Posts Tagged ‘race jitters’

As I sit here with yet another case of race jitters, I ask myself why I race. Why put myself through this if it makes me feel this way — anxious, nervous, exposed, vulnerable? Yup, if I had to choose one word, that’s how I feel: vulnerable. I care about the race experience and the outcome. I’ve put in the training time, I’ve paid my money, I want to see it all pay off. I’ve put my goal out there (race to the best of my ability, PR if I’m lucky, qualify for Boston someday). And I don’t want to embarrass myself or get injured.

But really, how could I embarrass myself? It’s not like anyone cares about my race time but me. It’s not like if I tripped and fell, other people would laugh. Quite the opposite, I’m sure. Family, friends, fellow racers, they would all offer sympathy and concern. So I why do I feel so vulnerable? I equate it to going up on stage to perform in a play. The actor has rehearsed for months and wants to do well. He knows if he flubs a line, it won’t be the end of the world. No one will throw tomatoes or boo him off the stage. His friends, family and fellow actors will still care for him, and they’ll offer sympathy. But he will still feel embarrassment, and a sense that he let himself down by not doing his best. And yet in spite of the pressure, he goes up on stage anyway, and makes himself vulnerable.

So why do I do it? Why do I race?

1. The challenge makes me grow.

2. Fear is a good motivator. I love to train, but sometimes that’s not enough to get me out the door early on a weekend morning for a long run. Having a lofty race goal on the horizon keeps me accountable.

3. The reward for putting oneself out there is greater than the risk of embarrassment or injury.

4. Every race teaches us something. A great race affirms our training and our choices. A “bad” race points out what we could do differently next time.

5. Pushing past that feeling of vulnerability gives you a sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome.

Courage is its own reward.

~ Plautus, Roman playwright.

Tomorrow I will hit the starting line of the La Habra 10K. It’s a hilly, two-loop course that presents an interesting challenge. Two years ago I completed the race in 51:29. My 10K PR from the Turkey Trot trail race is 50:26. I’d love to finish this race in under 50 minutes. Who knows what race day will bring, but I am willing to make myself vulnerable to find out.

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The Brea 8K is tomorrow. It’s not my “A” race (that is the M2B Marathon in May) but I look at it as an important gauge of how my training is going. I want to beat my time from last year’s 8K race, and I want to hit a pace that shows that my desired marathon pace is achievable (not that a 4.97-mile race is the best predictor of a 26.2-mile time, but still).

The problem is that I’ve got all these pre-race jitters. Can I really run a good race on Sunday when I squeezed my marathon training 17-mile long run in on Thursday morning? Can I run fast when I’m training for long? Will I get to the race on time? Will I dress right for the weather? Will I injure myself and set back my marathon training?

I know that jitters are normal and everyone has them. Even Kelly Ripa had them before the Empire State Building Run-Up earlier this month. Faced with running up 86 flights of stairs, she joked:

I am horrified. I am just doing a countdown until I have to run to the top of the Empire State Building. And nothing has gone the way I envisioned it. I thought for sure by now they would have canceled this [indoor] event due to weather….

Co-host Michael Strahan asked her, “What are you most nervous about?”

Well, failure, death, vertigo, humiliation, pain, suffering, soiling myself, not finishing, hurting something. You know, I just have those basic fears that everybody else has.

Of course none of those things happened and she had a great race, coming in at 18:16 for 6th place of 31 in the media heat, second female in that division. Congrats, Kelly! And thank you for reminding me that everyone gets these irrational fears before a race.

So, what are some techniques to combat these pre-race jitters?

10 Tips for Dealing with Race Jitters

1. Trust your training. Now is not the time to think that you should have thrown in some more speedwork or hill training. Don’t do anything unusual in the days before a race. That’s just asking for trouble.

2. Study the course map. Generally a course map is available online. To ease my race fears I take it one step further and drive the race course if possible. For a triathlon, I often bike part of the run and/or bike course as my bike tune-up the day before a race.

3. Visualize the race. The night before a race, close your eyes and visualize yourself at the start. See yourself racing strong from start to finish. You’ve got to believe it to achieve it!

4. Focus your nervous energy on setting out your race gear and double-checking the race start time and the driving directions to get to the race. Going over every detail before the race will help address any fears about getting to the race on time, with all your necessary gear in hand. This is especially important for a triathlon — go through everything you’ll need for the swim, bike and run portions, and set aside what will stay in transition and what you will keep on you for the start of the race.

5. Set multiple wake-up alarms. One of the things that keeps me awake (or keeps me from falling back asleep the night before a race) is worrying that I will miss my wake-up time. Set an alarm clock, cell phone alarm, friend or partner’s cell phone alarm, hotel wake-up call — any combination thereof.

6. On race day, stick to the plan. Eat what you normally eat before a race or long run. Warm up the same way. Do not look around you at what others are doing and think you should change up what works for you.

7. Do not let the nervousness of others get to you! For as nervous as I am in the days leading up to a race, I actually feel pretty good on race day itself. If I’ve done all I can do to prepare and I make it to the race on time, I am ready and raring to go. I put a smile on my face and block out the anxious faces around me.

Remember the pure joy of running! These girls are loving the Delphi Walk-a-thon. Photo by familylife.

Remember the pure joy of running! These girls are loving the Delphi Walk-a-thon. Photo by familylife.

8. Use the nerves you have to your advantage. Race jitters send nervous racers running for the porta potties. That’s a good thing. Use your race nerves to clean out your system before the race. Warm drinks (like coffee) help with that too.

9. Remind yourself that no one cares about your finish time but you. If you don’t have your best race, no one is going to say, “I can’t believe you didn’t PR!” or “Really, you were that slow?!” You would never say that to a friend, and a friend would never say that to you. Even if your worst fears come true (for me, injury or a big fat DNF: Did Not Finish), you will learn something from the race.

10. Remember that race jitters mean that you care. You wouldn’t be nervous if this wasn’t something important to you. You’ve probably invested a lot of preparation and time into this race. Half the success of the race is showing up trained and ready to go! Pat yourself on the back for committing to the race, to the training, and to showing up at the start line in spite of your fears!

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