Tips for avoiding butterflies before a big race

Do you get worried or anxious before a big race? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. We’ve all been there. Almost every runner experiences pre-race jitters at some point. Even experienced runners can feel anxiety before a race. In fact, elite athletes often feel the most pre-race nervousness because they put even more pressure on themselves to succeed.

So what can you do to control your pre-race nerves? So much of running performance is a test of mental strength and so is dealing with pre-race butterflies. In light of the Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon on Sunday, here are 5 tips to help you develop a championship-winning psyche:

Realize you’re all in the same boat

When you look around at a starting line, it can often appear that everyone is cool, calm and collected but you. While people around you are having casual conversations and smiling, you’re feeling like your legs are made of jelly and that you might pee your pants (Totally normal, by the way). However, it’s important to realize that your fellow competitors are feeling some nervousness and anxiety too. That alone should help you relax and focus on the race ahead.

Avoid worrying about things you can’t control

Worried it might rain? Worried who will be watching? What if you get a side stitch half way through and can’t continue? Did you wear the right outfit? What if you get a blister? Ahhh! Worrying about these things is counterproductive. Instead, focus on the things you can control such as running the first kilometre sensibly, relaxing down hills or other “housekeeping” strategies.

Focus on the positives when you feel panic

When you start to feel panicky, especially before the start of a race, it can often mean that you’ll begin a race much faster than you intended and you’ll end up burning out somewhere mid-way through. Try to calm your anxiety by taking deep breaths and thinking about how much you enjoy training and competing. Besides, if you didn’t enjoy it, you wouldn’t be standing at the starting line, would you? Slow your racing mind with positive self-talk. Don’t literally talk to yourself. People will think you’ve lost it, but focus on specific, positive thoughts that will help combat negative thoughts and help you perform better.

Realize nervousness can be a good thing

Feeling nervous is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it is necessary in order to achieve a personal best. You’re unlikely to go out for a morning run and get a new personal record for 5km or 10km. However, when it comes to race day, your nerves and adrenaline are essential for good performance. Try thinking about that next time you feel butterflies.

Visualize yourself being awesome

When I was younger and used to play ringette (kind of like hockey for those of you scratching your head right now),  before big tournaments, our coach used to tell us to spend 5 minutes in the dressing room with our eyes shut visualizing success. We all thought it was silly, but she insisted that if you sat there and thought about yourself scoring a goal, making a great pass, or holding the gold medal, you were better able to make that vision a reality. She was right. The same strategy can work for running. If you mentally condition yourself to succeed, you are more likely to actually make it happen on race day.

For all of you running this weekend, try to remember some of these tips when you’re feeling anxiety. Also, remember that all runners have different ways of dealing with stress and nervousness. Find out what works for you and develop your own pre-race formula.

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2011

Some pictures from last year’s half marathon


  1. Kelly October 12, 2012 / 11:52 am

    Great post! I personally like the visualization point. Another great way to visualize is to convince your brain with actual images… For example, stand near the finishing line chute, memorize what it looks like and then go away and run the image of you (in your race day running gear) running down the chute and crossing the line with a big smile. That mental image will give you an advantage!

    • Miranda October 12, 2012 / 11:57 am

      Such a great suggestion! Thanks Kelly. Smiling while crossing the finish line is a great point too. That’s the perfect photo op and usually I end up looking like I’m on death’s doorstep instead of a happy runner who just finished their race!

  2. Christine October 12, 2012 / 1:27 pm

    Good post! But I’ll admit, I’m worried about the weather for the Scotia run this weekend. What to wear?

    • Miranda October 12, 2012 / 1:29 pm

      I hear you. I’m flip flopping about what to wear too. It’s going to be warm (18 degrees apparently) and raining. I have an awesome running rain coat, but I’m worried I’ll be too hot. Without it, I won’t be able to bring my trusty iPhone since I’ll have nowhere waterproof to store it while I run. I may just have to make a game-time decision!

      • Christine October 12, 2012 / 1:34 pm

        Ditto. The problem with running rain coats is they tend to really insulate you…which could be good or bad depending on the wind. Thinking I might do a tee with arm warmers that I can take off if I get too hot. We’ll see! Fingers crossed it won’t pour.

  3. freckledgreens October 12, 2012 / 4:16 pm

    Great post! Love those running capris by the way. So cute and functional!

    • Miranda October 12, 2012 / 5:36 pm

      Thanks! They’re from Nike. One of my faves. Have them in blue too 🙂

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