Tri Talk Tuesday: Pre-Race Jitters

Today I’m linking up with Courtney, Miranda, and Cynthia for Tri Talk Tuesday!


Today’s topic: Pre-race jitters… Something I have a lot of experience with. No matter the race, no matter the distance, I think it’s completely normal to feel nervous before a race. I’ve been getting these ‘jitters’ since playing sports and running track in high school. That butterfly feeling, like something is doing flip flops in my stomach… that’s how I describe my pre-race jitters. I can only imagine what these jitters are going to feel like in the days leading up to Ironman Mont Tremblant in August! Eek!

I would say my biggest anxiety comes at the swim start. I used to be SO afraid of the swim start and had couple of bad instances where my heart was racing so fast (panic mode) and I had to stop and tread water. I can practice in the pool and lake all I want, but getting in the water with a crowd of people totally freaks me out. I finally found a technique that works for me and it has made all the difference. Perhaps it can help you too! For the first time last September, I did not get scared at the swim start and I cruised to my fastest swim time ever… and ended up placing 3rd female overall!

My technique for getting over open water swim anxiety during a race is: Getting an upbeat song chorus stuck in my head… and repeating the beat over and over. It completely relaxes me and helps me get into a groove.

I actually wrote a letter to the editor of Triathlete Magazine about how getting a song stuck in my head helped me with the anxiety in open water. My little claim to fame (ha). Triathlete magazine ended up publishing my letter, so awesome! I have Sara McLarty to thank for this fantastic tip. I posted the photo below with the text under it (since it’s hard to read).


The Beat Goes On: November 2013 Triathlete Magazine

The night before my most recent Olympic Distance Race, I picked up my copy of the October issue, just in case I wanted some last minute tips. This was going to be my last race of the season, and I knew I wanted to PR! The swim has always been my least favorite part of Triathlon racing. While I am a strong swimmer, the anxiety tends to kick in and I lose my rhythm. I quickly scrolled to the swim section hoping something might help me, mentally, on race day. I was in luck when I turned to Sara McLarty’s article “Swim to the Beat.” I completely related with her comment of how the last song you hear tends to get stuck in your head during the swim. I just never realized how powerful this could be on race day! She mentioned how it helps when the chorus is catchy and has the perfect tempo for a fast stroke cadence. I took this advice and on race morning I listened to Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ right before the start. At the start of the race, the water was very choppy. I knew I could easily get psyched out and panic, so I started to repeat the ‘Roar’ chorus in my head. Stroke by stroke I kept repeating the chorus, keeping a fast tempo. I was cruising through the waves, and didn’t miss a beat, passing others in my age group. I felt the most confident I have ever felt swimming during a race. As I got out of the water, I glanced down at my watch and was in complete shock, I had just swam my fastest swim ever during a race of that distance! I beat my time from June by six full minutes! Thank you Triathlete Magazine for this helpful tip, that will for surely continue to help all of my future races.

Besides the swim start, here is what pre-race jitters typically look like for me:

Race Stomach- Lovely GI Issues before the race (specifically morning of the race)


  • I will spare you the details, but let’s just say I can’t hold onto any food for long on race morning.
  • This issue used to be really bad, until I consulted a sports nutritionist and we figured out I was eating wayyy too much fiber prior to racing… well I changed that immediately and it has made all the difference (i.e. at Boston)

I am OCD with checking my gear bag and all of my equipment, which is probably a good thing.


  • I lay everything out the night before the race, even the food I will be eating for breakfast
  • I check, re-check and check again everything I will need before, during and after the race

I don’t feel like talking to anyone, not even my husband

Kristin's iPhone Photos 11.15.13 016

  • I am very intense, in life and when racing. I don’t like to listen to other people and how nervous they are (because this makes me nervous). I try my best to ‘zone out’ and not listen to anything around me prior to the race i.e. at transition area. Hearing things like: ‘the swim course is really choppy’, or ‘I hear the bike course is really hilly..’ totally freak me out and mess with my head. I try to ignore these comments as best as I can.
  • I do however, chat in porta potty lines or prior to the swim start, and this helps ease nerves (sometimes).. but I’m no chatty-kathy..
  • This being said, I get annoyed with overly chatty people at races (sorry!) I’m trying to FOCUS.. it doesn’t mean I don’t like you:)

I assess my competition

Sept 2013 343

  • I survey transition… who looks fast? Who looks like they can beat me (or better yet, who can I beat)? I want to place in my age group and I like to know who my competition is.
  • A fast looking bike is not always an indication of who is fast and who isn’t, trust me. I try to remind myself of this pre-race… I also try not to think too much about what other people look like (race kits, bike, wetsuit, etc). It’s easy to get psyched out by doing this.


