Have you ever been told, “It’s okay to be nervous sometimes.” Since I was a kid, I’ve heard this expression at nauseum. Why do we have to be nervous? Isn’t there a way to make the nervousness stop? What is the point of this useless emotion? How do I get rid of instead of it just being okay?In high school I had a memorable indoor track season where I would get consumed with nervousness. I would unintentionally stress myself out to the point that when I raced I would severely underperform. The pre-race jitters were out of control. In reality, I should have felt confident approaching that starting line because I knew I had put in the time, sweat, and tears into my training and I was ready.
Before I would run, I would continuously sort of, well, forget to breathe. Ridiculous I know, but trust me its very possible to do. One day, my Aunt Sandy came to my track meet to cheer me on and noticed that I kept holding my breath before my race. She gave me some of the best advice that I still use to this day. Two words so simple, that made too much sense. “Just breathe.” That advice really stuck with me, which brings me to my first point.
1. Just Breathe
If this advice were on a bottle of wine suggesting what its accompaniment was, it would go something as follows: ‘Breathing is a simple action that goes well with de-stressing yourself. Best paired with not overthinking things, a brief walk to clear your head, and plenty of confidence.’ It has become a pre-race tradition for me to walk away from the crowds and the stress engulfing the starting line. I take the opportunity to escape the nervousness and leave the jitters behind. Eyes closed, ten or more deep breaths, a full body shake out, and a serene mental blanking moment became a routine. Trust in Aunt Sandy’s advice, try it, and you won’t be disappointed.
Suggested Read: Breathe Easy While Running
2. Focus on the Positive
You’ve put in the time and the work, why are you thinking worst case scenario? There is no reason to be scared. Worst case scenario: what is really going to happen if this isn’t your best race? As the cliche advice expression goes, “It won’t be the end of the world.” Focus on how prepared you are and if you are not simply own the fact that there isn’t much you can do about it at this point (other than run from the heart). It is also important to keep in perspective that if every race was our best there wouldn’t be anything special about a personal best, there would be no incentive to run the next race. Keep your head up and think positive.
Visualizing is quite the slippery slope. While it is good to imagine how you want to perform and what time you want to run, try not to put too much emphasis on planning out a race. Sometimes a personal best can come out of the slowest start or an epic finish. Stressing out about running perfect splits is unnecessary. When I picture how I want to run a race, it’s as though I watch my upcoming race like a movie. I hear people cheering and the sound of the gun lap, while I’m moving up in the group of runners. I never hear my splits called out or my finish time, I just always finish my visualized race incredibly happy with the outcome. Let your actual race determine the ending and time.
Learn More about: The Mental Side of Running
4. Harness the Adrenaline Rush
Often pre-race jitters experienced are part fear, anticipation and excitement. The anticipation you feel for a race can certainly benefit you, if used properly. One of my best 800-meter races in high school came after I was caught in traffic and nearly missed my race. I had been so afraid of missing the county championship race of my senior year, that by the time I got to the track with less than a minute to spare I was thrilled that I’d made it. Granted, I may have been the very picture of nervousness while I was pinning my number, as the gun raised, inside it didn’t feel that way. The overwhelming happiness and excitement of making it seemed to course through my veins and pushed me harder through the race. The adrenaline rush I felt was exhilarating. I wanted to be there and when we remember that before our race, it puts things in perspective. What do we stand to achieve from dreading something we love?
5. Confidence is Key
Walk out onto that track or up to that starting line like you’re running the show. Anyone who has ever raced has witnessed that one runner who is calm, confident, and collected. This confident runner is the envy of his/her competitors because they don’t seem nervous in the slightest. If you’ve never seen this person, congratulations because chances are it is you. Feeling confident in yourself certainly reduces the concerns and stresses that plague someone pre-race.
Taking the time to try out these five suggestions is certainly a step in the right direction to helping get rid of negative pre-race jitters.
About the Author: Marie Walsh is a senior at Rice University, who runs for the Owl’s Cross Country and Track & Field Team. An avid runner, she loves to learn whatever she can about the sport and spread the knowledge.
Follow Marie: @MarieAWalsh