I PICKED up running a couple years ago and started racing just last year. Months ago I signed up for an 8K, but never made it to the race. On race morning I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish or would be the last person to finish. Is there any way to motivate myself the morning of a race to wake up and run confidently? How can I get over the guilt of missing a race? – Kara
Thanks for the questions, Kara. Training programs focus on mileage and the physical fitness required of the targeted distance, but don’t address the mental toughness that is also required—especially on race day. Racing makes us face ourselves. It’s a reality check akin to standing in front of the mirror naked, and we all know how much fun that is!
Race anxiety gets to all of us, no matter how long we’ve been racing. For newcomers, the fear of being last or not being able to finish is powerful. On race morning I often feel like I have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, like an old fashioned cartoon. Just knowing that all athletes experience race anxiety to some degree may help you battle your demons.
The good news is that I’ve found once the start gun goes off, the “voices” disappear, and I’m just running. I am not thinking about running, I am running—which is a big difference. Physical movement helps be focused on the moment. Be aware of your pace, other runners, the road, your breathing and you may find nagging doubts are drowned out. The race forces me to be “in the moment”, as Oprah says, and she’s right; it’s a beautiful thing. Being in the moment, to me, is the beauty of racing. Here are some suggestions for building confidence before a race:
- Trust your training Have a training plan for your targeted race and follow it—just like doing your homework and studying before an exam. Yes, you will be nervous, but so is everyone else!
- Positive self-talk Plan now what you will say to chase away the demons. Think about your negative self-talk and specifically address it. Afraid of not finishing? Know you have gone that distance in training many times. Fear of being last? Well, so what if you are? Someone is going to be the last one in and it’s better to have run the race than not to have run at all, isn’t it? And with so many people walking races these days, I doubt you will be the last one in.
- Use visualisation Imagine race morning. Go through the entire process of getting up, getting ready, driving to the race, and practice saying positive things to yourself. Visualise warming up, lining up, starting the race, pacing yourself, and crossing the finish line. Also visualise any glitches that may come up in the race like a shoe coming untied, muscle cramps, etc. and make a plan about what you will do. Plan walking for a moment, relaxing, taking deep breaths, and continue running when you are ready.
- Focus on yourself Go “inward” before the race. Focus on your breathing, heart rate and how you feel. Go through your usual run routine and ignore those around you. Some runners rely on iPods to block out other conversations before a race to stay calm and focused. Find what works for you.
- Make a Race Strategy Having a race strategy allows you to approach the race on your terms. Plan your start pace, walk breaks you may want to take, your goal run pace, and also how you will adjust if your plans don’t unfold the way you thought they would. Plan for slowing down should you need too, have several time goals in mind (Goal A, B, and C). Figure out what is working for you and what isn’t so you can prepare for the next race.
Training and racing is a learning process; our bodies and fitness levels are constantly changing, so the process is ever evolving. The more you know about yourself, the better prepared you will be to handle whatever comes your way. You were tough enough to ask the question, so I know you are tough enough to race!
See you at the races!
Susan Paul has coached more than 2,000 runners and is an exercise physiologist