Gather round, friends, and grab a cup of tea, a smoothie, or other beverage of choice. It’s story time.
So far this year, I’ve participated in 6 races. Number 7 is less than a week away, and there are still plenty more on my calendar between now and the end of fall. One might read this and think, “wow, she must love racing.” But the reality? Not quite. Well, not until this year anyway. You see, ever since I discovered my love for running in my late teens, I’ve liked the idea of racing. Standing at the start line was a completely different story.
Back when I ran varsity cross country in university (which was about 5 years ago – WHERE does time go!?), I loved being part of the team. The girls I trained with were so caring and fun, our coach was great, and team socials were awesome too. Unfortunately for long distance lovers (myself included), the only event for girls competing at our level was the 5K. We sucked it up though, and competed at a number of races – most of which were cold, wet and muddy thanks to cross country season being in the fall.
A few experiences in my first 5K were where my fear of racing was first realized, or perhaps where it originated. I stood on the start line with my teammates at our very first race, nervous and wondering why on earth I’d decided this would be a good idea. Never mind butterflies in my stomach – this felt more like my insides were doing backflips and cartwheels.
The gun went off, we ran, mud flying everywhere. This particular meet was on a golf course, and there was a narrow cart path very soon off the start that all 200+ of us had to run along. One minute I was on my feet. The next, I had both hands on the ground trying to break my fall after tripping on someone’s shoe, while simultaneously just barely avoiding a kick in the face by the girl ahead. Way to start a season, right?
Luckily the rest was fine. I didn’t barf. I didn’t get kicked or tripped. The post-race fun of cheering the guys from our team on and taking pictures temporarily clouded my memory of the drama I’d just experienced, and what do ya know, I turned up for more 5Ks with the team.
Between those university years and the beginning of 2014, I haven’t done much racing at all. Running a full marathon and qualifying for Boston was crossed off the bucket list in 2007, and while the idea of doing Boston sounded great, deep down I didn’t really want to run another marathon. It would mean subjecting my body to yet another 26.2 miles (demanding, but doable), but more deterring was the though of voluntarily exposing myself to yet another rollercoaster-in-my-stomach situation. I LOVED running (and that love only continues to grow), but I didn’t love racing.
At the end of 2013 when I was thinking about my goals for 2014, I asked myself some questions. One of these was “what scares you?” As you may have expected, racing was one of the first things that came to mind. I decided that 2014 was going to be the year to overcome that fear, and proceeded to sign up for tons of them.
With 6 pretty decent races behind me so far this year, I’d be lying if I said I don’t get pre-race jitters. In fact, it’d be a bad thing if that were the case because being too relaxed before competing can be just as bad as being too nervous. However, I’ve come up with some ways to significantly decrease the “why-on-earth-did-you-sign-up-for-this” feeling, and if you’re a nervous runner, they might help you too.
6 strategies for calming pre-race nerves
Do more races. “Why pay money to feel unnecessarily stressed out and anxious when I could just go out for a nice long run on my own?” was my old mentality, and some days, I still feel that way. However, exposing myself to the parts of racing that used to scare me most (the starting line and first 5-10 minutes when everyone’s trying to find their stride) has helped me feel more comfortable, and as a result, perform better.
Pack the night before. No matter how tired you are the night before a race, this is one thing that I never recommend leaving until the morning of. Even early risers like myself don’t always have all the brain gears turning properly after rolling out of bed, and the last thing you want to do is turn up to your race and forget your socks, shoes, fuel, Garmin, etc. Your adrenaline will be a-flowing in the hours leading up to your race and not having the things you need with you can make that time more stressful than it needs to be.
Have a plan (and a few plan Bs). The more familiar with the course you are, the easier it’ll be to do this. If you know there are a lot of hills in the beginning of the run for example, you might make a decision to take them easy, then go harder towards the middle/end when you know it’s going to be pancake-flat. You might decide that your plan is to run the first half of the race in xx:xx:xx time, then negative split on the second half. Maybe you have a specific pace that you want to run each mile/km at in order to finish with a new PR. But what if you get a cramp, or maybe you start to get too hot because it’s a sunny day?
That’s why you need some plan B’s. For example, “If I get too hot or feel like I’m working too hard, I’ll grab water at the next aid station and walk until I finish it.” Or, “If I can’t hit my target pace after x number of miles, I’m going to stop looking at my watch and instead focus on making sure my form is good.” Oh, and it also helps to have some plan B outfits in mind in case you wake up on race morning to unexpected weather conditions. In my opinion, any chance of showers makes wearing a hat even more essential than on a sunny day – I can’t stand getting rain in my eyes!
Think of it as a great big group run. I know it’s kinda hard when everyone has a race number pinned to their shirts and there’s a big line that says “START” staring at you, but just try. Unless you have super duper competitive running buddies, group runs typically have a positive, friendly atmosphere.
Stop comparing. No matter how experienced you are, there will always be people who are faster and slower than you. So don’t stress about that girl or guy over there decked out from head to toe in compression gear and fancy sunglasses. You don’t have to be a pro to wear pro-looking gear – you just have to buy it.
Block out negative thoughts. This is one that takes lots of practice, but it’s super powerful. If you think that a huge catastrophe is going to happen, you’ll waste valuable energy on worrying, rather than channeling it into a good race. So talk to yourself in a positive way – tell yourself things like “my legs feel strong”, “I’m so much fitter than I was at this time last year”, “I love being around so many high-energy people”, “I can’t wait to celebrate after I cross the finish line”…. you get the idea.
And if it’s not 100% true? Tell yourself anyway. Fake it till you make it is the name of the game, and when all else fails… just think of Ryan.
He’s got your back.
So tell me…
- Do you get bad pre-race nerves? Any secrets for calming them down?
- What about in other situations? What gets your stomach flip-flopping and how do you deal with it?