Tips for Managing Pre-Race Jitters and Performance Anxiety

Almost every runner experiences pre-race jitters or performance anxiety at some point. And it usually doesn't go away as you become a more experienced runner. In fact, some runners put even more pressure on themselves as their race performances improve. Follow these tips to successfully manage your race performance anxiety and use that pre-race nervousness to your advantage.


Expect the Unexpected

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Preparing for the unexpected can also bring your anxiety down to a manageable level. Practice running in all kinds of weather: rain, snow, sleet, heat. So if rain is in the race day forecast and you've already run in the rain, that's one less thing to be worried about.


Be Prepared

X-ray of sports bag with trainers towel and water
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Part of being ready for your race is obviously making sure you do the proper training. But you can do other things to help feel better prepared for your race, which can lower your pre-race anxiety levels. For example, many runners like to study the course map so they know exactly what to expect. If you know that aid stations will be at every other mile on the course, you'll feel less anxious about staying hydrated during your race.

If you're traveling to a race and you're anxious about forgetting an important race item, start packing early and use a checklist to make sure you're not missing anything. Waiting until the last minute to get ready will increase your anxiety.

Although you don't want to check the weather forecast obsessively, it's good to have a general idea of potential weather so you can plan your race outfit and start getting mentally prepared for the day. Get tips for racing in cold, hot, or rainy weather.


Develop Pre-Race Rituals

runner tying shoes
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Rather than trying to fight performance anxiety, elite athletes use pre-race rituals to help them manage it. They might listen to music, pray, meditate, or go through a specific warm-up. Work on developing your own pre-race rituals and do them before every race, so they become familiar and relaxing.


Try Deep Breathing

Just catching my breath
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When you're anxious, your breathing becomes shallow. As you're going through your pre-race rituals, try breathing deeply from your belly. You'll feel an instant calming effect. Continue to do deep breathing as you're running to stay calm during the race and help prevent side stitches.


Use Visualization

runner looking into the distance
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Visualization is a technique used by athletes to improve their focus and reduce performance anxiety. A couple of weeks before your race, begin visualizing yourself starting the race, running in it, and crossing the finish line. Picture what you'll be wearing, who will be watching you, and how you'll feel when you hear people cheering as you cross the finish line.

Why does visualization help reduce performance anxiety? You'll be eliminating—or at least minimizing—the fear of the unknown, which is a huge cause of stress. By imagining yourself running your race, you're familiarizing yourself with what might happen, as well as how you may react.


Run Without Expectations

Group of seniors talking at end of race
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Setting high expectations is one of the biggest causes of pre-race anxiety because you put a lot of pressure on yourself to meet a certain goal. Put your expectations aside and just focus on running your best. You'll feel much more calm, which may actually help you run a great race.

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