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Having competed in the sport of triathlon for well over a decade now, I like to think of myself as a relatively seasoned triathlete. Despite this, I regularly suffer from the most debilitating race day nerves, induced, I’m certain, by my tendency to over-analyse almost every aspect of my life.
According to the experts, pre-race anxiety is a completely normal occurrence and, if managed correctly, can help you race faster by getting that adrenaline flowing. But there’s a fine line between pre-race butterflies and being hunched over in transition, heaving with your head between your legs (aka me, Noosa Triathlon circa 2012, 2013, 2015 et. al.). Yes, controlled nerves can be good, but the kind that completely sap all energy from your body? Not so much.
The following tips for tackling race day nerves have been tried, tested and suggested by some of the best in the business.
If you find yourself suffering from unhealthy pre-race nerves, try putting some of these tips into practice – they might just be your ticket to a more relaxed race day.
1. Be honest with yourself and trust in the training
Nothing makes me more nervous than greeting the start line knowing I have not put 100% into my training. Conversely, nothing makes me calmer than greeting the start line knowing I’ve prepared to the best of my ability.
Remember those days you ran in the rain, swam in the dark and opted out of a very enticing sleep-in? Now is their time to shine!
Trust in the training you’ve done, set realistic race expectations and be confident that your T:Zero Multisport coach has prepared you as best they can. Having trust in your coach and knowing within yourself you’ve given it everything can go a long way to calming that nervous beast within.
Know your plan, be unwaveringly confident in your preparation and stick to it.
Visualise yourself going through the motions – from race morning preparations all the way through transition set-up, swim start, bike, run and my personal favourite - the finishing chute!
Not just handy to employ on race day itself, visualisation is great to practice regularly in training before race day rolls around. Every training session is an opportunity to visualise - race morning, race start, transitions and crossing that finish line.
When race day dawns, having that familiarity and focus will make it feel (almost) like just another training day.
3. Get organised
Depending on the location and type of race, arriving a day or so beforehand for smaller, local events or more if we’re talking long-distance, provides a good opportunity to settle in and familiarise yourself with the local area, race HQ and the course itself.
If you can, take the opportunity to do some race course reconnaissance – ride (part of) or drive the bike course, jog part of the run course and do some easy swim course laps in the day(s) leading up to your race. Alternatively, if you live close by, make sure you train part (or all) of the course regularly.
Familarise yourself with the race day schedule, transition opening/closing times and any specific race requirements to alleviate unnecessary stress, so you can save that energy for the race itself!
Also, think about booking your accommodation early - perhaps close to the start line (but not too close) and take into consideration the location of any support requirements you might need such as bike mechanics and masseuses etc.
4. Meditate … or just breathe!
For a sure-fire way to destress, there’s nothing better than a solid meditation session. But if the thought of finding your zen in a sea of nervous pre-race chatter seems impossible, employing a simple breathing technique might just do the trick.
Try “3,4,5”. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds and repeat (I know you just did it, but do it again for good measure).
This little technique has been instrumental in calming my nerves and lowering my heart rate during periods of peak anxiety, and best of all it’s so easy to remember. If this one doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of other breathing techniques around. Find the one that suits you best and … breathe.
5. Listen to Music
Listening to music can provide a wonderful and easy distraction to stop you getting too worked up by what’s going on around you – particularly during transition set up.
Music can help to relax you and headphones provide a great buffer to drown out the nervous chatter of other athletes and act as a deterrent for unnecessary interruptions.
Keep your music light and fun. I like to listen to the same music I’ve trained with over the months leading up to race day, making sure a couple of key favourites that really lift me up are on high rotation.
6. Use Mantras
Effective mantras address what you want to feel as opposed to the adversity you are trying to overcome. When you feel as though doubts and distractions are getting the better of you, a mantra can help to keep you calm and focussed on the task at hand.
Numerous studies have shown that positive self-talk leads to overall increased performance and an increase in athlete self-confidence. Mantras are great at directing your mind away from negative thoughts and towards more positive ones that can help you transcend the pain or anxiety you are (inevitably) experiencing.
Choose a mantra that’s short, positive, instructive, and full of action words. For example, “Strong, Light, Smooth” was my mantra for Ironman marathons.
Test your mantra during training to find one that works for you.
7. Pre-Race Rituals
Developing a pre-race ritual is a great way to help you bring a sense of normalcy, familiarity and comfort to race morning. As with visualisation (refer Tip #2), the best time to create and polish your pre-race ritual is during training.
Your ritual can be anything from eating the same meal the day before and on race morning, (the classic) flat lay of race gear on your bed before packing it up or the order in which you go through the motions on race morning - body marking, transition set up, stretching and so on. Your ritual can be whatever you want, as long as you find it effective, calming and meaningful.
8. Remember your ‘Why’
When all else fails? Make sure to remember your ‘Why’. As cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day, we love this sport and we do this sport because it’s FUN.
Training, racing, logistics and irrational fears aside – what’s the one thing that lights the fire within, for you?
Take some time to stop and reflect on your journey, your progress and your ‘Why’.
As always, there’s rarely a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and what works for one athlete may be completely useless to another. So please, take the above suggestions with a grain of salt.
Try testing some of these techniques during training and on your ‘B’ and ‘C’ races to find what works for you. Come race day, you’ll be sufficiently equipped to transform those pre-race nerves into excitement and measured anticipation.
What are your own tips and tricks for dealing with pre-race nerves? Let us know in the comments below!
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!