3/13/18

Racing under pressure




After the culmination of many months (or years) of training, your race day is almost here! But now that the “fun” training is behind you, you now feel an enormous amount of pressure to perform. 

If you find yourself experiencing a flux of positive and negative emotions before an important race, these pre-race jitters are simply a mix of irrational and rational thoughts relating to your goals and expectations for race day. And when racing anticipations are at their highest, there is a subjective fear of failure that stems from by many uncertainties, doubts and worries.

For some athletes, pressure enhances motivation, enjoyment for the sport and focus. These athletes thrive off pressure and turn it into positive energy to boost performance.

But for many, the pressure to succeed is so intense that performance is negatively affected.

Although pre-race jitters are normal, they are commonly associated with disturbing symptoms like GI issues, mood swings, trouble sleeping, elevated heart rate, lack of appetite (or emotional eating) and nausea. None of which you want to experience before a race.  

Here are a few tips to help you better race under pressure: 

Gut-brain connection
Got butterflies in your stomach? The GI system is very sensitive to emotion so any extreme change in emotion or feelings can trigger abnormal symptoms in the gut. This is because the brain has a direct effect on the stomach.

Because the gut and brain send signals to one another, it is extremely important to minimize psychological factors, like stress, anxiety or worries before a race to reduce the risk for gut distress, including nausea, loose stools/diarrhea and headache.
  • Train your mind and work on focusing on the present moment and not on the outcome. 
  • Direct your energy to what is within your control. 
  • Get off social media to avoid comparison. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques (“me” time). 
  • Remove yourself from energy suckers. Surround yourself with people who shower you with positive energy.
  • Do not strive for perfection, aim for excellence.
  • Identify your strongest skills and assets as an endurance athlete. Bring this confidence with you to race day.

Sleep and performance
Sleep is crucial for athletic performance. Poor sleep can negatively affect your performance, appetite, food choices and mood. 
  • Don't be a rushed traveler. Give yourself plenty of (extra) time to get to your race environment and adjust to your new environment. 
  • Travel with your favorite pillow case, sheet or blanket for a more comfortable sleeping environment at your home away from home. 
  • As soon as you arrive to your race destination, start a routine that will help you perform well on race day. Set a bed time ritual like reading a book (non-electronic) or listen to soothing music with dimmed light to help with sleeping. 
  • Keep napping to less than one-hour/day, minimize caffeine in the afternoon and be consistent with your sleep schedule on race week.
  • If you have too much on your mind before bed, write down your thoughts on a piece of paper to give your brain a well-needed, 8-hour thinking break.
Eat smart
Despite meticulous food planning and hand-washing, an upset stomach (or worse) is common on race week - especially when you are racing under pressure. Unfamiliar foods, as well as unknown food handling/cooking, can have unwanted consequences on your gut. Additionally, it’s important to recognize what foods digest the easiest in your gut in the 48 hours before the race. 
  • If eating out, communicate to your server about special dietary requests.  If possible, shop local (or bring your own food) and prepare your own meals.
  • Reduce the risk of traveling constipation/bloating by drinking plenty of water, consuming your normal diet (within reason) and moving your body as much as possible. Warm water, tea or coffee can simulate the bowels but don't overdo it on caffeine. 
  • Taper your “healthy” high-fiber diet on the 48 hours before race day. Reduce the quantity of foods that create frequent bowel movements (ex. fiber), minimize foods that may irritate your gut on race day (ex. dairy, fructose, sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol, artificial flavorings) and control portions of foods that require a lengthy digestion (high fat).
  • Resist buying and eating food on a whim. Identify the foods that have worked well in your diet around your “key” workouts/races and continue to enjoy those foods on race week.
  • Research the cuisine/grocery options at your final destination and plan in advance for your grocery list as well as any restaurants that will cater to your dietary pre-race needs. Enjoy an unfamiliar new meal/food after your race. 
  • Stay well-hydrated to help with dehydration and the digestion of food.