change the way you look at things in an instant. It can literally happen like flipping a switch. One minute you’re consumed with self doubt and the next minute, you’re as confident as a lion, showering yourself with positive self talk. Sometimes it even helps to visualize flipping a negative/positive switch to make this change more quickly.
3. Visualize your success
Another thing that you an do to calm your pre-race nerves is to visualize your success. Visualization is picturing yourself running the race before you actually run it. But you don’t actually run the entire race from start to finish. You visualize different sections of it. For example, you might visualize what the start of the race is going to be like, how you are going to feel, etc., and then visualize those same things and feelings somewhere in the middle of the race when you’re facing some sort of a challenge and lastly, at the end as you accomplish your goal.
Research has shown visualization to be extremely effective in getting your body to perform the way that you want it to. Tests have been performed to back this up. Tests where individuals in a completely sedentary position have been asked to visualize themselves going through programming in your body to do what it is you’re about to ask it to do with it when you finally ask it to perform it is like it is running on autopilot.
4. Have flexible goals
The last thing is to have flexible goals. The purpose is to enjoy the journey and if you put so much pressure on yourself to reach the finish line in a certain time, it will be hard to have fun along the way. I’m not saying not to to have fun. Your finish time is not a reflection of who you are at your core. Although the two may feel extremely intertwined, you are NOT your running!
Approach every race with a sense of adventure and with the ultimate goal being to have fun with a lot of other great runners and get the best out of your body. And yes there are going to be times when it’s hard. And yes, there are going to be times that it hurts. Just relax. It’s all a part of the game.