13 Tricks To Overcome Your Pre-Race Anxiety

by Sportitude

You’ve run on this road before in training, but leading up to race day you're second-guessing your body and abilities. Like illness or injury, pre-race anxiety can be a burden to both your headspace and physical performance.

Try these 13 anxiety-busting tricks to banish self-doubt, boost your confidence, calm your nerves and run your best race.

1. Know it’s OK to feel anxiety

If you try to force out or avoid anxiety, it’s more likely to have a damaging grip on your mental health. Instead of fighting or running from it, try to see it for what it is - an emotion, not who you are – and it’s OK to feel and accept it.

With this acceptance, you can build up a tolerance to anxiety and naturally decrease its intensity over time.

You can observe your anxiety non-judgmentally within your mind, reflecting on it from different angles as a spectator and know that anxious thoughts aren't fact - they don't have to stop you in your tracks.

If you are struggling with chronic anxiety or feel that it impacts your quality of life, please reach out to a mental healthcare professional for personalised guidance.

2. Reframe your anxiety into excitement

Your body doesn’t know the difference between anxiety and excitement, so try shifting your mindset. Rather than allowing negative self-talk to run rampant, recite a positive mantra like "I can do this" or “I am feeling excited” to exercise your ‘positivity muscles’ and see your anxiety in a new light.

The way we label our emotions can have a real effect on how we feel – with the ability to turn a perceived negative (i.e. anxiety) into a positive (i.e. excitement). With ‘mental exercise’, optimistic thinking can become second nature and in turn, boost your confidence and self-esteem.

3. Stand tall and smile

Trade closed off postures for ‘power poses' - stand tall, shoulders back, chest raised and smile. It may sound silly at first, but smiling releases feel-good endorphins and acts as a natural relaxant to alleviate stress hormones. It will absolutely make you feel lighter and more positive in the moment.

Power poses can slow down a busy brain and reboot how you feel - ‘tricking’ your body into releasing more testosterone and reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) to feel self-empowered and confident in the moments leading up to the race.

4. Unwind with downtime

As much as you live and breathe running, setting aside time in the days prior to the race to unwind with non-running activities can be beneficial – whether it’s curling up with a juicy book, listening to relaxing tunes or if running is your therapy, gear up in your running shoes for an easy, no-pressure jog.

If you have the opportunity, surround yourself with nature - looking at the stars, trees or into the waves to give yourself some perspective. Yoga can be rejuvenating and ease your stress but be careful to keep it short and gentle, and avoid burning yourself out with new challenges too close to race day.

Surround yourself with a support network, and remember underneath the running clothing and race day pressure your performance doesn’t define you.

5. Prioritise sleep without pressure

Pre-race anxiety may interfere with the duration of your sleep or your sleep quality, so prioritising your sleep in the week leading up to the race is particularly important.

Like your competitors, with the suspense rising you may not sleep well the last night before the race, and that's OK. By choosing to accept that rather than stressing over getting your 7 - 9 hours of shut-eye, you'll give your body the opportunity to drift off to sleep more naturally, without the build-up of mental pressure.

Check out 7 Sustainable Tips To Improve Your Sleep to help support your performance and overall wellbeing.

6. Eat nutritious meals and stay hydrated

Your nutrition can boost your mood and support your mental health, so be sure to enjoy wholesome and nourishing meals leading up to your race and as part of your active lifestyle.

Typically, high-fibre foods are recommended in your everyday nutrition for their benefits to your digestive health. However, low-fibre options are easier to break down and absorb by your body. Therefore, a high-carb, low-fat and low-fibre pre-race dinner is ideal.

Consider a stir fry with white rice and your choice of protein (e.g. lean chicken, tofu), pasta with a tomato-based sauce and lean protein, or sweet potato with lean protein and a small salad. These meal ideas will provide energy without aggravating a sensitive, nervous stomach.

Definitely don’t try anything new the night before your race, and stay clear of spicy foods that may cause digestive upset.

Stay hydrated with water and reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol can have different effects on different people, so it’s best to save the celebration bubbly until after you’ve crossed the finish line.

7. Don't beat yourself up over a 'bad' run

Ever fixate over a lousy training session? If this sounds familiar, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, discover how to deal with a 'bad' run. Even if you didn't perform the way you hoped, with every stride you're becoming a stronger runner - so there's no such thing as a wasted run.

Assess each workout for a limited time, then let it go. This will help you clean up your headspace like you would an untidy room - decluttering your mind from unconstructive criticism. By giving yourself emotional breathing space, you'll be able to find the joy and positive benefits of running and be more mentally refreshed on race day.

