How to Beat Race Day Nerves

How to Beat Race Day Nerves:

Running is 1% physically and 99% mental.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there is a lot of mental component to the sport (or any sport really).  As most people know, most of 2016 and 2017 were not my years for running.  I set two of my favorite distance PRS (5k and 13.1) in January and February of 2016.  After that, I haven’t PRed.  

So here I am almost 2 years later still running races but with no PRs.  I’ve taken extended breaks from both injury (last year I fractured my heal) as well as just plain mental burnout.  So I haven’t run for 2 years straight, but I have trained and gone through training cycles.

I can’t quite say my mental game is exactly where it should be, but it’s getting a lot better.  There have been many races I’ve had race nerves leading up to a race, the night before a race, pre race anxiety at the starting line and pre race stress, Sometimes it can be hard to get your head in the right space, and stay calm with those pre race jitters and performance anxiety.  You just want to focus on the race plan, but your heart rate is so high, it feels impossible to beat the race day nerves.

As I get back into fitness during the last few months, I’ve pretty much run with no worry about pace or distance unless I’ve raced.  I wrote more about that here. Even though I’m trying not to worry during training, I can’t seem to shake “race day nerves” and beating race day nerves. Sometimes when I show up at a race, I’m not ready to race.

Half of my training miles have been above 9 minutes, and I haven’t worried about that.  Easy runs never give me race anxiety. Right now, I have a solid foundation and base.  I know my base miles have set my body up to begin doing more speed workouts and hone in on speed.  I will get there.  Who knows how long it will take, but running is lifelong!  I would rather not rush anything and burn out…again.

Most importantly, though, running without time and pace has given me a huge mental break.  Once again, I feel happy with running. I don’t feel like it’s forced or dread getting out there.

So How do you Build Back Mental Confidence and Beat Race Day Nerves?

For me, mental confidence takes a lot more time to develop than physical speed and endurance.  Here are a few techniques I’ve used.

  • Stop Negative Self Talk: If you think you’ll run like garbage, you probably will. Last year, I thought I would run like garbage at the Philadelphia marathon…and…I did!  Race day anxiety did exactly what I thought it would.
  • Stop Comparing: This means stop comparing yourself to others and to yourself. Now that Instagram running is “so big”, it’s easy to look at someone and be like…how do they run fast all of the time.  But just worry about yourself (or don’t worry about all)…and I’m too old school for Strava, so I’ll let you remove comparison traps there for yourself.
  • Set Smaller Goals to Achieve Your Bigger Ones: For me, I set a smaller goal to get back out there. Then another goal to do a few 5k, then a half and then begin honing in on speed. Your training plan should include smaller goals, not just one big one. You don’t need to set a huge goal of PRing when you aren’t running or dropping an hour from your marathon.  Set a bite-sized goal and move forward.
  • Visualize: I cannot emphasize this enough but visualizing running and doing well will help tremendously.  My college swim coach had us visualize swimming well at conferences, and I always felt more confident after that.  Visualization is something that has helped calm race day nerves and race day anxiety.  Visualize the race starts through the finish line and what it feels like to cross.

It’s always important to remember that running is lifelong.  There are races any weekend you want, and if you don’t feel mentally right, you should work on that first.  Race day anxiety and race day nerves take time to beat and build confidence.

Finally, have you subscribed to the LOLZletter? It’s a free newsletter that comes out each Monday. In the newsletter, I share running industry trends and things relevant to the sport. 

Questions for you:

How do you stay mentally strong with any sport?  

Do you get race day anxiety or race day nerves?