Go to any large running event and you will see the all too familiar queue for the portaloos; full of nervous, shaking people who can’t stand still. Not because they’re cold, but because pre-race nerves have tied their stomach in knots as the start of the race fast approaches. How can the feelings of dread, anxiety and stress be minimised? The following top tips should help you to, as the famous poster says, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.
1) Give yourself as little to worry about as possible. Have all of your kit packed and ready to go the night before. If your alarm fails to go off, you know you can run down the stairs, grab your bag and go! If all’s going well, you’ve got time to relax, breathe deep and visualise. Similarly, ensure you plan your journey there – check traffic, parking or public transport related issues. Trains are often replaced by buses on a Sunday for engineering works, meaning there’s a chance it might take longer than usual to get there.
2) Have a race plan and focus on what you can control. The weather and other runners are beyond your control, so don’t worry about them. What you can do is make a plan and stick to it! Don’t fly out of the blocks and get swept away with the occasion – your training has prepared you well and you should have an idea of your ‘race pace’.
3) Make yourself familiar with the course in the weeks before the race. Where are the water stations? Where can you expect your supporters to be stood? If you are familiar with the course (including any hills!), you will have things to look forward to en route. If you can, try to run a part of it, too. If it’s on public roads, you could drive a part of it. If you know what the course looks like, you will be familiar with your surroundings.
4) Visualise your race. Pre-race preparation isn’t just physical. All too often, runners are in incredible physical shape, but mentally all over the place! Sit down in the run up to the event and imagine the good, the bad and the ugly of the event. Imagine how it might feel at certain points in the race and arm yourself with methods to banish the demons. If you know what might happen, you are half way to ensuring you’re strong enough to carry on whatever is thrown at you. Discomfort and self-doubt are part and parcel of running; being able to overcome them through mental rehearsal and preparation will push you through the barriers towards a strong finish and the joy of the finish line.
5) Don’t do anything new on the day. If you train like you plan to run, there should be no surprises before or during the race and you’ll be familiar with all aspects of the day. Eat what you always eat, drink what you always drink and wear what you always wear. By all means, sip from a bottle of water or energy drink, but don’t chug the lot – the likelihood is that it’ll cause you to need a pit stop during the race! Your dry mouth isn’t due to dehydration or thirst; it’s due to anxiety and the adrenaline your body is preparing for when the starting gun goes ‘bang’. When you’re in familiar surroundings with very few ‘new’ things going on, you will be much more comfortable.
6) Pull yourself together! Your emotions can quite easily take charge of your mind, so you need to take some time out from the crowds and breathe deep. Collect your thoughts and emotions somewhere quiet, away from the hustle and bustle. Have one final visualisation session and just relax – you are about to come to the end of a very long journey! Remind yourself that you’ve worked hard to be here and your body and mind are ready.
7) Have some emotional triggers ready and remind yourself why you’re running. The run you’re about to do will probably push you to the limit and you might want to stop, slow down or give in. When your mind starts to challenge your desire to continue, have something powerful at the back of your mind to remind you why you’re running and why you shouldn’t give in. It might be that you have a ‘power song’ – something on your MP3 player that you can put on to help you push through, or it might be that you’re running for a charity close to your heart or in memory of a loved one.
8) Remind yourself that the race is your procession. It’s your reward for all that training; for heading out of the door come rain or shine, light or dark. The hard work is undertaken during training, the race is the celebration! When you cross that finish line, you’ve achieved something incredible and you’ve earned every single bit of it. All you need to do is cover the distance between the start and the finish line – go out there, run hard and enjoy it. You’ve done something incredible!