Most runners and athletes experience some form of pre-race nerves before a race or competition. It’s not a necessarily a negative thing because you have probably put in a lot of training and shows that your performance matters to you.
As a runner or athlete becomes more experienced nerves and anxiety before a race won’t always disappear either, and it is quite normal to feel even more pressure when you have heightened expectations on your race performance.
However, there is a big difference between normal pre-race jitters and an anxiety that paralyses your performance.
This is why your preparation is key, both physical and mental In the build up to a big race or competition, physical preparation usually gets your full attention, because rightly so if aren’t physically in good shape your performance will suffer. However, for a large proportion of runners and athletes, this is where it ends, with little or no attention given to the mental and emotional components involved in being prepared for a race.
The following five tips can help you successfully overcome any nerves and anxiety before your next race, leaving you to perform at your best.
A set routine or pre-race ritual can help immensely to beat pre-race nerves and put your mind on something else in the build up, such as a specific warm-up that you know inside-out.
Work on developing your warm-up in the build-up to your race during training. This will allow you to find familiarity and a sense of relaxation from your warm-up on race day. Other pre-race rituals could be listening to music, praying or meditating.
When preparing for a race or competition don’t waste energy thinking about things outside of your control, only give attention to what you can control.
Focus your preparation on getting into the best physical and mental shape possible, and plan out what you can control with a race plan. Whether your race is a 5K or a marathon, review the route to know where the course will be fast and slow, is there a steep hill? Then break the race down into smaller manageable segments and plan actions for each based on predicate effort, not pace.
For example, do not explicitly set out to run a specific segment at a six-minute mile pace because outside factors such as the weather can massively impact a pace target. Instead, plan to run the segment by the same perceived effort, meaning, if a six-minute mile is your fastest pace, plan to run that segment ‘as fast as you can’.
So forget about the aspects you can’t control, including the weather and how the runner next to you will perform because dwelling on these will only add unnecessary nerves and anxiety.
Try deep breathing before and during your race
It’s normal for breathing to become shallow when nerves and anxiety are present.
When standing on the race start line try breathing deeply from your stomach for a few moments. You should instantly feel calmer and more focused on the task at hand. During the race as you are running continue to perform this deep breathing exercise.
Talking positively before and during a race to yourself can help replace nerves with positive reassuring thoughts. Use simple positive quotes such as, “no pain no gain” or create your own based on past experiences.
A good example based on past experience is thinking back to a time either in a race or life when you overcame a difficult situation. If you struggled in your last race and thought about giving up, but battled on regardless, repeat the phrase “I did it before, I can do it again” regularly to yourself before and during the race.
You can also write down past experiences that you overcame tough situations and read over these when you need a reminder.
This could include details on the hard training you have put in, previous success in races or other life moments. By writing these down in a log you will always have positive reference points to refer to when you have moments of nerves in the build-up to a race.
The vast majority of top runners and athletes will use some form of visualisation and positive imagery before a big race or competition.
This helps to improve focus, reduce performance nerves, and helps by minimising the unknown aspects of a race, creating a familiarity when you actually go through the race day motions.
A month out from your race visualise every detail, what are you wearing, who’s beside you on the start line, running a certain segment, who is supporting you, and most importantly crossing the finish line.
Your race is your reward
In a big race the focus should be on the performance as much as possible, but as discussed this can actually have a negative impact on performance if the anxiety gets too much.
Therefore instead of thinking solely about how you will perform, think of the race as a reward earned for all the effort and hard work you’ve put into training. Are you in a new city or competing at in major championships? By thinking of these associated aspects of the race as rewards it will hopefully help remove some nerves and anxiety.