Pre-race anxiety is normal for any athlete, for any competition
Whether it’s your first 5km or you’re gunning for 1st place at a competitive 100-miler, pre-race anxiety and nerves gets to almost everyone and it’s easy to start losing your cool weeks before the big event. In 2014 I placed second in two of Europe’s most difficult and most competitive 100+ mile mountain events (Tor des Geants in 76hrs 29mins and Ronda de Cims in 31hrs 20mins). Through self-expectation and the expectation of others, I experienced an immense amount of pre-race anxiety. Even as I write this, I am battling anxiety as I’ve got more big races and challenges coming up. The following are my personal tried-and-tested top-six strategies for overcoming and dealing with pre-race anxiety.
State your fears
Write your fears down on a sheet of paper. Order them from most pressing to least. What are you worried about? Aid stations? Competition? Time cut-offs? Getting lost? Identifying and labelling your anxieties is the first step to overcoming them. Once you’ve poured out your heart into this list, come up with the simplest solutions possible to each one. For instance, if your fear is race nutrition, look back at old races, talk to experienced friends, make a strategy and solve the problem now before the race.
Distance yourself from social media
Say sayonara to Facebook, Twitter and all social media outlets in the days prior to your event. Do your event research two to three weeks out and know the rules. However, absolutely NO GOOD will come from checking the most recent “race prediction article” or John Doe’s rant about how this year’s course is so much harder than last years. It’s wasted nerves, it’s wasted time and it’s wasted energy that you do not need to spend or occupy your mind with prior to the event. Distance yourself and focus on your own race.
Find your confidence
Pull up your old race reports. Read through them again, what made this race successful? What made this race unsuccessful? Write down the things you did right and the things you did wrong during that race and write down how you will or will not do those things during this upcoming event. Your failures and your accomplishments are gold mines of good advice. If you keep a training log, pull it down from your fridge and go over it. Highlight the hardest workout you completed each week, think back to how hard you worked that day, how much you improved week after week and assure yourself that you are bringing all of that to the table at the race.
Do speed workouts
Don’t be scared to do speed workouts the week before the race, but keep them short! Ever felt “flat” or “out of shape” the day before a race? Two short speed workouts the week before a big event can cure that. Tapering is definitely an art, but mixing in a couple of 200 meter pick-ups and even 400 meter repeats won’t hurt you even two days out from the event. A little speed work will invigorate you leaving you feeling fresh, strong and ready to take on the race.
Run the day before the event
Run the day before the race but keep it more like a meditation than anything else. Don’t go run a hard 20 miles, rather choose your favourite local route or if you’re far from home, choose a short trail in the area that interests you that you might not get to see during the actual event.
Breathe it out
If running before the event is absolutely against your personal policy, then join a yoga or meditation class. The deep breathing and stretching will not only calm your heart-rate but calm your mind and give you the focus you need before the event.