Whether you’re training for a fondo, multisport or road racing, there is something undeniably motivating and thrilling about training for an event. There is added passion and dedication that comes with the pressure of registering for a race. However come race day, your body is going to do all sorts of crazy things despite your best efforts to control it. Welcome to the world of pre-race nerves!
As someone who is typically more anxious than most, I found my race jitters overwhelming at first, and struggled to control my emotions near the startline. It certainly gets better with time, but the nerves will never go away entirely. Fortunately, there are a few tips that can help you cope with pre-race anxiety:
Pre-Race Nerve Symptoms
Everyone’s fight or flight response is a little different. In some cases, your pre-race anxiety might manifest itself as feeling shaky and super hyped, or you might yawn uncontrollably while feeling like you need to fall asleep. In many cases, it can be an alternating roller coaster.
Don’t Drink Too Much Coffee
If you start to feel the nerves, do not drink 4 times the amount of coffee you’re used to in an effort to feel “alert” or “awake”. You won’t be any more focused, and it will more than likely result in having more shakes and feeling more anxious. Trust that if one cup of coffee is good, 4 is not necessarily 4 times as good.
It’s Not Superstition: Embrace Routine and Pre-Race Traditions
If you chat with experienced racers and ask them about “pre-race routine”, everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about. In fact, the way they discuss their routine will almost sound like superstition. Whether it’s a need to always put your left shoe on before your right shoe or wanting to lay out all your kit perfectly the night before a race, pre-race routines can help calm the pre-race nerves.
Skipping your pre-race habits can leave you feeling frantic and unprepared, despite the fact that we all know shaved legs don’t actually make you any faster. If you forget your lucky socks, don’t panic!
Why Do Routines Calm Pre-Race Nerves
At a very high level, these rituals are all something that is within your control, and help you feel calm in a stressful situation. Yes, you’re fully aware that your lucky socks aren’t really lucky, but being able to choose to wear them on race day helps you feel more in control and prepared for the task ahead. No, you didn’t suddenly become superstitious overnight! Embrace the little tasks that help calm your pre-race nerves, and make sure you plan time (or book that manicure and pack those socks) to accommodate them around big events.
Your Body is Ready
The number one reaction your body is going to have is the need to go to the bathroom – a lot more than you think is normal. You may be a little horrified, but trying to control this will be counterproductive. Porta potties at professional races aren’t any nicer than grassroots races. The urge may lessen slightly over time, but it will never go away. Try to perceive this as a sign that your body is ready, not that there is something wrong with you! When you line up for the bathroom for the 17th time, turn: “Wow something is wrong with my stomach,” into: “My body is telling me it’s hyped and ready to race.”
Stay Focused on What is in Your Control
You’ve made it to the start line, now is not the time to second guess your training. You’ve done the best you can to prepare yourself for your event, and staring in awe at the next racer’s bulging arm veins wondering if they even have any body fat is doing nothing to help. There is absolutely nothing you can do in this moment to modify your fitness, body composition or any other aspect of your physical preparedness. Divert your energy away from elements that are out of your control, and focus on what you can.
- Is your number pinned properly?
- Do you need to go to the bathroom (see point above)?
- Do you need to apply sunscreen?
- Did you eat all the pre-race food you had planned?
There are little things you can do to ensure your race goes as smoothly. Keep yourself focused on these elements and do not let yourself get distracted by second guessing your fitness or comparing yourself to others.
Don’t Worry About Results
Your peers’ ability is not something you can control. You should have a plan for your race. Your plan should not be “finish top 3!” but rather race tactics you can execute. A few examples of race plans for your annual Grand Fondo:
- Attack your favourite climb
- Drink one water bottle by the 50km mark
- Smile and wave at every camera
Having mid-race goals is a good way to focus on the process instead of your result. Execute your race plan to the best of your abilities. For both racing and fondos, you should have created a race plan ahead of the race, and on the day of the event the only thing you can do is have full trust in your plan and/or your team, and commit 100% to them.
Warming up will help prepare your body for the effort ahead. There is also a calming element to it: Instead of fidgeting and pacing back and forth, go for a short spin or hop on the trainer. Listen to your favourite music, and focus on the warm up process and reminding your body that it can in fact do this.
Sometimes You Just Need Space
Your new best friend might just be some giant noise cancelling headphones. In Vancouver there is a crit race called the Gastown Grand Prix, with thousands of dollars of prize money, professional competition, right downtown, and EVERYONE will come watch and cheer you on. Sponsors, coworkers, friends, teammates and family will all come wish you luck when you can barely even open your mouth because you might just throw up from nerves. The greetings are well meaning of course, but I’ve learned that I’m better off promising to catch up with everyone after I survive the race and drowning out my friends with warm up music. If you know that you are too nervous to be good company, there’s nothing wrong with politely acknowledging this, isolating yourself, and then treating all your friends to your post race extra giddy self after it’s over.
For as nervous and anxious as you might feel before the race, you will also be a euphoric ball of joy after the finish line! So go ahead and sign up for that big event, trust that the nervous pit in your stomach is a good thing, and have a great time building lifelong memories on two wheels.