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.