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Exercise Psychology Tip #13: How to Avoid Pre-Race Jitters

Posted Feb 19 2009 3:58pm
Now this might sound crazy to some of you, but here goes: The best way to avoid getting pre-race jitters is not to think about the race at all until the gun goes off. :)

I know that this idea probably sounds contrary to popular wisdom (i.e., as we're supposed to "mentally rehearse" & visualize our performance, etc.), & that this strategy might not work for everyone, but hey, it works quite well for me. Please note, this doesn't mean that I don't prepare physically & mentally for a race, or pack my race bag & lay out my clothes the night before. :)

Rather, I find that if one is going to visualize oneself at a race, it's much better to envision oneself striding to the finish, versus thinking about the starting gun going off. Images of starting guns going off are probably guaranteed to put in a spike in one's adrenaline, but it's not exactly the kind of feeling you probably should be focusing upon before a race. :) You'll probably find there'll be a more than ample supply of adrenaline kicking when the gun actually does go off, so why rush things, right?! Try to stay in the moment & keep your head focused on concepts which help center you mentally.

If you must picture yourself at the race, try seeing yourself in either in the middle of the race or sprinting to the finish line. :) Now, I don't know about you, but that's the kind of rush that motivates me in a positive way.

Also, here's another tactic you can use: Schedule a zillion races on your race calendar. That'll help curb any pre-race anxiety because racing will then become so commonplace after a while that it'll be just like brushing your teeth. Really!

It's not that the events in & of themselves aren't special -- each race is unique in its own right -- but rather that the activity of going to races will help acclimate yourself to the process of mentally & physically preparing for races.

Also running in less populous or low-key races can also help to build your racing confidence & give you enough "practice races" so that you can learn to just chill out & enjoy your racing experiences!

(For example, our running club hosts a "low-key racing series," in which races are free to club members & a minimal fee for non-members. These races are fun & have a relaxed mood. So this atmosphere definitely enhances the overall racing experience in a very positive way!)

In general, I find that it's most useful to form strategies which help build "mental mojo" & eliminate unproductive behaviors. This means practicing behaviors which increase one's confidence and also decrease or curb one's less-helpful proclivities.

With some particularly ingrained habits, it's going to take a bit of repeated mitigation to get rid of them, but if you really are determined to change for the better, chances are that you will do so. :) For example, some people have a tendency to overanalyze or dwell on events too much before they happen. Not that I would know anything about what that's like. :)

So once you're conscious of something like this, you can work on mentally "checking" yourself in a conscious manner, so you don't slip into old habits.

When it comes to mental blocks & attitudinal issues, this usually means stepping out of your own way, & practicing what I like to call "realistic optimism." Habits became habits because you did them a zillion times, so it takes the mind & the body time to self-correct. So keep at it & you'll get past it!

Racing is physical, but a huge part of it is mental. And you want to make sure, as much as is humanly possible, that your head is in the right place -- before, during, & after your road race. :)

That way, no matter what the outcome of your race, your experience will be a success.
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