Race season is here, which means so the season of pre race jitters and nervousness are also around in abundance.
Many of you are getting ready to race over the coming weeks, and I have previously covered how to taper, giving you all the information you need to feel confident about the physical part of your final days of prep. If you missed that one, you can check it out here. I also showed you a letter I wrote to myself before one of my races when my pre race nerves before running race week were at an all time high. That is helpful to read in the few days before.
But what about the severe anxiety we can get before a race? Is there anything you can do to relax when it is still too far out to even start thinking about the race?
That is what I hope to help you with today.
Let’s build some confidence:
Suddenly “injured” race week?
This is when the random pains begin to appear.
Everything was feeling fine, but suddenly there is a pain in somewhere completely new, and it doesn’t really make sense. Nothing has changed, you have tapered down your runs, and everything else was showing signs of a great race ahead.
Well, in a lot of cases, your brain is playing tricks with you.
Muscle soreness, aches, and tweaks often creep up race week, but do NOT let them panic you, it is just your body’s way of telling you that is has heard the warning signs loud and clear that something important is coming, and it is making sure everything is working correctly. If you are in pain, try to get in to see a specialist, they will make sure you are fully functioning and there is nothing physically holding you up.
If you are experiencing a pain that might stop you from running how you should, the specialist (a chiropractor, osteopath, skilled masseuse just don’t let them go too hard if you are within 4 days of your race!) will let you know how careful you need to be . If the pain is something real, they might have some techniques for holding you together on race day, some quick fixes that they would not recommend otherwise as it is essentially putting a band-aid on, but in this situation they would. I have this list of recommended experts if you live in any of these areas.
Either way, going to see someone skilled will calm you down as they will see how important this is to you, and do their very best to get you in the best shape possible…or in most cases, let you know that there really isn’t anything serious going on here, so you can relax, and trust you will be ready.
Oh, and if you bomb race week workouts, you are not alone, I do EVERY TIME and so does everyone else (despite what Instagram says!). Show those race week workouts who is boss.
Reflect back over your training journals
Look at all you have done to get to this point. Sure, things have gone wrong, you have missed a few runs, had to rearrange things, and had a few stomach upsets along the way, but you have put in a LOT of time, energy, effort, love, and passion into preparing for this day. Even when “life happened” and you were unable to get in as much as you wanted to, you still put in the time when you could, and for that, you should be proud.
No runner gets to the start line feeling like they did EVERYTHING they could have done, there is always room for improvement, which is a good thing, right? We aren’t perfect, and we will always have ways to improve, so cut yourself a break, and remember all that you have done.
You gave up nights out with friends to get to bed early for your long run the next day, you ate well to give your body the nutrients and fuel it needed to run well and recover properly, you asked for help when pain appeared as your body warned you to not overdo it, and most of all, you, my friend, got out there, and trained, to the very best of your ability.
So look through your training log, all those hours of running you have put in, and smile to yourself, YOU did that. Maybe friends, family, a running community supported you, but YOU were the one who had to get out there and do it.
Look back on the good days, those days that built your confidence, and showed you that, “hey, maybe I can do this!”, the ones you crushed, the ones you went further than you thought you could, those are the days you showed that glimmer of promise without the adrenaline and taper to support you.
Look back on the bad days, the days you just made it through, you didn’t go through those days for nothing. You did it for this day, and you can remember those in this moment, you didn’t give up then, and you sure as heck are not going to give up now when you have made it this far.
Remind yourself of how you have grown as a person and what you have learned while training for this race, that alone should make you smile.
Write a letter to yourself
This is what I did during race week when taper was making me question if I could even finish the distance, let alone run the race fast, and it is really effective. You do not have to do it just once, this can be a tactic to use every time you feel that anxiety building up…for anything!
Put yourself in a quiet place, with a blank notebook or journal. Write the date in the corner (you may want to reflect on this in future race weeks), and just start writing about how you feel.
