Race day is fast approaching. As the days and hours count down, your nerves continue to build with every tick of the clock. Does this sound familiar? It is only natural to feel anxious about what lies ahead. But the questions and doubts we all have can be quieted. Use these simple strategies to manage your doubts and let those nerves help—not hinder—you.
It's All Good
First of all, it's natural and good to have some nerves before a race. Anytime something means a lot to us, we try to process the emotions we feel. Those nerves simply mean we want to do well. Accept that the nerves are a good and normal way to feel. By not fighting them, we tend to relax and bring them down to a manageable, positive level.
Put Them In The Cupboard
Nerves are energy—you’ve heard of nervous energy, right? Learn to save that pre-race energy for the toughest part of the race when you will need it. I like to tell athletes to visualize taking that nervous energy and putting it in a jar, and then place that jar in a mental cupboard. When the race gets tough and the moment of doubt threatens sabotage, open up the cupboard and pull that energy out. It may sound hokey, but the more effectively we can store away our pre-race nerves, the more helpful that energy will be during that rough patch of a race.
Slay The Monster
If we dwell on those pre-race jitters, they become a big bad monster that burns off our energy levels. If we learn to redirect our focus, they quickly go away. The best weapon to change our focus is to start going over a process. I like to have my athletes go through a checklist of how their race day will go from the time they wake up to the time they finish their cool down. By taking a step by step approach, they learn to focus on the task at hand. The more detailed your checklist, the more effective it will be in changing your focus.
Don’t question your capabilities; focus on the possibilities. Look for the positive in every doubt that pops up. I like to turn things into an "I am" or "I will" statement. Worried about going out too quick? “I will run smart and follow my plan.” Worried that you won't run as fast as you want? “I am well trained and prepared for this.” Simple affirmations such as those can do wonders. You’ll find yourself looking forward to race day.
Be A Boy Scout: Always Prepared
Know the course. Know where you'll park. Know what to eat the night before and the morning of the race. Know where to meet family and friends after the race. Have spare clothes, shoes, and socks in case Mother Nature fools the weatherman. By controlling what you can control, you’ll eliminate many of the frets that bite us on race day.
Nothing New On Race Day
This one speaks for itself. Get into your normal routine and do what you've done all through training. There is no magic elixir or fancy warm-up to try on race day. Following your normal ritual will help ease tension.
Keep It In Perspective
As the uneasiness builds, remember to keep everything in perspective. No matter how well or poorly the race goes, your friends and family will still love you. There won't be a firing squad at the finish line. The goal is to have a great experience. By realizing and focusing on that truth, you will be more likely to have a great experience.
Start incorporating some of these cues into your training as race day approaches. Mental focus takes practice, just like everything else in running. Take control of those nerves, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and make your next race day a happier, more successful experience.
Good Luck and Happy Racing!
Tim Cary is FLEET FEET's Assistant Training Manager, coach of the FLEET FEET-sponsored Runnababez Elite team, and manager of the FLEET FEET Racing Team. Over his 20 years of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors. Click here to receive Tim's weekly article via email.