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10 Tips for Combating Nervousness Before a Race

Debra writes…I know you’ve done many marathons and other races and you have the Chicago marathon coming up this weekend, do you get nervous even after doing so many? I don’t get sick or anything, but I always wish I could just thoroughly enjoy the time before and not feel anxiety. Once I start, I’m fine and enjoy everything about racing. It’s the week to few days before that I get a bit butterflyish in the belly. Any tips or tricks?

The Average Joggler responds…
These are great questions and ones not written about on JYAJ before. No doubt everyone has experienced feelings of nervousness and anxiety before a big race. I’m no different. Even after joggling 24 marathons and dozens of other races, I still get a touch queasy leading up to race day.

Why Do You Get Nervous

According to the experts, the physical reaction you feel (stomach queasiness, shakiness, distracted mind) are a result of the “fight or flight” impulse. The sympathetic nervous system causes the release of various hormones into the body including epinephrine (adrenalin). It is essentially preparing your body for peak performance and a moment’s notice. Thank our evolutionary history for the unpleasant feelings.

The good news is that feelings like are reflective of the fact that you are prepared for the upcoming race. Your body is ready to go. It’s more of a problem if you don’t have them at least a little. Here are some ways that you can use to deal with these natural feelings.

10 Tips for Dealing with Pre-Race Nervousness

1. Forget time goals. One thing that significantly adds to nervousness is trying to achieve a certain time. Adding the pressure of a specific achievement like a PR or qualifying for Boston, magnifies your nervous feelings. If race enjoyment is what you desire, forget about your time goals. Set different goals like joggling a drop-free race or meeting as many other runners during the race as you can. Anything but time and place.

2. Run with someone else. And if it gets too hard not to set a time goal when running the race alone, run the race with a slower, less experienced friend. Your goal then becomes helping them finish the race. This is often as satisfying as setting a PR and longer lasting.

But assuming, you want to run your fastest time ever, try some of these tips.

3. Do lots of races. While I still get nervous before any race, the feelings are not nearly as intense as they once were. You’ll learn to anticipate your feelings and they’ll be much easier to deal with.

4. Yoga. Beyond the obvious stretching benefits to yoga, there are mental ones that help calm you down. It teaches you to notice your breathing and how to achieve serenity on command. You can do it for free in your own home by watching the Yogamazing podcast.

5. Review your training. When you put together your training program you logically figure out what it will take for you to achieve a certain time. If you’ve followed the program then trust that you are prepared. Go back and look at your workouts (you did write them all down right?) This evidence can help provide confidence and combat the uneasiness caused by uncertainty.

6. Visualize the race. At the Chicago Marathon expo they have a video of the entire course. They run through it in about 5 minutes. This provides great visual fodder for you to rehearse the race numerous times before actually doing it. And according to experts, rehearsing something in your mind is almost as good as actually doing it. For races that don’t have nifty videos, review the course map. Memorize it. “See” yourself running that route.

7. Plan all that you can. Some of the pre-race nerves is anxiety that you’ll be unprepared for the race. You’re worried you’ll forget some key piece of equipment (timing chip, watch, joggling balls) or maybe show up late. To combat these feelings, make arrangements a few days before the race. Pick the clothes you’ll wear, the times you wake up and leave, the mode of transportation, etc. Remain flexible, but sketching out a plan helps calm your nerves and reduces race day anxiety.

8. Run to reduce nerves. Since nerves are the result of hormones flowing through your body, you can reduce their impact with physical activity. Now, don’t do any highly intense, long runs before your race, but running a few slow miles goes a long way to soothing your spirit. The day before a marathon, I like to do a 20-30 minute run just to keep the legs warm and the nerves down.

9. Keep busy. When you’re nervous, do some non-running activity you enjoy. This is easy for jugglers as there’s always a new trick you could be working on. But I also like to play the ukulele, video games, and card games like euchre. Or I’ll walk around my neighborhood, write, read, or listen to audio books & podcasts. Productive distraction is the key.

10. Embrace the nerves. Finally, when all else fails, embrace the feeling. Look at your inner self and identify what’s going on. Take a few moments, close your eyes and just observe how you feel. Then say out loud all the things you recognize. “My stomach feels queasy”, “I hear a ringing in my ear”, etc. Write these things down. Then review your previous feelings before each race. They’ll become an old friend and won’t have nearly as much power over you.

Being nervous before a race is a good thing. It means you’ve trained hard and your body is ready to go. Follow some of the tips above and you’ll be certain to better enjoy the days leading up to the race.

Good luck and joggle on.

Do you have any tips for dealing with pre-race nerves?  Leave a comment and let the rest of the community know.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. The pre-race nerve feeling is a form of acute stress. Humans have evolved with acute stress in order to survive in situations such as being chased by a predator. It will help you run faster in the race because stress shuts down all unnecessary processes of the body (digestion, immunity, etc.) except for those that will help in the situation (blood flow, muscle control, etc.). Trying to size down the race is one thing that I always do, pretending it is just a training run with a lot of other people. By the halfway point, I no longer have the same stress so I begin to push forward and take it seriously.

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