Dealing with Race Day Jitters

Race day is almost here. How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Somewhere in between?

It’s normal when, leading into a race, you feel your nerves start to increase and doubts begin to pop into your head. After all, this is the time to trust that your training has been enough and that you’re ready to complete the race and reach your goals. However, having that trust in yourself isn’t always easy, and nerves can take over.  

When do your nerves start?

Everyone is different, but for many of us, it’s normal to have nerves begin a few days before a race. These might not be the kind of nerves that take-over and get in the way of normal activities, but might be visual flashes of what race day will be like or a quickening of your heart rate. Even if the nerves seem minimal, it’s a good idea to start dealing with the nerves when you do notice them. That way, they don’t build until the race begins.

What can you do?

As a runner, you’re likely aware of how your breathing impacts how you’re feeling. You’ve probably experienced being out of breath and when this happens, many of us naturally use deep breaths to help regain our normal breathing pattern. We can use this instinct in a more deliberate way to help us calm down when we have nerves.

Taking a few deep, cleansing breaths can help us calm down as we’re bringing oxygen into the body, releasing the carbon dioxide, and helping to slow our heart rate down. By focusing on our breathing, we’re also able to clear our mind and help to block out some of the worries.

Help your body understand that deep breathing triggers a relaxation response by practicing your deep breathing. Yes, we breathe all the time, but we want our body to get used to this more focused and methodical way of breathing. Consider adding some deep breathing to your bedtime routine, using deep breathing to control your breathing after an intense workout, and take a few deep breaths anytime you feel your nerves or your stress level starts to climb.

By “practicing” your deep breathing in calmer situations, you’ll be more prepared to use it, and feel a positive effect on race day. Sometimes our nerves do get quite high as we get closer to race day. While deep breathing can be helpful, it’s not always enough.

Other ways to help calm your nerves include distracting yourself when nervous thoughts or feelings come on, for example call a friend or listen to some uplifting music, or work on reframing the nerves to feelings of excitement. Those butterflies may be zooming around because of excitement and anticipation rather than nerves. By changing your perception of the feelings, you can change your experience. Also, if you have any other strategies you use to manage nerves, continue to use those to help you.

Nerves on race day (and leading up to it) are completely normal. But, just because this is normal, that doesn’t mean you should just let the nerves happen without doing anything. Take the time to use your breathing (and anything else that’s helpful) to help you calm yourself down. Your performance will thank you.

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