Ease the Stress of a Big Race

Melanie asks: I am running my second half-marathon in just a couple weeks, and I am so nervous I can’t stand it. My training has gone well, and I hope to PB by several minutes, but I had no idea that setting a goal could stress me out so much. What can I do to relieve my anxiety?

Putting all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes, leads to high stress before the race and often leaves runners feeling devastated afterward if things don’t go exactly as planned.
Experts suggest reducing this stress by shifting your perspective from focusing on one goal to embracing multiple goals. It’s most important that at least one of your goals is not oriented toward a finishing time. For example, you say your training has gone well, so think about all the things that went right with your training. Make a list of every good thing about your training and and use it to create several goals for your race. By focusing on what went right during training and implementing those things into your race goals, it helps you create a successful experience.

It also helps to construct very achievable goals, like not going out too fast in the first few minutes of the race. Runners make this mistake all too often and ruin their race within the first few strides. Decide what your run pace should be for the first half-mile and stick to it.

Or, your goal could be something like sticking to a specific hydration or nutrition plan during the race. Set specific time intervals or mileage intervals where you will take your gels or liquids during the event. Also, if you found that warming up and/or cooling down helped your training runs, set a goal of doing a short warmup run and/or a cooldown run before and/or after the race.

Next, formulate another goal that is slightly more difficult than your first set of goals. Examples for this might be to run a negative split, or running the second half of your race slightly faster than the first, which also helps you avoid going out too fast. Or, set a back-up time goal. If not a PB, then what time would you still like to achieve—perhaps your last PB—so that you can head home afterward feeling great?

Your last goal can be that big PB goal. This is a goal that is achievable if all goes right for you, but, if it doesn’t, you can walk away from this race still feeling good. It’s not always possible to achieve all of our goals on race day, but when you leave knowing you met at least one, or even two race goals, it’s still a good day at the office.

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