Run Like No One is Watching: Understand your pressure and use those race day nerves to your benefit

I love 80′s music, certain songs come on and instantly I feel compelled to yell horribly off key and bust into what I’d try to call moves. I’m the dork in the car who sings along to the music, jiggling in her seat, and fooling herself into believing the windows are as tinted as a rock-star’s limo. Surely it’s fun and easy to dance like no one is watching, but do you run like no one is watching?

woman runner

You make running look good, and running makes you look good too! ;)


Running is one of those incredibly unique sports that is for the most part solely up to you. You’re in control, the opportunity to succeed and improve is in your hands, the workouts are yours to do or skip, when you step to the line in the end it’s a race between you and yourself. There can be the team aspect of course, running is also one tight community; your teammates and coaches are there for support and guidance but again it comes down to you and those legs. Are you tough enough to run like no one is watching? Are you brave enough to dream like no one is watching?

Pressure. Stress. Nerves. These are all completely normal for races, hard workouts, stepping into a new training group, and plenty of other situations. You want to do well, you have goals you’d like to achieve…you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. You won’t want to look like you don’t belong. You don’t want to publicly fail. You don’t want to fall short of your goals in front of everyone else. That last one is the blaring reason so many can be afraid of setting, or stating, their goals in the first place.

Pressure, stress, and nerves are a few of the biggest hurdles in life and in running. Taken to the extreme they are what cause athletes to have to down bottles of Pepto at the starting line and they are the things that cause runners to just ‘choke.’ BUT they are also a good thing, they indicate you care enough to want to do well and that NOT accomplishing what you set out to do matters to you. In order to use this pressure, stress, and nerves to your benefit you have to ask yourself: Where are they coming from?

* Internal: These stressors are coming from you; you are the driving source behind these feelings. You are the one who feels compelled to put yourself out there, do the work, hit certain times, places, and goals.

* External: Outside sources of stress fall into this category; these are your coaches, parents, friends, teammates, random people in the stands, anonymous commenters on some message board.

* Both: Here is the tricky part, it’s easy to get these two interconnected and so woven together even you have a hard time differentiating where this stress and pressure is coming from. You could be placing extra pressure on yourself because you want to do well for your coach; even though they haven’t said a thing you’re assuming it’s there and then it manifests itself. Conversely maybe your coach really did point blank say things to you and place that pressure there. It’s up to you to figure that out.
fast runner
Stop and think of your running, your personal goals; then find out WHERE any expectations of yourself are coming from. In the end the driving force needs to be from YOU. Running is too grueling a sport to last if you’re doing it for anyone other than yourself.

Even if there is stress and pressure coming in externally it is again up to YOU to manage it or block it out. Managing it means that most likely at some point you’ll have team goals or a healthy amount of expectations placed on you from a coach or someone who matters; that can be a good thing and propel you to push yourself so long as you channel it in the right manner.

Having a coach or teammate tell you that you can run faster than you think allows you to dream big enough that you aim higher. Having an anonymous commenter say that you suck and will burn out is something to ignore, don’t allow those words to trickle into your thoughts and add unnecessary stress for your next race.

It’s hard to battle nerves and anxieties…but running should be a passion and opportunity for you to watch your own hard work pay off. Ultimately, who really cares if someone in the stands does watch you crash and burn if you have a bad race? Running like no one is watching means that you had the courage to set a goal for yourself, work for it, and line up with the intention to go for it. In every race, run, or workout there is the possibility that you’ll achieve your goal for the day, but there is the chance you’ll fall short. There is always another race, workout, run…YOU can be upset if you missed that goal and use it for motivation to do better next time (learn from the experience) but YOU would be the one relishing if you achieved it.

Are you tough enough to run like no one is watching? Are you brave enough to dream like no one is watching?

1) How do you manage any pressure, stress or nerves associated with running, hard workouts or races?

2) How do you balance having just enough of these coming internally and channel them to propel you to do better and achieve certain goals?
I’ve always loved running myself and if anything always my own toughest critic; but was able to turn my ‘stress’ into excitement to run well and step it up when I got to the line. Tough to explain, but I guess I remained confident in myself and remembered previous workouts to indicate that I was capable of achieving such-and-such goal.