I did a whole downloadable sheet on how to journal during injuries, and that explains the logistics of how to do this, but what you want to do is write a letter to your inner self, telling yourself what you would say to someone else if they told you they were nervous. Talk to your inner child and reassure them, you know what things you are nervous about, what things worry you, so write them down, and then address how you are going to overcome that. Let all those fears, doubts, anxieties flow out onto the paper, and then write back to them, have a conversation with them. Tell those fears they are not wanted here, nor are they necessary as you ARE ready and you ARE going to do this!
If you feel silly writing to yourself, imagine you are writing a letter to your best friend/sister/partner who is reeeaallly nervous about their race. Pretend you have done every workout together, used every single recovery tool together, gone to bed at the same time, all of it. You have trained with them the whole way through and now you are writing a letter to them about all the things you think they are worried about (you are worried about). What would help them?
Write for as long as you need to, but when you close that book, you should feel accomplished and confident, that you, are ready for this race. After you have finished read it, and then re-read it as much as you need to during the next few days…or write new ones if writing was therapeutic for you!
Remember this does not define you
I know this race is important, we just went over how many hours you have put into it, you don’t want to waste this opportunity when you have given up so much to be here, trust me, as a professional runner I get that!
However, you want to show yourself what you have already accomplished without putting pressure on yourself. Once you add pressure in the mix, that is where things start going wrong.
In a lot of ways, you have managed the hardest part of training for a race, you made it here, to this moment! So many runners never make it to the start line, ending up in a boot with a stress fracture, withdrawing because they overtrained, or gave up, but you didn’t, you got here, healthy (maybe healthy-ish), and that, my friends is something you should remember!
No matter what happens at this race, it is not going to change who you are. If you have the best race of your life, hit your stars aligned goal, and get to do something you never dreamed possible, that is wonderful, that is what we all want, but after that race, after a few months, things will go back to normal.
Even Olympians say that they can barely believe how normal things become a few months after the olympics! If being an Olympian doesn’t change you, then running a race for the rest of us certainly won’t! The race is the celebration, you have put in all the hours of work, now you get to see just how far you have come, just what you have learned about yourself, how you have become a better person for it.
If you don’t have a good race, it is not going to change ANYTHING about who you are, you are still you, and yes, you might be a down in the dumps version of yourself for a few days, but you are the same. To your kids you are still mummy, they don’t care how fast you ran, they are just proud of you for being out there. To your parents you are just their son/daughter, and a few minutes faster or slower isn’t going to change how they feel about you. To your friends, you are still the loving, genuine, funny, kind person you always were. Even if you had the worst race of your life, you will pick yourself back up again, and try again, cause that’s what we do as runners.
My point is, yes, this race means a lot to you, but it is not who you ARE. It is not like someone is going to read at your Eulogy (sorry morbid thought, but gets the point across), “she was a 3:34 marathoner, but really she should have been a 3:29 BQ marathoner, had she not messed up the race 65 years ago on September 29, 2017”.
YOU are so much more than your race result, this is just something you DO not something you ARE.
Spend time with family and friends who love you
This is a good time to remind yourself of the above by spending time with those who love you for who you ARE. They don’t care that you are trying to run a certain pace…okay, so let me rephrase that, they do care because they care about what you care about, but it won’t change how they think about you if you do not hit that time….or even if you do not run at all!
I learned that big time in the year when I quit running, my friends and family had known me as a serious runner for the past 14 years, but nothing about our relationships changed when I stopped running…actually, I would argue it became even better!
By spending time with those people, going out for a coffee (or tea if you want the safer option) to catch up, going out to eat at a restaurant you feel safe at, or even just watching a funny movie together, it will remind you that you are so much more than a runner, they love you for the person you are, not what you do for a hobby. They will cherish that time and so will you, it will ease those nerves, and make you feel comfortable and relaxed, both good things to do when you are getting ready for a race.
