Tomorrow I will be racing a 10K with Karel. The Native Sun 10K in Mandarin, just a few miles down the road. I'm super excited for the race and I've worked really hard to break 40 minutes. I've trained my body and my mind and tomorrow I will give it my best effort. It's going to hurt all over, my body is going to want to quit around mile 4 and my mind will try to tell me that I can't do it for the last mile. No race is without a battle between the mind and body throughout the race but I've learned that although we (as athletes) have a lot to face on race day, there are a few things that we can control on the days leading up to a race.
As a long-time athlete, I've experienced all types of pre-race nerves. From swimming competitively in High School in order to do well at State Championships to swimming in college and not letting down my teammates in order to qualify for Nationals. Then, in racing in my first triathlon, my first marathon, my first half Ironman and my first Ironman. All nerves for the unknown. I feel getting nervous never goes away but we all become better (or worse) and managing those pre-race nerves. However, for most of us, despite how bad those nerves may feel, we still toe the line and put our hard work to the test.
In working with a variety of athletes from all fitness levels, I've dealt with many different pre-race nerves. I've heard it all.....
I'm not ready
I'm not as fast as I use to be
I am worried about......
I hate the way I look
It's amazing as to what we tell ourselves before a race or even worse, how we speak to others about our personal feelings about an upcoming event.
One of the most important things in managing your pre-race nerves is confidence. This is not the same as being arrogant. Confidence is knowing that you have put in the work. Confidence is being honest with yourself as to the work you did (or didn't do) and how you will perform on race day. Confidence is knowing that there will always be people faster and slower than you.
Confidence is the ability to be grateful for the voluntary opportunity that you give yourself to pay money for an event, put in the work to get to the starting line, challenge the body and mind until the finish line and cross the line exhausted only to receive a t-shirt and maybe a medal. Confidence comes when we know that our choice to participate in a sport is an individual choice and to get to the finishing line, it is purely an individual effort to make the body work. Confidence shines bright when we enjoy being pushed, beat and challenged by others. You see, sports teach us so many life lessons and one of those is confidence.
"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot."
The worst thing about confidence is that you can't buy it, you can only work on it. Funny thing is that people can give it to you and they can also take it away from you. But above all, if you don't have faith in yourself, every training session and every pre-race effort will be put to waste for you won't be able to reach your full potential.
I find a lot of athletes take part in fear-based training due to increasing pre-race nerves. To me, there is no need to test yourself in training just to prove to yourself that you can do "it". Sure, we all need to train the body to adapt favorably to the stress we put on it but I believe that athletes do the best when they save their best performance for race day. Why waste your best effort in training for an audience of one? Why show off to your training buddies when you can execute a fantastic performance on race day? Fear based training and not trusting yourself only leads to too many risks during training and an over-trained body on race day.
If you are participating in an event or race this weekend or in the near future, don't let pre-race nerves get the best of you. If you hurt when you run, walk. If biking hard makes your legs ache, just slow down. If you can't catch your breath while swimming, just flip over on your back and take a moment to regain focus. If you are one to compare yourself to others on the starting line, why not think about all the people who aren't as strong as you to get to the starting line? If you compare yourself to an old-version of yourself, why not thank your body for keeping you healthy and strong for so many years as you age. If you "wish you would have" there's no point wasting energy on something outside of your control (uncontrollables will steal your energy, just like negative people).
As you gear up for your upcoming race, take a moment to assess the work you did, the work you didn't do, the mental strength you have, the mental toughness you are still learning to achieve, the goals you have accomplished, the goals you have for the future and most of all, as you stand on your starting line, remind yourself as to why it was so important to you to get to the finish line. As you fear the unknown ahead of you, have trust your body, mind and abilities and don't forget......there are no requirements for calling yourself an athlete, how you get to the finishing line (so long as it is legal) and what you weigh (or look like). The best races are not told on paper but rather in a race report after the race is complete.
Go out there and race your own race. And when the race is over, reflect on your accomplishment as you return to your "normal" life with your "normal" friends and "normal" job. If you struggle with pre-race nerves, just remind yourself that you are part of a select group - you are an adult athlete who chooses to partake in competitive sports despite having a job, not getting paid to compete and balancing a family/life. Your pre-race nerves are merely a sign that you are ready that you did the work and it is time to show off your talent.
Best of luck! Don't forget to thank your body at the finishing line.......