Nervous about your upcoming race? Don’t worry, the pre-race jitters are a normal part of competition. Everyone experiences them, even the elites! You’ve put a lot of effort into your training and care about your performance so of course you’re nervous.
To ease your nerves we’ve complied some common pre-race jitters as well as some advice to cope with them.
1. SECOND-GUESSING SYNDROME
As the race gets closer the realization starts to hit–Everything I’ve done to prepare for this race is wrong! You’re thinking I should have run more intervals. My long runs weren’t long enough. I didn’t do nearly enough hill work. That gel packet upset my stomach on one long run should I not eat it on race day? Did I rest too much?!
Relax. The training you scheduled and followed was the training you needed. Even if your training wasn’t perfect, chances are good that you’re fit to race.
2. SPONTANEOUS INJURIES
It never fails. During your short taper runs you’ll suddenly be overwhelmed with aches and pains. Ankles will feel twisted, knees will hurt and you’ll feel short of breath from tired legs.
Have no fear though. We’re always that injured. Anyone who trains hard, like you have, will develop sore spots. Training breaks down muscle so that it can rebuild stronger. Normally, we shrug off these minor aches and pains–until race anxiety amplifies them, creating the illusion of major injury. Once race morning arrives and you start running…all those pre-race jitter injuries will suddenly disappear!
3. ROUTINE CHANGES
Nervous runners sometimes change their daily routines too much when a race is approaching. They might skip work, avoid stairs, do too much extra stretching and lay on the couch for multiple days. But when our bodies operate outside our normal routine it has a tendency to increase our anxiety even more.
Instead of altering your daily life, stay within your comfort zone. Walk the dog, go to work or school, wash the car, take out the garbage and stick to your taper. It’s known that most great performances come when you’re not trying to do it.
4. FOOD EXPERIMENTATION
Runners have been seeking better racing through diet since carboloading became popular in the 60’s. But our stomachs can be finicky. Diet changes should be tested out long before race week. New diets or even a slight change in your regular diet can lead to new and unpleasant gastrointestinal reactions. Your stomach will already be upset from race nervousness, don’t make it worse by trying that new fad diet 2 weeks before race day.
Another thing to think about with diet, is your food intake volume. If you haven’t been carboloading before your long runs, don’t go to the all you can eat spaghetti dinner the night before the race! Remember, stick to the volume of food you’ve been eating before training runs, you don’t want to carbo-unload during the event.
5. EASY ON THE WARM-UP
You’re near the starting line, waiting for the port-o-potty and ready to begin your race warm-up. You spot what looks to be an elite runner doing a mini-speed session for their warm-up. Immediately you think, wait, should I be doing that for my warm-up?! No you shouldn’t! By now you know race day is no time to experiment with anything, even your simple warm-up. Your body has adapted to the warm-up rhythm you’ve been doing throughout training, so stick to your routine.
6. START SLOW!
Race day is here, your adrenaline jitters are pumping and it’s so tempting to go out hard the first portion of a race. Reign yourself in. Nothing can be more destructive to a race performance than a fast start. The laws of physiology do not change from your training runs to races. You don’t sprint the first mile of a 10-mile run, you don’t put yourself into oxygen debt the first ten minutes of a long run and you don’t blow your legs out in the first half mile, so why do that on race day? Make a conscious effort to hold yourself back. There will be plenty of miles to make up time if you feel good and want to.
Remember the phrase, slow and steady wins the race…it wins the race your running with yourself.
7. BRAIN OFF – LEGS ON
Runners can become so blinded and obsessed by pace calculations, weather reports, course concerns, shoe decisions, race day nutrition and running form to the point where they fail to remember that a race is just another run. It’s impossible to plan ahead for every conceivable aspect of a race, there are simply too many variables. Stop overthinking every detail, be adaptable and your jitters will disappear.
A good, successful race is one in which we find our correct effort level for that day, maintain it from start to finish and feel good at the end. Successful runners plan to avoid race jitters by accepting that their effort will be sufficient.