Friday, March 16, 2012

Pre-Race Jitters: Do you Suffer?

I admit it.  I’m an experienced runner who suffers from pre-race anxiety.  Heck, I even get a little anxious before hard workouts.  If this is you, either remotely or completely…read on. 

In my twenty-plus years of running, I have recorded countless miles, workouts, and races.  I have lined up at starting lines of NCAA Division III cross-country and track meets more than ten times, and raced in large and prestigious road races around the state of PA.  All of this combined experience doesn’t help reduce the anxiety I feel before an upcoming race.  Even to this day, I still get the butterflies.

Because this problem affects me, I did some research to make sure I wasn’t alone.  Based on my findings, there are two main reasons why this happens. 

1. High expectations/Fear of failure  - There is no doubt that runners work hard.  They train, they are focused, and often times they dedicate and sacrifice a large part of their lives for it.  Because of this, runners set lofty goals and want to run as fast as they can on race day.   

2.  Preparation of the body – Racing is taxing and the body knows it.  Sometimes the body is preparing itself for the pain and stress that is asked of it on race day.  According to one article I read, the nervousness and the nausea are your body’s way of asking “Are you sure you really want to do this?”  

My pre-race anxiety is a mixture of both.  There is never a time that I don’t expect myself to do well, plus I know what my body will be put through during the course of a race.  Even with my vast racing experience, it doesn’t get any easier over time.  But there are a few things that I do during my pre-race repertoire that help a little bit.

Routine, routine, routine. 
I have had the same pre-race breakfast for years.  Food doesn’t sit well in my stomach when I’m nervous, so I always eat a plain, whole grain bagel with peanut butter and a banana a few hours before the start time.  This meal fills my belly without making it more upset.  I also try to get a good night sleep and drink plenty of water the day before the race.  

Arrive early and give yourself time.
There is nothing worse than feeling rushed before a race.  To avoid unnecessary stress, I always try to arrive at least an hour before the start of the race.  This gives me plenty of time to park, pick up my race packet, warm-up, go to the bathroom (at least five times), and mentally prepare.  

Pack the night before. 
It helps me to prepare the night before a race.  I lay out my uniform and any other articles of clothing (gloves, hat, tights, jacket, t-shirt, etc) that I may need.  I make sure my racing shoes are in my bag so I don’t forget them as well.  Other essentials to remember?  A bottle of water, protein bar, extra safety pins (you never know), and an extra elastic band for my hair round out my bag packing experience.  

Focus on what you can control. 
Have a race plan and goal, review the course map, and have an idea where the mile markers are.  Knowing these items ahead of time always helps deviate stress the morning of a race.  You also don't have control over who shows up on race day or what the weather is that morning...but you do have control over how you pace yourself and how well you respond to all of the elements around you.

Have confidence in your ability.
This is self-explanatory, but it’s true.  It helps me to think about all of the training I have done up until race day.  Believe.      

Talk to people at the starting line. 
Gabbing a few minutes with other racers can take the edge off.   In that moment, everyone there is in the same boat. 

What does Coach Jesse tell his athletes prior to competition?
Rather than thinking about not doing well or failing, his advice is to think about what it would be like to reach a goal, whether it be standing on the All-American podium or breaking a personal best time.

Essentially, visualize post-race happy thoughts!

Remember, a little nervousness and anxiety is a good thing because it means you have passion.  If you are like me, the anxiety is erased the second the gun goes off.  So, take it all in stride and do the best that you can.  In the end, that’s all you can ask of yourself.

On a lighter note, in college I had two routines that I did the night before every race.  First, I used to paint my fingernails and toenails.   

And second, I raced in these pearl/diamond costume earrings because they resembled those that I once saw my idol (Suzy Favor Hamilton) wear.   

Here they are...Yep, I still have them...

Hey, if they were good enough for her, they were good enough for me!  Now that I think back, these two superstitions were pretty funny, but at the time…I took them very seriously and never deviated from my plan. 

So, are you one of these runners who suffer from anxiety and nervousness before a race?  If so, how do you cope?  I would love to hear from you…  

Have a great Friday!!


1 comment:

  1. Not-so-nervous NedMarch 16, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    I like to think about my splits, race strategy, and learn who will be in the race throughout the week so I'm well prepared for my race plan, then within 18 hours or so, do as little as I can to think about it since I already have established what I need to do. I typically play a lot of cribbage!