Wayyy back in July of 2014, I wrote this post about 6 ways to calm pre-race nerves. Feel free to go back and read it if you like, but in a nutshell, I gave these tips:
- Do more races
- Pack the night before
- Have a plan (and a few plan Bs)
- Think about it as a big group run
- Stop comparing yourself to everyone else
- Block out negative thoughts
To this day I still use those same strategies, and with a couple more years of experience under my belt, I’ve picked up a few more. I used to be an extremely nervous runner in race settings, and two of the biggest things that helped me overcome that was racing more often and finding a community of friends to make each race feel like a party.
Of course, the nerves never fully go away – I still feel anxious before racing but I like to think that’s a sign that my adrenals are working properly. Too much anxiety and nervousness however, can have a negative impact on performance. Since race season is now in full swing and many of you, like me, are about to toe the start line, I thought I’d share 6 more ways to calm pre-race nerves with you today.
1. Do a dress rehearsal
I mean a full dress rehearsal, from the outfit you wear right down to the nutrition you take in. A week or two prior to your race, try going for a long run and practice everything you plan to do on race day. Get up at the same time, eat your pre-race breakfast, put on your shoes and stash your fuel if you plan to carry some. If possible, run a route that somewhat simulates the kind of terrain and elevation you’ll be racing on. It doesn’t have to be the full distance of your race, but simply going through the same motions that you’ll go through on race day will make the real deal a lot less nerve-racking.
2. Make a race morning checklist
I don’t know about you, but my brain seems to lose significant processing power on race morning. That’s why the ‘pack the night before’ tip from my earlier post is so important in ensuring that I don’t turn up to the start line with a dead Polar V800 and no socks. Being a big list making freak, I also like to make myself a list of final to-do’s – everything from putting Body Glide or coconut oil on under my heart rate monitor strap to grabbing my bottle of Vega sugar-free pre-workout energizer out of the fridge to drink on the way to the start line.
3. Listen to music
Everyone has their own musical tastes, and what I listen to on my runs might be entirely different to what’s on your iPod. If you’ve got a few songs that make you feel absolutely awesome, ones that make you feel like dancing, or ones that trigger some of your favourite ridiculous memories, listen to them while you’re getting ready or while you’re en-route to the race.
4. Race with a friend
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded starting corral with thousands of strangers certainly isn’t the most comfortable of situations to be in. In my experience, being in this predicament only makes me feed off of their nervous energy and focus more on useless thoughts like how much I really wish I’d had time to go pee just once more before the gun goes off. Sound familiar?
Just like a lot of other things in life, this can turn into much more fun if you’ve got a buddy or two to race with. Even if you don’t actually run the race together, simply having someone to take some nervous pre-race selfies and joke around with can help to make you feel more at ease. And if you don’t know anyone else racing, it never hurts to start chatting to the runner next to you who probably also feels just as nervous. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the moral support!
5. Even if you’re nervous, keep your thoughts and words positive
I like to think of this as the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy. And yes, it is very much like tip #6 that I gave in my older post, which was to block out negative thoughts. In my opinion it’s one of the most powerful, and therefore, worth repeating. Your mind can make or break how you interpret a situation. Even if you have a few negative thoughts in your head, choosing not to verbalize them and instead, framing them more positively, can prevent you from spiralling even further downward.
For example, if you’re thinking about how cold you are waiting in the start corral, try bringing yourself out of that negativity by saying “I’m cold now, but I’m sure I’ll be thankful for the breeze after I start sweating in a few miles.” If you start to doubt whether you’ve put in enough training, think back to your strongest training sessions and use those to boost your confidence.
6. Focus on the process, not the end result
In the end, there are some factors on race day that you can control – things like the training you’ve put in, the amount of sleep you got the night before, your nutrition choices and your mental preparation. There are also things you can somewhat control, like how you adapt your clothing choices according to weather conditions, how you handle an unexpected cramp, and how you pace yourself throughout each mile of the race. Finally, there are things totally beyond your control, like the weather, your fellow competitors, and the huge line for the porta-potties. There’s no sense in stressing about any of these things – it’s a waste of your energy that would be far better used in your sprint to the finish line!
With so many variables that can affect your finishing time, it’s much easier (and less intimidating) to break the race down into smaller chunks and focus on executing one chunk at a time. You can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you respond in the moment.
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Alright, those are my tips but I’m sure there are many of you who are seasoned racers too. Leave a comment letting myself and other readers know what some of your best tips are for keeping pre-race nerves under control.
To those racing this weekend good luck! And if you happen to be racing the BMO Vancouver Half on Sunday, I’d love to meet you so don’t be shy… come up and say hello!