Handling pre-race (or pre-hard workouts for that matter!) anxiety and nerves is something every runner deals with. There is always a certain level of pressure regardless of the situation; some pressure is a good thing because it allows us to elevate our game to the necessary level.
There is a swell of emotions all warring inside ourselves regardless of outward appearances; the difference between the runners that you can see this tumult in their faces from those you can’t is how well the athlete is able to channel, compartmentalize, and utilize these feelings to their benefit. All of the nerves, the wanting to do your best, the fear of wondering if you’ll be able to handle the pain, wondering if you’ll beat so-and-so, hoping you hit a certain time, questioning whether you need one more bathroom stop…all of that is normal, but depending on how you handle and cope with everything going on inside your brain translates to how well your body is able to perform.
Running is a mental sport. Here are five tips that I feel work to getting a handle on your brain before a race or hard workout so that you can put them to work, to HELP you step up and be the gamer you want to be:
* Visualization: I did an entire post on this but the power of self-visualization is one that I feel is huge. the thing though, is that it works with practice and something you should be doing before the actual event/workout in order to hone your skills. Start in a quite room and imagine going through the race or workout just as you’d like it to play out; from the last stride of your warm-up to battling through that last interval. Anticipate the pain and practice staying relaxed. Do this enough and begin imagining on your warm-up for the race and workout and then remember how that relaxed feeling felt.
* Mantras: Many runners have a short phrase or saying that means something to them. It can be anything from ‘I am strong’, ‘Smooth, relaxed, fast’, ‘I am going to kick butt,’ to others like ‘Make it one more step then one more mile’ or ‘Chocolate chocolate chocolate’ chanted in time with your footfalls. The thing is to pick something that resonates with YOU so that when you repeat it to yourself when you’re tired, hurting mid-race, or nervous just before the starting gun. It reminds you of the runner you want to be and that your hard work is FOR something.
* Repetition: Constants feel safe, they are orderly when other things may be feeling out of our control. Having something we know we can rely on because it is always the same works to relax us and give us something even, sane, and logical to focus on. It works as a distraction. Have a warm-up routine including easy running, drills, strides and stretches that you do THE SAME way each and every hard workout and race. Get it honed to the point where your body can go through the motions on auto-pilot; though as you go through each step just focus on the moment, the single drill, the process. Then push any anxiety or jitters out of your mind…stay in the present and let the future take care of itself.
* Talk do your body: This one is a tip to do during the actual workout or race at the point where the hurting starts up. Rather than acknowledge that pain is present and only going to get worse (I mean let’s be honest we all know it will…hehe!) check in with the physical. Remind yourself to relax your jaw, your shoulders, check that your arms are swinging front to back and not across your body, do a form check. Count your strides and make sure you are being efficient there, ensure that your breathing is controlled and even. If you have to, shake out your arms for a quick way to relax any tension built up there. Channel your thoughts to physical things you can control and not the pain.
* Confidence: You might think you can’t force confidence in yourself but hear me out…to get to the starting line or point you are already has taken a lot of hard work. Running isn’t for slackers, so take confidence in your abilities and all you’ve done thus far. Think back to the hard workouts where you fought the pain and won out; remember beastly long runs you never thought you could do and you ran; remind yourself that you’ve done such-and-such workout before and that HAD to hurt a heck of a lot more than whatever you’re about to do. Finally, remember that running isn’t a ‘luck sport’ and that you’ve done all within your power to achieve the goals you set…be confident in yourself and your abilities and then be excited to perform at the level you DESERVE to.
The truth is that every single runner thinks the same sorts of things before a race and yes, even hard workouts. Everyone has doubts at times, nerves, and the same hopes that they do excel and perform well in whatever they are getting ready for. But you have to tune out all that white noise and chatter to zone in to the frame of mind necessary to achieve those things.
1) How do you hype yourself up to the gamer level for races or hard workouts?
2) How do you channel the nerves and use them to your advantage?
I would force the race out of my mind two days out from the event and then only begin to think about it again when I started my warm-up. From there I’d stay in the moment and focus on the routine of things.
3) How do you stay confident in yourself and your abilities?
Remembering other workouts where I was really tough and did well helps me a lot.