How do you cope with the pre-race jitters?

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  • Reply Miranda @ Cupcake Triathlete June 3, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    I love the song idea! I actually use songs for pacing (beat estimates the tempo of strokes I want to take). I also was singing “Everything Is Awesome” at my swim start.

    That being said, I would annoy the ever-loving heck out of you. I like to talk. To everyone. To random strangers. To myself. To other swimmers while swimming (in my head). Without stopping. Let’s hope we don’t’ race together 😉

    • Reply Kristin June 3, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      Love that you have used songs before for tempo! What a great song choice:) You are too funny! Talking isn’t a bad thing, I’m sure it helps you relax at races. I could probably use more of that. I most definitely talk/sing to myself on the bike, especially long course tri’s… it gets so lonely!

  • Reply Courtney @The TriGirl Chronicles June 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    So awesome that you were in Triathlete Magazine!!! Great tip too! I just heard that idea from another tri friend too and tried it this morning in the pool. Trying to find the right song with the tempo to match my stroke.

    • Reply Kristin June 4, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you! It seriously works! I hope to find a new song for IMMT:)

  • Reply Kristen @ Glitter and Dust June 4, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Kristin, you wrote this post for me, didn’t you? 😉 I learned that swim tip a few days ago and am definitely going to use it when heading out into the water. I get nerves like it’s nobodies business and have a feeling that I am really going to lose it standing around for 2 hours before my swim wave starts (at 12:40pm!). I am sure I will be seeing the porta potty a couple times beforehand. I can relate to so many of the things you said – I get competitive too and am not a huge talker on race eve or day. Mentally, a switch goes off and I get into race mode. That is so cool that your letter got into Triathlete Magazine – I’m sure it has come in handy for a lot of people.

    • Reply Kristin June 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Too funny! Honestly, it’s one of the BEST tips I’ve ever received. I get SUPER nervous during the start of the swim, and it’s really easy for me to psych myself out. The whole song thing has worked wonders. I forgot how late your swim start is, that’s totally crazy! Maybe listen to music? At least you’ll have plenty of time to check the water out before the swim. Glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t like to talk on race day, I also have that switch that goes off ‘race mode’ aka beast mode:) Thanks so much, it was such an awesome surprise to see my letter in the magazine!

  • Reply Megan @ Meg Go Run June 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I am with you on the GI stuff! I seriously have to eat two breakfasts… because one of them doesn’t stick with me, if you know what I mean! Hehehe

    • Reply Kristin June 10, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      It’s totally the worst isn’t it?! I find that cutting out fiber has helped me BIG time. I now have carb loading down to a science:)

  • Reply Leslie @ Triathlete Treats June 7, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Great tips!! I don’t typically have race day jitters. I usually know that I am prepared to have the best race that i can. I like to have everything laid out the night before. Get in bed early! I am just happy it is finally go time!!!

    • Reply Kristin June 10, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Thank you! I also have everything laid out the day before… no need to be frantic and rushing around on race morning. That’s nice you don’t really get jitters before a race:)

  • Reply Kecia June 7, 2014 at 1:43 am

    I too have songs that run through my head at different times during the race. 🙂

    I am not a very social person before a race. I like to be in my own head, with my own thoughts and not surrounded by swarms of people. This helps me get in the “right” mindset for me and my race. My husband also knows that I’m not much of a social butterfly (complete opposite of him), so he leaves me to myself and finds others to socialize with. It works well for both of us!! 🙂

    • Reply Kristin June 10, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Honestly, I think having a song stuck in your head makes a world of difference! Glad to hear this technique works for you too:)

      I agree with you, I need to get in my own mindset for me and MY race, no one else’s. I used to worry about other people and what they were doing/saying before a race, not so much anymore. My husband is also more of the extrovert, and we balance each other out! I think I need to start wearing headphones:)

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