You’re getting ready to race and you got a case of the butterflies, your stomach is in knots. And you might vomit or you might poop or you might do both at the same time. Well, I’m Jesse Funk, and on today’s episode of Runner’s High, we’re going to talk about dealing with prerace jitters.
The thing about prerace jitters is that some amount of nervousness is actually good. And I just think back to one of my first psych courses I took in college with a professor who was into sports psychology. And he talks about this basically, nice bell curve of excitation, where in the middle, you are somewhat nervous, and that’s where you get peak performance. What’s important to remember here is that nervousness and excitement are really the same emotion physiologically, but our brain is interpreting it two different ways.
That professor of mine went on to explain this nice bell curve where on one end, where you’re super relaxed, you’re unlikely to have the focus needed for peak performance. And on the other end, you’re so nervous, that you’re likely to shut down. This is what happens when people choke, they get so excited, so nervous, that they just cannot focus anymore. So, what can you do before you’re getting ready to race to actually deal with and manage your prerace jitters?
My first suggestion for you is going to be developed a prerace routine. And this is something you don’t just do on race day, you actually do for every single speed workout you have, so that your warmup is the same. You know, for me, maybe in college, we went out for a 20 minute run. And then we had a particular set of drills we went through and then we went through strides. And there was this same set of motions we did every single time we did a speed workout and when we raced, so we were familiar with what we were doing.
Along those same lines, write down your prerace schedule. I actually keep it in my phone in Evernote, but you can use whatever application you want or you can use a pen and paper. The whole idea though is that you have all of your time planned out from the time that you wake up to the time there’s a race starts. And then it becomes a matter of checking things off the list, rather than worrying about did I forget this or do I have time to do that?
Everything goes on the list. So, with that template that I keep in Evernote, I have all these activities I know I need to do leading up to the race. And then I’ll modify all the time schedule, depending on how far I’m from the race venue, how long it takes from parking into the race, you know how many bathroom breaks, I want to take all these things get into this race schedule.
When you have this race checklist, then it’s a matter of going down and checking things off. It does a couple of things. One, you already know, okay, these are all the things I’m going to do. I haven’t forgotten anything. If I forget anything, I can look back at the list. But also, it keeps your mind occupied in the present on what you’re doing right now leading up to the race, instead of focusing on the nerves. And it allows you to go through that routine more seamlessly.
My next tip is not going to be immediately helpful, but it goes right along with routine and that is race more often. Meaning don’t just wait till you’re A race to get this all together. Don’t just do one race a year, find local races that aren’t that big a deal. Or you know, things that you can just do for fun with your friends. That way you can practice these things over and over and over. The more often you have the opportunity to do these things, do this prerace routine, the more you are able to relax for those bigger stages because it becomes the same thing.
I actually talk about this or more rather, my guests on the Smart Athlete Podcast, Episode 3 talks about this, Todd Buckingham. And Todd knows a lot about managing it. He’s actually an amateur world champion in triathlon so he knows that on race day, no matter whether it’s his local tiny race, or he’s traveling all the way to Switzerland, like he did this year to race the national championship, or the global championship, sorry about that, then it’s the same thing, he has the same routine, no matter what race it is. And that helped keep his nerves and his anxiety down.
My last tip is actually going to take the longest amount of time, but it will be the most significant in the long term management of those prerace jitters. And that is to figure out and define for ourselves, what the race means to us, and why it makes us nervous. You know, you and I, we both spend a lot of time trying to be good runners, and we define ourselves that way, right? You’re a runner, I’m a runner, and we have this expectation of ourselves for any given race.
You know, I want to do well because… Whatever that because it’s going to be personal to you. You know, for me for a long time I wanted to do well because I wanted to be a professional triathlete. Well, that’s a lot of expectation to put on yourself. And you have to dive down deep to figure out what are the consequences of that if I fail?
And once you go through that, and you say, in my case, say, I want to be a professional triathlete, why do I want to be a professional triathlete? Well, I want to be a professional and because I want to feel like I’m worth something. Why do I want to feel like I’m worth something? Because I want the people around me to have a high opinion of me.
Well, why do I want people to have a high opinion of me? And you continue down this rabbit hole, it is a well mental juggernaut of an exercise, it takes you down to places you may not want to go. And that’s why it takes some time. But only if you give yourself some time to deal with it. Can you get to the bottom of things?
When you realize that failing, whatever that expectation you have is really not that big a deal, then you can kind of let go and realize, hey, this race is not the end of the world. It’s not going to be a big deal if it doesn’t go well today. Everybody has bad days.
Sometimes you have to skip and can’t do your race for some other reason. I actually talked about this when I skipped my A race this year in another video go check that out, I had a sore throat and the reasons I skipped my a race.
My overall point here, though, is that dealing with your emotions, and your motivations is a lifelong process. It’s not going to be an overnight way to make your prejitters go away, that routine should help with that. But this part, this is the crux of why are we running?
You know, it gets down to the reason that we’re out there in the first place. Again, I talked about the Smart Athlete Podcast a lot, but a lot of my guests talk about how they do it because they have fun, they continue to do it because they have fun. And when fun is our pure motivation, then we’re more childlike.
But if there’s other motivations, other things that make us nervous, then we need to get to the root of that. Because yes, will be a better runner. But more importantly, and this is what I love to talk about on this channel is that we will slowly become better people.
Is there something that you want me to talk about regarding running or questions you have? Leave then in the comments below, let me know what do you want to know about running. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.