I have mentioned this one many times before, it works like magic for running your dream race, but also helps to calm you down when you are feeling stressed, helps you to feel in control of your race. You are able to control what you can control, and plan for what you can. I talked about visualization in detail in another post, and I would recommend you make this one of the most important things you get in the habit of doing in the weeks leading up to a big race.
I would suggest starting this about 6 weeks out from your big race, but you can start as close to the race as needed.
Sit somewhere quiet, relaxed, and in almost a meditative state, and start to think about race day. Think about every detail you can from the moment you wake up that morning to the celebration afterwards; who is going to hug you at the finish line? what are you going to eat? Will you lie in bed that night with a smile?
Make it as detailed as you can, and you should finish this process smiling, really FEELING the experience, exactly how you hope to on race day knowing all your hard work has paid off. You know there will be tough times, but you also see yourself making it through those, and it being worth it at the finish.
Visualization is magic, you just have to make sure you do it right to really unlock the power in it.
We all know that there is a lot in this world we have absolutely no control over. Frustrating as it is, but unfortunately, it is how life is.
In your mind you should be fully aware that something will go wrong on race day, you don’t know what it is, but it will, and you will have to show your adversity and strength by now allowing it to ruin your race or ruin your day.
That being said, the more you can prepare for, the more you will feel confident and ready for race day AND you will have controlled what you can, meaning there is less likelihood of it being something that will have a huge impact.
You want to make your surroundings and set up as close to normal as possible. The more you can prepare and take with you, the more relaxed you will feel. I described this in detail in my post on the week before the race, but if you can take the food with you that you know does not upset your stomach (HELLO Generation UCAN!), that is only going to help. If you take snacks to make sure you don’t get hungry in the few days before, that is only going to help. If you set everything you will need on race day out the night before, that is only going to help.
The more you can prepare and get ready before you begin race day, the more calm you will feel that you have controlled what you can, and the race can now take care of itself.
Remind yourself, all you can do is your best
As runners, we put a LOT into these races (as if it wasn’t already obvious), and therefore we want all that hard work to pay off. We see everyone else showing off their race pictures and success, and we have put in the hard work, so isn’t it OUR time to shine?
Well yes, but at the end of the day, as I mentioned in the previous point, we can only control so much, something will go wrong, and if it is something you have no control over (like it being humid on race day), there is only so much you can do.
No matter what the situation is, no matter how dire things are looking for you (despite the preparation you have done), regardless, you can only do YOUR best. The way to do YOUR best is by running without looking at your watch, trusting your body to tell you what it is ready for.
I call this #nowatchme and if you are part of the Running for Real Facebook Community, you will know alllllll about this (if not, feel free to join, we would love to meet you!), but I have been posting about this for years, and I can tell you exactly how to do it using the effort scale, which you can download using the form below.
Think about it, although you might have a pace in mind for what you want to run, what if you were ready for faster than that, and you slowed yourself down, and know you could have run even faster…but instead you are left with that “what if” feeling, rather than the satisfaction of the race. If you just ran your absolute best, that is all you could have done, no matter who, what, or how it happened.
Your body knows what it is doing, all you have to do is trust it.
Prepare some mental bottles
This is something I came up with in my last marathon of 2016, and it involves creating some mantras or words that remind you of the people who have supported and helped you to get to this point on race day. Loved ones, friends, medical professionals, your running community, a pastor, whoever it has been, use mental bottles to prepare yourself that you will have them to drive you on if you don’t feel good in your race.
It worked wonders for me, and by breaking it up into smaller chunks, dedicating 3 miles to each person, it made it more manageable, rather than saying I have 26.2 miles of concentrating to do.
You can learn more about mental bottles here, but they work, and they are fun to come up with during the few days of nerves before.
Listen to your favorite music (including a few that make you get up and dance)
You know what music you like, and it is probably different to the music I like or the music your cousin, brother, best friend likes. That is what makes us all unique, right? So I could tell you to listen to Backstreet Boys and Maroon 5, but for you, that might be like nails on a chalkboard. Only you know what music makes you feel good.
Take some songs that make you smile, songs you can just put in, lie down, and relax, sing to if you so desire (I would), but the most important thing is that you like them.
I always like to put a few songs on that make me get up and dance (preferably spread out so you can relax in between), and just shake away that stress and nervousness. For that reason, Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off comes in particularly handy, as does It’s raining men (don’t ask me why for that one, it MUST be the Geri Halliwell one for me!).
By listening to some home comforts, it will comfort you and remind you that you still have these little pleasures, no matter what happens.
Plan your post race celebration
This is the fun part, right?
We all (okay, maybe not all), but a lot of us think about how we are going to celebrate after. What big meal out with loved ones are you going to enjoy? For me it was always a burger and fries, I LOVED them, and then followed it up with some kind of cake or sweet.
You know they say that the excitement of something is part of the fun, well this is something you can look forward to, and you can use it as part of your visualization process, see yourself smiling and laughing with friends, them all so happy for you with how you ran.
If you have where you want to go all planned out, that is one less decision you have to make post race, and it is something you can think about that will make you happy on the other side, no matter what happens!
Your body can’t tell the difference between nerves and excitement, use that
It’s true, remember when Dr Bhrett McCabe told us that?
Your mind interprets this feeling of stress as nerves, because you know what is coming, but the physical feeling is actually no different to excitement. Turn that around, and just tell yourself that you are excited for your race, you have put in so much hard work and time into this on your own accord, now you get the reward of the fun part. This is where the crowd are there to support YOU, there is music playing, people laughing and smiling, and you actually get to run fast.
This is the best part, and although we think that this is the stressful part, it is actually the best bit as it is what it is all about. Think about how amazing you feel in the hours after a race, it’s not JUST because of the time, otherwise you could have done a time trial at home, but it is the whole experience of the day! So get excited (and listen to this if you don’t believe me).
Stay away from social media (or remember people only show their best selves)
Social media is great, it allows us to stay connected with friends and family, share those precious accomplishments once we do them, and see things we otherwise never would.
It can also be toxic. I have spoken about this many times before, but it can make our confidence PLUMMET and when our confidence plummets, guess what happens? Our nerves shoot sky-high.
If there are accounts you follow who make you feel bad about yourself, in ANY WAY, unfollow them, whether it is for the few days before the race (or for good if you can), take that temptation to look at their perfect pictures off your radar.
Remember, people only paint the image of themselves that they want to show their best life, how great things are for them, so despite what the photos may show, they might be miserable underneath.
If you can stay away from social media for the few days before the race, you will feel so much better going into the race, knowing you are only racing against yourself, not against other people you compare yourself against, BUT I also know how much free time we have before races….and so I know this is tougher than it sounds.
Unfollow the accounts that make your confidence dwindle, and instead look to the inspirational accounts who remind you that YOU ARE ENOUGH and you are perfect, just as you are. If that is me, you can follow me here 😉
Listen to a confidence building podcast
My final plug, but really it is effective.
I have interviewed a lot of guests who specialize in helping runners to build their confidence, that is actually what running for real is all about. I ask them a lot of questions to get them to really give specific and helpful runners for us all, the things we are worrying about, but maybe not brave enough to say out loud.
Here are some you could try:
- Evie Serventi (my sports psychologist)
- Dr Bhrett McCabe (If you struggle with mental toughness)
- Amelia Boone (If coming back from injury)
- Rob Jones (If you need some perspective)
- Steve Picucci (If you need a reminder about doing your best, he’s also my husband and coach :p)
Take a listen to those, and try to sit and relax while you do, it will calm the nerves and make you feel better about running in general.
Well, my friends, give those a try, and let me know what you think.
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Do you have other techniques you use? Share them below, and let your tips help others too!