I was standing on the starting line of the NCAA DIII Cross-Country National Championship race. It was the third time I had stood on that starting line. An All-American medal (an award given to the top 35 runners in the nation) stood on my desk at home from the previous year. This year, my coach thought I had a chance of breaking into the top ten.
There was only one problem—my nerves were out of control. After racing competitively for eight years and running some of the best times in the nation, my nerves got the best of me that race and I ran my slowest race of the season, finishing over 100 places further back than the previous year.
Regardless of how much racing experience you have or your fitness level, nerves can still creep up. But, that doesn’t mean they have to get the best of you. Here are several tips that have helped me overcome my nerves on race day:
- Be confident and think positively. Don’t let yourself dwell on the competition, the hills, or how you’ve never run this race before. Instead focus on the positive, such as all the miles you’ve run in preparation—you’ve trained for this, you’re ready! As Steve Prefontain put it, “Life’s battles don’t always go to the strongest or fastest man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.”
- Visualize yourself succeeding. Imagine yourself cresting Heartbreak Hill, powering through the last mile and crossing the finish line. I’d recommend visualizing yourself in different scenarios: what if the wind comes up or your racing partner drops out? By visualizing different situations you will be more prepared for the unexpected when you’re in the middle of the race.
- Remember that some nervousness is good. Being a little bit nervous can get adrenaline pumping, which can help you run faster! Just don’t let your nerves get out of control.
- Relax. Take deep breaths, do a few yoga poses before you head to the starting line or whatever else works well for you. I’d recommend spending a few minutes right before the race relaxing and thinking positively.
- Get to the starting line early. Nothing is worse then rushing around looking for your race bib two minutes before the gun goes off. Plan ahead so that you can get to the starting line early.
Talking? Music? How do you control your nerves before a big race?