Race Day Nerves…
En route to my first race of the season, my A race, or any race for that matter, I start to feel something nagging at me in the back of my mind. I brush it off, shelving it for later. As I arrive at the venue, I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the athletes and volunteers around me. At first I experience excitement but that soon is replaced with butterflies in my stomach. Suddenly I hear a voice in my head asking things such as: “Do I fit in here?”; “Do I know what I am doing?”; “Did I train enough?”; “Will I finish?”. At this point, anything can creep into my thoughts. I try and push it aside as I continue getting ready for the race start. As I squish into my wetsuit and head to the water, full on stomach turning is occurring, fatigue along with shortness of breath and self-doubt has taken over. My nerves have just gotten the best of me.
We ask ourselves how such a planned out and prepared for event can all of a sudden turn into worry and fear. At this point we let the nerves drift too far and enter into the fight-or-flight response. The autonomic nervous system automatically puts the body on alert and the adrenal cortex automatically releases stress hormone. Physically, breathing becomes more rapid, heart rate raises and metabolism is increased. This can lead to difficulty focusing. Race day nerves are not all bad though – it’s just a matter of how far we take them. Controlled nerves can be very good; increasing our alertness and contributing to our competitive edge.
There is no quick fix to this state. It can happen to any athlete at any level. It’s just a matter of how we manage this situation. Below are a few tips that have helped me and could help you…
- Understand that stressed nerves are ok. They are part of you. You have invested the time; you are experiencing these nerves because you care about your performance.
- Reframe. Use the extra adrenaline as a boost. Rather than thinking I won’t do well, tell yourself I am excited to be here.
- Stop comparing. You are here for you. Your successes are yours, this journey is for you.
- Control your breathing. Take some deep breaths to help regulate anxiety, relax and release muscle tension.
- Slow down and take your time. Stay focused on the present and stick to your routine.
- Trust your training. Focus not on the training days missed, but rather on the hard work you have done to get here. You have met the training challenges; your training successes have prepared you for race day.
- Visualize both the positive and negative. Imagining yourself succeeding in your race and achieving your goals can help you train your mind to act the way you want it to before and during a race. You should also visualize what can go wrong and the strategies for dealing with them. Let’s be honest, perfect race days don’t come along often so being prepared helps cope with anxiety.
- Come prepared with a game plan. Have mental strategies for managing the downs and focusing on the ups.
In the end, dealing with race day anxiety is very personal and everyone has their own ways of managing it. As one of my childhood coaches pointed out often:
Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right – Henry Ford. The result we are striving for is to Have Fun – Live in the moment, the journey is yours!