How to Overcome Your Fear of Racing
Many newbie (and even non-newbie) runners can relate to the nerves and anxiety that often comes with thinking about and signing up for their first running race. For some runners, it took months and years to find the motivation and desire to even get out and run period, even if that running was totally casual and at whatever pace and distance felt comfortable and manageable. But thinking about running and completing a race can feel downright overwhelming. The pressure of HAVING to complete a certain number of miles within a specified time range might make you turn back and stick to just running on your own. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with that, every runner should experience the adrenaline and thrill of racing at least once in their running career. And for most folks, overcoming the anxiety and fear of racing is the hardest part!
Find The Right Training Plan
A lot of runners fear that they will wake up on the morning of their race and be completely unprepared for what lies ahead of them. And the sheer not knowing what exactly the race entails leaves us in the dark and biting our nails in anticipation. How many hills are there? Just how steep are they? How many runners will be surrounding me? Will there be aid stations? What if I need water when I’m not at an aid station? How do I plan for the weather or inclement weather conditions? What is my fueling strategy? WHAT WILL I WEAR?!
While attending the pre-race exposition is often very helpful in answering questions about the race itself, race route, and race course (and keeping an eye on the weather and seeking out trusted advice from seasoned runners you know or follow on social media about how to dress and prepare for different weather conditions), the best thing you can do to prepare yourself lies in what you do in the days and weeks before the race. This means finding a training plan that builds your strength and endurance at the pace that is right for YOU. This may also mean going so far as to find a running coach to help guide you through race day (who can also provide you with a very personal and detailed training plan, and often even a great nutrition plan and strategy).
Recruit Your Support System
Like most things in life, accomplishing big time running goals like checking your first race off the to-do list is difficult if you do not have a solid support system in place of people who want to see you succeed. What your support group looks like may be different from other runners, but the important part is that you have one. First and most importantly is having the support of your family and friends – those people who are closest to you and know you the best. These people can look at your face and immediately know when you are scared, excited, happy, etc. These are the people you turn to when the going gets tough and you need a shoulder to cry on and someone to wrap you in a hug and tell you it is going to be okay. These are the people that have seen you at your worst and have rejoiced alongside you at your best. The sport of running can bring out the very best in all of us, but it is also hard. Training can be physically and mentally draining, and it definitely is not always easy which often means we may become irritable, moody, upset, irritated, and just downright exhausted. You need a support system made up of folks who will understand these emotions and realities, and who will stick beside you through it all. They will be the ones cheering you on at the end, and who you collapse into once you have crossed the finish line. They will be the ones who will help pick up the slack at home or in the office when you are just too tired to go get the groceries after your speed workout, or need to take the afternoon off to go enjoy some rest and relaxation because your aching muscles are screaming at you from your desk.
Another aspect that we already touched on is to find a running coach. These people help create custom training plans for you, to help you achieve your running goals in a way that is best and most attainable for you individually. They are the people you can talk to about how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and can serve as tremendous sources of support in regards to discussing your racing fears. Their job is to coach you through all of it, and they are trained to do so. If paying for a running coach is a bit too much of a stretch for you though, then reach out to other runners you know. These can be your friendly neighbor down the street who you see jogging in the mornings before work, or in more of an official setting like a running club. Runners understand where your fears are coming from. And a lot of them will have excellent insight and tips to encourage you, support you, and lift you up!
Think about the first time you dove off a diving board as a kid into the swimming pool. At first, the idea of plunging head first into a deep pool of water was probably a bit overwhelming. You felt confident that you could do it, you had seen your friends and family do it, and when you broke it down logically, there was really nothing to fear (so long as you were confident in your swimming abilities!). But the anxiety and fear probably didn’t really leave you until you just DID it. And even then, the next time you dove in might have still been a little intimidating… but it got easier with each dive. And then, pretty soon before you knew it, you were diving in left and right no problem!
This is known as positive reinforcement, and holds true for running and racing. A lot of it comes down to just DOING it! The more and more we do something, the less and less we fear it and become masters of it. Fortunately, with running, you can take it step by step which helps to get it done (it’s not so dramatic as a head-first dive!). One day you sign up for a race, then you spend the next weeks and months running on your own, then you talk through past racing experiences with trusted running friends, then you hammer out and nail down a racing strategy. Come race day, surround yourself with encouraging friends and family, and tap into all that good juju and good vibes you’d been building up! If you piece it out and take it step by step, you’re more likely to be able to stomach and swallow those fears of yours that had previously kept you from racing.