It is very normal to feel a little--or a lot--nervous before a race. Your heart may pound, you may have butterflies in your stomach, a dry mouth and need to visit the porta-potty every 5 minutes. Your biggest wish may be that the race would just be over!
Don't worry! Nearly everyone feels this way before a race. Being "up," "nervous" or "excited" before a race actually helps you to achieve your best performance. Imagine how you would race if you didn't really care!
However some people get so nervous before a race that it affects their performance. For them practicing skills to help them remain calm and focused may dramatically improve their race times. There are some exercises at the bottom of this article if you need help.
But first here are a few things to remember:
1. Being "up" before a race is actually an important part of having a good race. Instead of labeling what you're feeling as "nervous" call it "excitement." You are excited and READY TO GO!
2. It's just a race! Races should be exciting and fun! They're the opportunity to see how your training is going. You should never feel "better" or "worse" about yourself as a person based on race results. Race results should not be the basis of your identity!
3. Be confident about your training and racing abilities. Remember good workouts and races of the past!
4. Think of the BEST things that could happen during a race. Don't think about the things that could go wrong. As bikers and equestrians know you go where you are looking. Look to success.
5. Focus on the PROCESS of the race not the OUTCOME of the race. Process includes all the things you can control--a good warmup, a controlled fast starting pace, pushing yourself consistently throughout the race, fast relaxed form and racing! Once the gun goes off you can't directly control the outcome--your finishing place and time--except through focusing on the process. Worrying about the outcome will not lead to a better race. Focus on the process--the things you control--and you'll take charge of your race.
6. Set achievable goals including process goals. If you've never run 6:00 for the mile you're not going to win a race that requires a 5:30 mile to win. Setting a goal of winning the race will only lead to anxiety due to the mismatch between your goal and your abilities.
If you've been close to 6:00 in the past and you're feeling good and it's not a hot or windy day aiming for a 6:00 finish time may be a good goal. However you want to set process goals--such as refocusing and running fast on the third lap--to help achieve your time goal.
Need more help? Here are some exercises.
If you have trouble finding the balance between excitement and nervousness you may need to practice specific skills to help calm yourself and get ready for your best race! You need to practice these skills at home and before hard workouts or you won't be successful using them on race day. Spend 10 minutes 3 days per week on these exercises.
1. Clear your mind. Thing about nothing for 1-3 minutes. Surprisingly it takes practice. Start with one minute and move to three as you are able. When you're feeling a bit overwhelmed before a race this is a good place to start.
2. Positive affirmations. Have a series of positive things you can say to yourself can really help you calm down. "I'm really ready for a good race today." "My training has been going really well." "I feel fast today." "I'm a good runner." Repeat them and really believe them to be true. Spend an additional 2 minutes with these at home.
3. Visualization. When you have a good race keep a "me-tube" video of it in your brain. Be able to play this video in your head at a moments notice. Make it so detailed that you can reproduce how great you felt as you crossed the finish line, see yourself passing another runner in the last 50 meters, hear the cheers and screams from the crowd and even smell the bar-b-que and cool morning fog.
You may also make up a video of your ideal race for your upcoming race. Imagine your warmup, how excited but calm you are before the start, how you'll set your starting pace, how you'll run hills and curves on the course, when you'll surge and when you'll start your finishing kick. Imagine how you'll respond if you get boxed in or if someone comes up on you late in the race.
Keep it positive! You may briefly let images of doubt or worry creep in, but immediately replace them with the confident visualization of your response and success. This is the most important and difficult to master so spend 5-6 minutes on it.
Good-Luck and Happy Racing! We think your commitment and focus makes you a winner!
Here are a few great links with even more information: