How to Overcome Race Day Nerves

I’m suffering from a case of the “what-ifs.”

It’s a seasonal disorder that settles in about a month away from a race.  Right, about…now.  This is when the “what-ifs” start taking over my mind and run on replay every night.  What if I’m under-trained? What if I over-trained?  What if I’m sick?  What if I feel great? What if it’s windy?  What if it’s hot?  What if I drop my GU?  What if I lose my marathon buddy?  What if I drink too much?  What if I don’t drink enough?  Enough is right!   My last  St. George Marathon didn’t go the way I had hoped/trained/planned. Overall it was fine, great even-a 3:14, but it wasn’t the best I had to give.  I ran safe instead of giving it my all because I was scared to see what all I had to give.  The “what ifs” had depleted my mental and emotional energy.  A month later, I ran the Tri-States Marathon, it runs through Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.  I was committed to giving it everything I had, no holding back, no “what ifs”, and I ran a 3:02.  Fear is a natural part of race day, but you don’t have to let it control you.

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Here are three tips to overcoming race day nerves:

  1. Embrace the Fear

    When we do this, fear loses it’s power.  Ask yourself what you’re most afraid of and face it, head on.  Fear is a part of the process leading up to race day and those fears and nerves when channeled properly can actually help you.  Go through your worst case scenarios and consider what you will do if you have to face it.  This year my biggest fear is failure to meet my goal.  I want to run a sub 3 hour marathon.  There, see?  It does feel good to put it out there.  Ahem…[louder] I will run a sub 3 hour marathon.  Honestly that’s probably the scariest part-owning it.  And if I don’t do it this year what’s the worst that will happen?  I’ll try again, and again, and again.  Babe Ruth struck out 1, 330 times to get his 714 home runs.  There will be fear, embrace it, and disarm it by owning it.

2. Positive Self Talk. 

Everyone hears two voices:  the critic and the coach.  You might never be able to completely silence the critic but you can give the coach the stage.  In other words let the positive self talk be so much more prevalent that it drowns out the negativity.  How?  Read books that inspire you.  Learn about athletes who have overcome obstacles.  Pin positive messages to your Pinterest account.   Listen to your favorite music, TED Talks, and podcasts. Expose yourself to only the things that will build you up and give yourself permission to give it your all.  My friend gave me this book before I ran Boston last year, I read it in a day.  It is filled with the kind of encouragement that is so emotionally important leading up to a race.  It can help you create a mentality that supports positive self talk.

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3. Be Present

There are so many distractions, so many details, and some stress leading up to race day.  Take a moment where you leave it all behind you and focus on the task at hand.  Five deep breaths at the starting line, listen to your favorite song, even placing your hand on your race bib and remembering how blessed you are to be where you are, can help you feel centered and be present.  Don’t live in the past or the future, focus on the here and now and the goals you’ve set.  You have this race, this day, this mile to prove your merit and grit to yourself and no one else.  We determine what defines our “great”, it is different for everyone, and as long as you know you gave it your all, then you’ll know how it feels to fly.

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How do you handle pre-race nerves?

What’s your favorite motivational quote?

What “what ifs” have been taking up your energy?

2 thoughts on “How to Overcome Race Day Nerves

  1. Mike @ FitFriend says:

    Hmm, there’s something in running a half or full not to your full potential, followed by running one a month later at your limit. I’m slowly getting convinced of that as I see more examples of people doing this. A 3:14 followed by a 3:02 is an awesome achievement to reflect on! 🙂

    How do I handle pre-race nerves? This might sound strange but I’ve found that increasing the frequency of smaller races leading up to the big one (e.g., 5k’s or 10k’s) gives me a lot of mental benefits leading into a goal race. Primarily it gets me “used to” lining up at the start, settling into an easy first mile, prepping a pre-race meal, even dealing with pre-race nerves the night before. I think a huge part of why I wasn’t so nervous for the weekend’s bigger goal race was because of the “race practise” I had in June and July.

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