How to Cope with Pre-Race Jitters
No matter how well we train, we still get those butterflies flapping in our bellies before our legs take off on race day. It doesn’t matter if it’s our first race ever, of the year, or the umpteenth event. We just can’t shake those pre-race jitters. In fact, even seasoned marathoners tend to feel anxiety when tapering for their event.
The good news is that this is normal. As long as you put in the work when it comes to training, on race day you will be fine. Of course, this is easier said than done. Despite sticking to a training plan, the morning of the race can leave runners with knots of nerves in their stomach and the feeling like they need to keep hitting the toilet.
Runners don’t need to be scared about signing up for a race. Here’s exactly how to cope with those pre-race jitters.
Just Breathe… and Believe.
Inhale deeply, hold your breath for a moment and let out all the negativity and nervousness. It sounds like the most simple exercise to do, but studies have found that slow, deep breaths can calm the mind. A great technique to use is to visualize rolling up all the pre-race jitters into a red (which represents aggression) ball at the bottom of your feet. Inhale slowly and visualize the ball moving in and up through the feet, up the legs to the stomach and to the chest. Then breathe out and visualize all this ball of worries exploding into a blue (which represents calmness) cloud of dust, ridding the body of all anxiety.
Controlling your breath keeps the runner’s mind off of worries and fear of the unknown while giving them something to be in control of.
Expect the Unexpected… But Prepare.
Runners can control their breathing, but can’t control everything about the race. And that’s okay. Go into it knowing that sometimes things go wrong. This could mean bad weather on race morning. Instead, prepare in advance for this worst-case scenario and practice running in the rain so when race day comes you won’t panic.
A good rule of thumb is nothing new on race day. Live by this motto and never forget it. This means no new shoes in case they cause blisters, and no new breakfast or gels during to prevent stomach issues.
No matter how well a runner prepares, sometimes the unexpected still happens. Take for example a trail race I was very prepared for. Expecting to run fast and be in the lead pack at this small event, I and the other speedy racers found ourselves lost on the course. We did not plan for this to happen, but it did. There went a PR and possibility of placing for the age group. However, it was still a good run and we got to enjoy the nature around us. All that matters, in the end, is that we all had fun.
Run the Course
Everyone experiences nerves differently. For some, this means sweaty palms. For others, it means racing to the bathroom. Others might have a pounding heart. While some can just shake all these off at the starting line, others might feel sick with nerves. If you fall into that boat, run the course before the race so you know what to expect. Races usually give participants a course map prior to the event, so runners know what to practice for while training or be able to run some or all of the course prior to the race. That way on race day, you can mentally prepare by telling yourself you’ve been there, done that.
Just Run… and Have Fun.
The best advice may be to run the race as if it were any other run. Forget that it is chip timed. Forget that it is, in fact, a race. Treat it in your mind as if it were an everyday run. And be positive. Think of it as a run shared with lots of other runners who are all there right with you and want you to succeed.
If you have run three miles before, you can absolutely finish your 5k. For longer races, use this mentality and apply it to the distance. For example, you ran 10 miles when training for your half so get to mile 10 and then what’s 3 more? You got this!
Even if you are super competitive, just try to enjoy yourself. Running races should be fun! This might mean not looking down—or dare we say— don’t bring your Garmin or other running watch. Try to be in the moment.
Use the pre-race jitters to fuel your fire in the beginning. Know that once you get started you will be fine. Take in all the sights, feed off the other runner’s energy and the crowd of cheerleaders and don’t forget to smile. Before you know it, you will be crossing that finish line.