3) When it comes to external pressures; what are some instances where you’ve used that to improve your running and performance? What are some cases where it stood in your way?
I’ve had a couple awesome coaches who believed in me and when they told me I could do so-and-so I trusted them enough to then force myself into believing. :)

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18 thoughts on “Run Like No One is Watching: Understand your pressure and use those race day nerves to your benefit

  1. Nerves are always my biggest obstacle in a race. I honestly believe racing is 50% mental! Finding the perfect balance of being excited and calming your mental state is important to me. I like to remind myself that it’s just a race and no one cares about the finishing time except myself. I have a few key phrases to calm myself during the race as well.

    • yea, nerves can be the undoing to FAR too many talented and capable runners! i’m so glad u’ve found the right way to keep those nerves in check so u can kick booty! :) and mantras are an awesome trick i like as well. :)

  2. I don’t normally get stress/nervous for a hard workout, but for a race I usually get pumped full of nerves and so I blast hardcore music to get rid of some of it.
    I guess I know my body well enough that I can talk myself into giving more or less depening.
    My mom- she’s always been my supporter and when others are telling me I shouldn’t or I can’t my mom has always told me that I could and that’s really helped.

  3. This is an interesting concept for sure. I think lately I have been struggling with my internal ability to believe in myself and feel confident. Last year I was SO confident and this year for some reason I am just struggling. I am trying to find what it means to run for “me” again and am also trying to find different ways to motivate myself without feeling so pressured. Reading thsi post I am wondering if maybe I let too many of the outside pressures be those that are impacting my thoughts…so I get overwhelmed. I honestly like internal pressure because I usually fight back with confidence but when I worry too much about what others think then I get directed too far away from why I started running and love running in the first place. I hope this is making sense…I also wanted to say that I do think its good to sometimes have others throw out their goal ideas for me because they are often things I would never imagine thinking myself capable of…but then it gets put in my mind and I am amazed people think I am capable of that…so my confidence grows. haha! So i guess sometimes social peer pressure is good too;)

    My dad and brother are such good supports for me though. They keep me grounded and always focused on the perspective that is most important. They constantly remind me to reflect on why I enjoy getting out there day after day and are great at helping me take a step back to refocus when everything gets overwhelming or I get too far away from my true self!

    • family is great for that and i hope u know that it goes two ways…look how much ur journey has impacted ur younger brother! u inspire and motivate him too, isn’t it funny how going for your own dreams has the trickle down effect. :)

  4. I love love love 80′s music and I will just tell you when it comes on where ever it might be I sing I dance and whatever else I feel like doing. I even dance while I am running. I like to put certain 80′ s songs in certain places in my long run playlist to perk Me up with. A little dancing.

  5. This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I’ve been a social
    media addict, but then using it to bludgeon myself with the mileage and accomplishments of faster blogger runners, feeling insecure and not wanting to post my times since they don’t match up to some twitter runner I’m following, or feeling pressure to run a certain time in an upcoming event because, damn it, I’m gonna have to tweet or post my time, and fearing ‘they’re all gonna laugh at you.” Yes, if we only knew how little others really pay attention to our racing times. I try to remind myself I don’t want my Ego to show up and watch me run, I want my ID, my primal self to come out and ROAR loud.

    • ahhh, u brought up one excellent point and something that i think can be a major pitfall to the social media storm: getting competitive for no other reason than to one up a blogger, tweeter, or anonymous person. it’s tough but letting go of the ego is best for u and not getting sucked into the whole numbers and where do i stack up against a random person…and keep in mind on the web someone can say anything. i mean, u kno i just ran a 4 min. mile, so beat that. ;)

  6. The independent aspect of running is one of the things I really love about it :) Running like no one is watching also rings true for me because I think it works on both ends of the spectrum – being able to go out hard and give it everything, even if you look a bit crazy in the process ;) , but also being able to go out and just do your best and aim for the goal you set, even if that means not overtaking people or running ‘fast’ or whatever.

    • okay, as for looking crazy, i’m SURE people think i’m out of my mind sounding like a Clydesdale in the past on the gym treadmill doing a tempo run…but i’m okay with that. ;)

  7. Love this!! I always struggle with internal pressure. Luckily all my external influences- coaches, parents etc. have been amazing and have never been a negative influence. An if people are trying to bring me down, well that just makes me run harder! For me,

    • sorry, for me it’s important to get into my zone before a race by getting away from everyone else so I can focus on my race! :) Again, I love how much you can put all of this into words! Hope you’re having an awesome week!!

    • i’m like u and the only pressure i feel is from myself and wanting to do well, i think the only way for runners to be happy is with the kind/supportive parents and coaches like u describe, i’ve been lucky in that department too. :)

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