A pit in your stomach.
It’s that time of year, running friends. Race time!
Any of that sound familiar? You could be suffering from pre-race anxiety. Pre-race anxiety, otherwise known as performance anxiety, is extremely common and 100% natural. Pre-race jitters are different from the taper crazies – important not to get those two confused.
So the question is, how do you use performance anxiety to your advantage?
First, let’s talk about what it is and why it happens to the best of us on race day.
What are pre-race jitters?
Simply put, pre-race jitters are surges of adrenaline. Performance anxiety is your body’s way of ramping up for a “fight-or-flight” situation. In moments of necessary action, a flight-or-fight response is the difference between living to see another day or being crushed by adversity. Granted, performance arts and sports are definitely not a fight-or-flight situation, but our bodies don’t know that. What our bodies do know is that something major is expected of them, and this initiates an adrenaline response. Standing up in front of a crowd to give a speech, acting on stage or singing in front of a large audience, or even running a race all can elicit an adrenaline response.
How can I save my adrenaline for later?
A simple way to stall or lessen the adrenaline response of performance anxiety is to focus your mind on things you can control. For example, if you’re worried about being unfamiliar with the course, one thing you can control is your pace. Instead of worrying about the course, think how hard you’ve worked on running a specific pace instead. Another example would be the weather – if the weather may be unfavorable, think about your playlist and how it can help you motor through your toughest miles.
Some athletes use a form of meditation to get through performance anxiety. This is called centering, and it was developed by Dr. Nideffer, a renowned sport psychologist. With centering, the athlete focuses on cue words and controlled breathing to restore order amongst the pre-race chaos. By taking deep, controlled breaths, the athlete can focus on performance instead of nerves.
My pre-race jitters
I get pre-race jitters every time I race. It used to be so bad that I would stew and dwell for up to a week before go time. I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t run. I get anxious about the “unknown” factors – race course, weather, being in an unfamiliar city – those kinds of things.
I remember my first 10-mile race. It was my first race of any distance farther than a 5K. I trained through winter diligently but I only trained on the treadmill. When race week arrived, I was a bundle of nerves. I could eat but my stomach was in major upheaval. There was nothing I could do to calm myself down. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to complete the distance since I had never in my life run 10 miles before. I was also nervous because I was running with a huge group of people I had never met before in a city I had never been to before. Total recipe for disaster. Turns out all was good, but still…
Last year before my first full marathon, I was a mess. I was injured and I had a million thoughts racing through my mind. During the last taper week, I had a fight with a training partner. I just wanted to finish and not be the only one of my group of training friends to not get that medal. But I was terrified what was going to happen with my injury And again, I had never run 26.2 miles. All those variables really got in my head.
Obviously in both cases I had done the training and there was no way I wasn’t going to complete the race (well, the marathon was a high probability I wouldn’t – but I stubbornly did!), but in both cases I had never run the distance and didn’t know what to expect. There were a lot of “unknown” variables – some I could control, others I couldn’t.
Now as a more seasoned racer, I use my pre-race anxiety to my benefit. I center my thinking. I envision how the race will go. I give myself a proverbial pat on the back before I even get to the starting line. I focus my anxiety into positives instead of negatives. By doing so, I literally transform my anxiety into adrenaline to carry me through the race and on to the finish. I also try to meet up with people at every race – either new friends or those I’ve met from the local racing circuit a few times before. It helps to soothe the soul when you’re in good company.
Tips to Soothe Your Soul
Take a deep breath. Picture yourself at the race, then at the starting line. Picture yourself running the course. And finally, picture yourself crossing the finish line. Breathe through your diaphragm with slow and controlled breaths. Soak in the experience. Envision every minute detail of the day all the way from what you’re going to wear to where you’ll park to getting the medal at the end of the race. And when you start to feel panicked again, take a deep breath and return to the positives. As soon as you feel your energy turning negative, stop it in its tracks.
If you find yourself questioning, panicking, unable to focus and when you can focus you only see the bad stuff, it’s time to try centering. It will change your life, I promise.
You might also want to look into some of the different herbal treatments out there, designed to reduce the symptoms of your nerves. One of my friends, who often feels anxious before a big race, uses hemp oil to manage her anxiety. Another friend of mine uses psilocybin or magic mushrooms. There is a lot of research out there to suggest that natural products and psychedelics can have a mood-boosting impact on your mind and body. For example, you can Click here to learn about some of the most popular types of magic mushrooms. Of course, as with anything health-related you should always speak to a doctor before trying anything new. I think, ultimately, it is simply a case of finding what works for you.
And above all else, you must trust the training. I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ve put in the work. You know you’re more than capable. Go and get it. You’ve got this!
Just by making these very simple changes to your way of thinking will prove beneficial on so many levels. Get it!!
And before you go, I wish you a very happy St. Patty’s Day! If you’re out celebrating, act responsibly, mmkay?
TALK TO ME!
Do you use any sort of meditation or centering to calm your pre-race jitters?
What’s your favorite part of racing? Least favorite part?