There’s no secret to it, racing is stressful. We invest time, money, energy and effort into doing the best we can come race day. We all experience race day nerves, no matter the level, and no matter the race. The amount of stress and nerves will vary based on the importance of the race, but as long as you care about the race, you will be nervous and there will be stress involved!
Many times, athletes try to quiet these nerves, but new research on stress shows this is counter intuitive. Our body’s stress responses are beneficial to increase performance when the stress is framed in the correct way. Here are several ways to deal with race day nerves that will help performance on race day:
1. Stopping the Fight-or-Flight Response: Nerves and stress can either be helpful or harmful solely based on mindset. The body has many different stress responses, but the most well known is the fight-or-flight response. When we are challenged with a large amount of stress, many athletes unintentionally frame the stress as a threat, thus activating this response. More adrenaline is released and we react by becoming anxious. This anxiety is counter productive and can potentially lead to panic attacks. Use mental imagery and race simulation sessions to learn how to use this physiological response to your advantage.
2. Activating a Challenge Mindset: Simply changing the framing of race day nerves will help your butterflies fly in a beneficial direction. While this will not lower the amount of adrenaline released, it will allow the body to use it in a more productive way than becoming anxious. Viewing the race as a challenge and opportunity, that you are excited for, is one of the best things that you can do to shift your mindset.
3. Tell Yourself You Do Well Under Pressure: Telling yourself that you are an athlete that thrives under pressure will make you perform better under pressure. While this sounds too good to be true, if you are telling yourself this, you are more likely to embrace the challenge and view the race as an opportunity. This simple mindset intervention helps you to change from having a fight-or-flight response to having a challenge mindset.
4. Remind Yourself of What You Have Done to Get Ready: On race morning or the night before a race, it is normal to question if you are ready for the race even though you have done the training. Sebastion Keinle recently tweeted “If you feel ready & prepared for an Ironman, chances are you’re completly overtrained.” He then went on to win Ironman Frankfurt in a 7:41. Leading into a race, it easy to remember the session that you didn’t do or the ones where you didn’t nail the numbers, though they make up a small percentage of your training. Simply glancing over your training log the week before a big race helps to remind you of all the good training you did to prepare.
What are some of your pointers you have for a triathlete doing their first race to deal with race day nerves?