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Pre-race Jitters: A Runner's Guide to Manage and Reduce Pre-race Stress

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We all feel the tension and anxiety for any kind of activity that we consider important. Hence, feeling nervous before a race is an entirely acceptable reaction. A race, to every enthusiastic runner out there, is definitely a big day. There are so many instances where runners, no matter the level, have felt overwhelmed to the point of breaking down, getting sick, delay themselves and fake injuries. Some even appear at the race in bandages or on crutches in order to deal with having to go forward with the race. If you’ve also experienced this then you are also a victim of pre-race jitters.

Getting scared or nervous before a race is nothing more than the most common obstacle a runner could faces when taking part in a race. Commonly known as pre-race jitters, these are irrational feelings of dread and anxiety that come with the participating in a race. As strange as it may seem, these pre-race jitters could even pose more harmful to a runner’s career than an injury or disease actually could.

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Pre-race Injuries

Pre-race jitters
Learn How to Save Nervous Toilet Trips Before a Race (source)

Now that the countdown has begun and you are advancing towards the race day, suddenly out of nowhere there are aches all over your body. Even though sores are common to frequent runners, you notice that these aches are worse than usual. You probably assume that a muscle got pulled or a tissue was torn but have they really?

The answer is yes, they could be torn- when you train your muscles are broken down only to be rebuilt much stronger with the help of protein. Most pain and aches are a sign of muscles and tissues strengthening, they are common and most of the time they are just shrugged off as the price of running. However, coupled with Pre-race anxiety, these aches can be amplified into seemingly more serious injuries that require you to take rest or get checked. Do not worry, they are just the nerves making you feel more sensitive to the pain than is actually required.

So, to look past these sores that make you want to complain and quit before the race even begins, you will need a strategy. We have come up with a few tips that you can use to manage the stress and solutions to beating nerves.

Waiting till You Are at Your Prime

A lot of runners try to delay their participation in races until they feel they are ‘ready’ enough. Waiting to compete unless you are at the peak of your form, may not be the best strategy in mind. This is because running races gets you set on a journey to self-improvement and working towards that peak.

Only through trial and error can you get better and motivate yourself to achieve more even if you end up looking foolish in the process. Through the race, you build up your physical as well as psychological strength to prepare your body and mind for the next challenge. If you keep waiting for your peak day to arrive, you may end up waiting for a very long time and miss out on so many opportunities meanwhile.

Managing Pre-race Jitters

Managing pre-race jitters
Learn How to Manage Pre-race Jitters (source)

The first step to dealing with this Pre-race anxiety is to recognize that you have them in the first place. You must also understand that it is normal for you to be feeling this way and most importantly, you are not alone. Read on for more information on the various signs that you may be experiencing the Pre-race jitters and the best ways you can overcome them. With this information, you can definitely get rid of these self-created interferences with your running.

  • Second Guessing Yourself

Stop overthinking
Stop Second-guessing Yourself (source)

You may be all right a few weeks before a big race but when it boils down to the final few days before the race, you may start experiencing the pre-race jitters. The first thought you might have is that you have been going about your training schedule and race diet all wrong. You start to doubt your preparedness for the race and question every piece of information you know about running. You feel like you could have done more miles, different workouts, more inclined runs, rested more, the self-doubt list goes on!

The first thing you need to do is calm down. Relax and look at the facts. Most workouts usually have similar exercises in them or overlap in their method. It is likely that you were training using a method that incorporated parts of other workouts. You do not have to worry about the one you stuck with. If you stayed with one workout but practiced it regularly then you are more than ready for the race.

What to think about before a race is important to staying positive and reminding yourself that you did all you had to do in order to prepare for the race. Tell yourself that you are ready, remind yourself of all the good training sessions you had in the months or weeks leading up to the race. Trust in your own body to be able to handle whatever is put before you and you should be calmer about tackling the track.

  • Do Not Overthink

Avoid overthinking
Avoid the Bad Habit of Overthinking (source)

Now that you have conquered overcoming self-doubt, you have to avoid overthinking. You do not need to concern yourself with the weather on race day, the layout of the course, whether you have the right running shoes, forgetting your pace, and other details that you have already gone through before.

Just breathe and tell yourself not to go over these things too many times. Make a list of all things required for race day, important facts about the race, your body stats, and that it. You can refer to this list later maybe on race day but otherwise do not go back to it as you will be tempted to make unnecessary changes.

There is only one thing that is most important for you to focus on and that is your effort while you are running the race. To maintain your pace, speed, and stamina you have to be dedicated to it and not thinking about other aspects that are taken care of or even out of your control.

  • Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk
Always Believe That You Can (source)

Incorporate kind words and positive thoughts into your training sessions. Keep yourself immersed in good energy and positivity as you get closer to the race day. Keep reassuring yourself of your abilities and how ready you are for the race. A little confidence in yourself can go a long way in preventing pre-race jitters.

Keep the criticisms to a minimum, even if you did not manage to train as well as you normally do take it a progress and strive to do better the next day. Do not put yourself down or punish yourself for tiring easily, not matching pace, or keeping time. Tell yourself that you will do better the next time and stay motivated to do so in your next session. Treating yourself for new personal records, distances, or just a good workout, can also really boost morale.

