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
- 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
- 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?