10 + 1 Tips for Overcoming Race Day Anxiety

Anxiety is a bit of a buzzword right now and dealing with it is a big part of many people’s day to day life. Whether you suffer from anxiety day to day or not you might get more than a little anxious on race day. Even if anxiety is something you effectively manage on your life you might find those strategies don’t do much on race day. I can and do get anxious on race day but I’ve gotten better at it as time goes on. One thing to know is that it’s totally normal and reasonable to feel nervous and full of doubt about something you’ve never done before that you’ve been training for for months. This sort of anxiety probably isn’t something that needs to be treated but that doesn’t mean you can’t employ strategies to manage it. So here are my top tips for managing race day nerves and try our as many as possible, this is one of those more is more situations!

  1. Realize you’re doing it anyway so just go with the flow

You’re doing this either way at this point so just accept that. No matter how scared you are, how frazzled you are, what the weather is or even if you forget your headphones, you’re still doing it! You possibly spent many months in training, hours and days of your life you’re not getting back so no matter how you’re feeling the morning of you are committed at this point. Reminding myself of that has helped me more than anything. Add to that that honey usually gets up early to hold the bum bag for me and now my cheer squad also often includes two parental units so I’m obviously not going to just get back in the car and ask to be taken home. Once you remind yourself of that about a dozen times it’s way easier to just go with the flow. Don’t worry though there is way more concrete stuff you can do below too.

2. Do as much as you can the night before

Chances are you’ll be waking up as a$$ o’clock in the morning full of race day nerves with a long list of things to do and almost no time to do them. Do as much as you possibly can the night before. Pack you bag, rack your bike on the car, make your breakfast, fill water bottles and lay out your clothes the night before. If you suffer from race day nerves you literally can’t be too ridiculous here. When I know I’ll be super nervous I’ve attached numbers to shits, laid out deodorant on the clothes pile and a put a post it note checklist on the door. Oftentimes the anxiety starts the night before and doing as much as possible is a way to make yourself feel like you’re doing something about it at least. Check out this race day checklist printable for inspiration. Plus you can post a pre-race instagram lay-flat and get all those warm wishes before your race.

3. Talk to people or not at the start line

Maybe it’s just because I’m one of those friendly Canadians but I find people at the start line are happy to chat with you. Usually lining up and waiting to start is the worst moment for pre-race anxiety. You can wait a good long while, there’s nothing else to do and it’s almost happening! Find someone near you to talk to to pass the time and busy your mind. There are so many openings like:

  • How did your training go
  • It’s so cold/hot but I heard it will be colder/hotter later
  • I’m so nervous are you nervous
  • I love your sneakers/top/hair clip
  • I hate doing the warm up do you know if this race has one
  • Offer to take a picture of them
  • Really the options are endless

Or if small talk is a nerve-racking trigger for you feel free to keep the headphones in an keep to yourself. This is actually something I miss since I have joiners for races because you get to meet some new people. There is a really good chance that person will be just as nervous as you and you’ll spend some time reassuring them and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

4. Remember that people are just as nervous as you

Which takes us into our next point, mostly everyone else there is nervous too. Even if they seem fast, have the cutest outfit or it’s your very first race some of those people around you are super nervous too. Some people are legitimately freaking out on the inside and knowing that alone is sure to help.

5. You did the training plan specifically to prepare you for today

One of the first things that helped me calm down on race day was the realization that almost everyone that does the whole training program finishes the race. In fact that’s exactly what they are written to let you do! If you did all the runs save for a couple you will be able to finish the race. Feel free to add on any other modifiers that help like

  • I’m in decent shape
  • I’m pretty young-ish
  • 80 year old do this successfully sometimes
All tatted up and ready to race!

6. Remind yourself you’ll have fun and get a medal even if you don’t PR

Sometimes we’re all looking to break a record even if you don’t admit it. That can add some stress to the day. You’ll be going over every single training run in your mind thinking if it’s like three Tuesdays ago I’ll be good but not if it’s like 5 Fridays ago. Remember that no matter what you’ll still Geel a huge sense of accomplishment because you did still accomplish something big even if its not the fastest you’ve ever done it. You’ll be all smiles and looking lovingly at your medal anyway. Plus no one but you will care that you didn’t break a record. You’ll be disappointed for just an instant when you see the clock when you cross the line but it will pretty much disappear right after that when you get your medal and all those congratulations. You’ll probably end up really close to that record and that will just encourage you for the next try.

7. Think about the people that can’t do this

This is just a little bit mean but since these are inside the head thoughts do what you gotta do to calm down. Most people out there can’t even run a mile, some can’t even walk one. Think about that while you’re freaking out. I know, and we all know, hundreds of people at least only about three that I know could do a half or a triathlon with me that day. Quite a few more could do a 5k but only a handful. Those people appear to be fine with that but think about those people for a while and revel in your imminent accomplishment. Maybe just don’t tell them you were thinking about them after!

8. Let yourself be frazzled

The last time I ran a half I did all the packing steps the night before and yet getting out of the car I could not for the life of me find my headphones in my bag even though I knew they were in there. I freaked out a bit and almost instantly and resigned myself to running without tunes. It took honey or my mom exactly 15 seconds to locate them. The point of this is to say you will be frazzled and have the odd minor freakout that’s totally normal. It’s sort of like the feeling when you reach into your pocket or purse and are not immediately able to locate your wallet. Just take some deep breaths, slow your roll and calm the F down for a second. It’s probably fine, whatever it is. If you can employ a person on you cheer squad to handle these flakey moments do it. You don’t really even have to ask them they’ll probably just jump into help but it’s nice to at least thank them after the race.

9. Remember that past you thought this was a really good idea for future you

So much so that he or she paid good money for today. Even though you’re probably thinking “why did I do this,” and “what was I thinking” past you thought this through and decided it was a good idea. You signed up, trained and had lots of good reasons to do this back then. Try to remember those reasons while you’re second guessing your current position. Whether you signed up for the challenge, the discipline or the medal, past you thought it through. Pretty soon you’ll remember all those things when you cross the line but trying hard to think about them might help with your nerves.

Practicing my finish line face

10. Remember you’ve done this before

If you have done the same distance or even race before remind yourself that you didn’t die that day and you probably won’t today. Many might be surprised to find yourself just as nervous the second or tenth time around. Reminding yourself of that though is priceless.

11. Pick up your kit early scope out the course

This isn’t always a possibility or even necessary but if you’re pretty sure you’re going to be freaked out it’s worth the time. It seems like only one less thing to think about on race day but it’s actually a lot more. Sure you don’t have to wait in that line the morning of but you can also make the decision about whether to wear the shirt or not, attach your numbers, flag your helmet and stress less. If you can also scope out the race location and course that’s good too. That of course can be done well in advance of the day before. I really only travel for really big races or race during travel we’re already doing. For that reason if we can only spare a single night away I prefer to go up the day before rather than stay on after the race. Last year picking up my kit the day before and scoping out the transition area, beach and bike course led me to being early calm the morning of my first olympic.

These really are the things I do that took me from being a consistent ball of nerves to at least sometimes really calm the morning of. Part of it is though making a fool proof plan to make things go smoothly. What’s your favorite tip to stay zen on race day?

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