Keep your expectations realistic about what you can achieve and how capable you are to meet them. Having your hopes set too high can make you feel worse about a bad situation. Nevertheless, if you encounter a hindrance to your goals, look at them in a more positive manner and try to make the best of it. Lastly, take inspiration from idols, fellow runners, or just any stranger that you see is really making an effort to do well. You will be surrounded by so many motivated individuals on the day, look around and you will find something worth admiring about yourself and your company.

  • Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing
Practice Deep Breathe to Bust Stress (source)

When you become anxious, your breaths turn shallow. Try deep breathing from your belly and include alternate nostril breathing as well in your pre-race ritual. This will surely calm your fretted nerves instantly. Keep doing this breathing technique during the race too as it will not only impede anxiety but prevent injuries like side stitches as well.

  • Visualise Your Strategic Plan

Strategic plan for race
Try to Stick to Your Running Strategy (source)

A great way to get through practice for the race every day without doubting yourself or creating confusion is to categorize your sessions and overall plan into goals. Keeping your mind on track with a clear goal will help you work toward it and calm your nerves better. By setting three basic goals to work on for the race, you can actually get through training feeling more prepared.

Short term goals for every session can really help you stay more positive about your progress. Visualise your action plan for each workout and take steps necessary to complete them. Some of the goals could include running a set number of miles, improving speed, and more according to your personal goal. Visualise the points that you have to run past during a typical training run, and picture them as and when you run to know how much further you have left or how much distance you have covered.

An example of a short-term training goal would be something like this:

  1. For a 5k run
    Divide it into three stages of a mile each and leave the rest of the distance for a glory run at any pace, speed, or direction.
  2. For a 10k run
    Divide it into three stages of two miles each and leave yourself a longer glory run.
  3. For a Half Marathon run
    Divide it into three stages of four miles each glory run of 1.1 miles.

While you are doing one of the sessions keep track of what is happening at your stage of the run instead of worrying about the entire session as a whole. Staying focused and motivated to finish each stage will get you through the session faster.

  • Leave the Race Out of Your Workout

One of the best ways to calm nerves would be to focus on the present instead of worrying about the future. The race has almost arrived, you may have just a week left until the special day, but that does not mean that you need to change your workout in any way. This would only increase your chance of pre-race jitters.

Ignore that you have a few days left till the race because adapting your sessions to test your time as a mock race will not improve your level of fitness or drastically improve your chances at all. It will only drain you and could possibly cause you an injury. This happening so close to the race might even prevent you from taking part in the first place. Definitely not worth the risk.

A race differs from a workout in the amount of effort we put into them. A race will take most of your effort while in a workout you need not put in as much. This is due to the limited energy, time for healing, and mental strength you have available to divulge.

  • Improve Your Chances with Food

Food for runners
Top Food for Runners (source)

Carb loading has become increasingly popular with many runners as well as improving or setting strict diets for their race. You are going to need a lot of energy for the race, and what better way than to stock up on energy-rich food. However, to avoid causing disturbances to your digestive system, coming from the nervous stomach before a race, make sure to test out your new diet plan long before. Stay on a set meal of carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients from vegetables.

With a good diet plan, you can feel more confident about your fitness level and chances to complete the race. You stay more assured with a healthy body and eating right is one of the best things that calm your nerves before race day.

Know the top foods for runners.

  • Superstition and Routine

Listening to music
Take a Break From Training to Relax A bit (source)

If you find yourself getting extremely nervous before running, then think back about what it is you might have changed on the days before the advent of the race. You could have stopped doing normal chores and activities that you would have completed on any other day. This means that the half marathon nerves or any Pre-race jitters could have altered your daily routine. If you stray from your normal schedule then this would increase anxiety as you are thinking too much about the race.

Being preoccupied about the day can only cause harm. Instead, try to stick to the things you are most comfortable doing on a daily basis. Go to work, do your laundry, or other activities that take your mind off of the race.

For some pre-race motivation, watch these amazing movies on running.

  • Fast Head Starts

Fast head start
Getting a Head Start Isn't Always Favourable (source)

When you get to the start line, you might assume that getting a head start is how to calm pre-race nerves and keep a big gap between you and the rest of the runners. This a not a recommended strategy. No matter how appealing it may be, it will definitely bring down your overall performance and stamina.

There is not too much difference in physiology between a race and workout. Your body is not stronger or faster in a race than in a workout. The only difference is that you put in more effort into a race. So, if you would not sprint the first half of a mile in training due to fatigue, then why try the same in a race? If you choose to keep a steady pace then you will conserve enough energy for the whole race and complete it to the best of your ability. Which is better than not finishing the race at all.

Post-race Attitude

Post-race attitude
Don't Forget to Rejoice On Completing the Race (source)

If you are an amateur runner then your first race may seem like torture for your muscles afterward. If you react badly to the burn you feel then this may affect the next race you plan on competing in. However, by looking at your sores as battles scars and as an after effect of your success, then you will not mind them so much. One great way to be positive after a race would be to treat yourself. Get a massage, eat great food, throw an after party, celebrate your victory!

We hope these tips for what to do to calm your nerves before a big race helped you recognize your anxiety and find solutions. If you incorporate these methods and remind yourself of how capable you actually are then you can really improve on how to relax during a race as well. With practice and numerous attempts, you will be able to fully overcome all pre-race jitters and other self-imposed limitations.

Let us know what worked best for you and how you managed to take care of your mental as well as physical health for the race. Keep trying out new techniques and always stay positive, it is the key to success!

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