Anxiety over your race in the week leading up to the race and on the morning of the race can lead to some sleepless nights. The strategies for coping with race day anxiety are similar to those for coping with any form of anxiety (public speaking, first day at a new job, etc). So, take a deep breath (hey, that’s strategy #5) and enjoy the day. You’ve trained hard, nourished your body along the way, hydrated well in the week leading up to the race and you’ve fueled your body on race morning (even if you’re nerves kept you from getting any sleep). Just remember, you’re not alone. Whether this is your first race or you’re an elite athlete with hundreds of events under your belt, race day jitters can still get the best of you.
Here are some strategies for minimizing race day anxiety:
1) Leave for the race extra early. Nothing sends your anxiety through the roof like realizing you may end up being late for your swim wave. The last thing you want to see at 5:30am is a long line of tail lights at the race exit!
2) Check your bike tires for air the night before when you’re racking your bike. This will save you from that anxiety-ridden “Oh Crap” moment when you realize they need air in the morning and you haven’t set up your transition towel yet. I’ve gotten out on a course after having forgotten to check my air and could tell half way through that my tires were low. That’s another tip…..Don’t forget to pack a bike repair kit in your bike bag. You are on your own out on the course. Be prepared.
3) Get your gear and nutrition ready and packed before you go to bed the night before the race. That way all you have to worry about in the morning is getting up. Think through the race as you pack so you make sure you pack everything. This will prevent you needing to run around the house in the morning gathering what you need. You’re more likely to forget something when you’re scurrying around looking for more than one item.
4) Practice positive self-talk. This is something that carries over from pre-race to during the race. We can sometimes be our own worst enemy, especially mentally. Imagine yourself on the course being successful. Envision yourself passing the other athletes! (wink).
When you’re out on the course, tell yourself how amazing you are while you’re swimming through the open water. Give yourself an imaginary high five at the top of those hills on the bike course. By the time you get to the run, you really need to use positive self-talk. YOU are your cheering section so give yourself some mental You Got This Girl’s (or Boy), Way to Climb that Hill, You’re Almost There, Stay Strong, Looking Good. We all have to do it. Even the athlete who crossed the finish line first had to do this!
5) Take a Deep Breath. I mean this in the literal sense. After you’ve laid out all your gear in the transition area, venture away from the mob of other athletes. Stand by the calmness of the water and run through the course mentally. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. This does wonders for clearing your mind of negative noise and calming those nerves. I sometimes use the strategy to take 10 Deep Breaths with my eyes closed. Think yoga class. Stretching also has a way of naturally putting you in a relaxed state.
6) Listen to Music. You may not be able to take your music out on the course with you, but listening to music that calms you down before the race can help your mental game.
7) Capture the Moment. One of the things that calms me down the most at races is socializing and capturing the moments with friends. When you’re laughing and having fun talking with friends, you’ll forget all about your nerves.
Race day wouldn’t be complete without a sea of nervous athletes. I hope that these strategies help to put you in the right frame of mind to go out there and race your best race. Funny thing about nerves, once you cross the finish line, they’ll be gone!
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