8. Visualise your race plan

Visualise all aspects of the race from start to finish – from waking up and warming up, to breathing calming at the starting line, getting into the rhythm of your movement, setting a good pace and crossing the finish line with a smile.

Imagine working through race day difficulties like hitting the proverbial wall or getting a blister, so you’re not mentally thrown off balance by the unexpected. This mental preparation will allow you to react with a cool head in the moment, knowing you’ll be able to adapt and overcome obstacles.

9. Let go of what you can’t control, prepare for what you can

Being prepared in advanced will take a load off your shoulders on the morning of the race, allowing you to focus on your mindset, fit in a nourishing breakfast and arrive early to reduce stress. It can be hectic juggling everything you need to do in your mind so write a race day checklist to ease your mental load.

Set aside or pack your essentials into your hydration pack in the days leading up to your race – including your race belt, energy gels and other running nutrition, music and running headphones (listening to music before and during your race may help lift nerves), anti-chafing products and toilet paper (for long distance events like ultramarathons, you’ll be relieved you packed it!).

Anxiety often grows from a sense of no control. You can’t control the weather, but you can bring along a weather-resistant running jacket to make your run more comfortable. You can’t control your competitors, but you can prepare your body, strive to give your best and be the master of your own breathing and pace.

10. Practice mindfulness before and during your race

Stand aside from the cacophony of the starting line and dedicate a minute to mindful breathing to help you stay in tune with your body and find your calm centre.

Practicing mindfulness helps you stay present in the moment, allowing you to direct your focus on your race plan and giving your best, rather than results or the finish line itself – which can be daunting, particularly on endurance races.

To find a flow in your movement and maintain a calm, grounded headspace, it helps to have something to 'anchor’ you in the moment – whether it’s staying conscious of your breathing, the soothing rhythm of your feet striking the road or elements from your external surroundings like birds singing.

11. Race only against yourself

Worried that your competitors have trained harder, are fitter or are more prepared?

Break up with your need to compare. When it comes to social media, it has the power to motivate and connect you with an online fitness tribe, but your relationship with it can become toxic if you make unhealthy comparisons and forget that you're seeing only a piece of the puzzle.

In truth, you’re in it together with your competitors – you’re not alone. Trust in your training and remember that no matter how many people are around you, you’re only ever racing against yourself.

12. Measure success by self-improvement

Expectations carry a lot of pressure and can leave you tight and anxious at the potential for failure. Although quantifiable goals like to run your fastest PB can be a source of motivation, it’s important to have balance.

If you have results-driven anxiety, focus on running well for your fitness level and the conditions - not on running perfectly or a specific time.

Success should be measured by the effort you put in – not by outrunning your competitors, but by self-improvement. All you can do is your best on the day and you’ll feel a sense of relief and calm in accepting that.

13. Be proud of yourself before you step over the starting line

It’s easy to spiral into the mindset of “I don’t want to mess this up”, “This is my only chance” or "I have to beat my time, I've worked too hard to fail".

Know there will always be another race – your journey doesn’t end here. Celebrate yourself for the hard work you’ve put in, focus on the workouts you’ve crushed and be proud of your accomplishments even before you step over the starting line.

Finally, remind yourself why you’re here (to have an awesome day) and why you run – for the love of it. This is far more important than what time you set or the position you place and a continuous source of motivation for the long run, beyond the finish line.

Bonus Tip: Sign up to parkrun as a stepping stone to race day

Even before you sign up to a race, fear of anxiety and the unknown may make you hesitate when it comes to pursuing your running goals. If you're new to racing, parkrun is a pressure-free option to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of what race day may feel like, without technically being a race at all.

Parkrun is a free, non-competitive 5K running event that encourages runners of all ages and abilities to lace up on a Saturday morning within a supportive and encouraging community.

Enjoying parkrun may help you build mental resilience and confidence when it comes to running within a group - and can act as a support network as you stretch and expand your comfort zone before taking on race day itself. You may even meet a running buddy at parkrun that's keen to cheer you on or to sign up for race day alongside you - helping to alleviate anxiety as you take on the challenge together.

For nearly twenty years, parkrun has been inspiring people to walk, jog or run at any pace to the finish line - with the capacity to help you grow as a person and runner. Now, parkrun has thousands of locations across the globe, and there's likely to be one not far front your front door.

Discover some of the top parkruns across different Australian locations:

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