My most recent half marathon did not go as I planned. While I think there were some external factors that played a role (humidity, hills, too much time off from training), I’m beginning to realize that some of the problem was anxiety.
Despite running 2 marathons, 36 half marathons, a handful of 10 milers, and a random assortment of other race distances in the last 7 years, I still don’t sleep the night before a race. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a marathon or a 5K, I’ll be tossing and turning all night.
Add in any sort of goal related to the race and I walk around with my stomach clenched for 24 hours or more before the race. Race anxiety. It’s real. I’ve had to learn how to deal with anxiety before a race.
And I’m convinced that this anxiety manifests itself in a physical response in my body that leads to breathing issues and tired legs. Why do I say that? Because when I’m really anxious about a race, I start struggling by the end of mile 1. This past Saturday, I was feeling awful before we finished the first hill. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was just in it to finish it and through in a bunch of walk breaks that my body began to recover. Deciding to just get through the race and taking it easy for 4 miles allowed me to recover and actually enjoy the last three miles of the race.
So, what’s a girl to do survive race anxiety? Here are my best tips for how to deal with anxiety and start a race off on the right foot!
1.Get a good night’s sleep the night before the night before the race. The night before the race is often rough, especially if you have traveled for the race or need to get up early to get to a race. I’ve learned to just accept that I will not get more than a couple of hours of sleep, so I try really hard to get to bed early and sleep in the night before that.
2. Trust your training. Know that if you’ve done the work, you are ready. And if you haven’t done the training? Step away from time goals and plan to just enjoy the run.
3. Don’t let other people’s adrenaline (or your own) make you run too fast at the start. Want to know what all of my fastest races have in common? A slow first mile, sometimes slower than a minute off of my usual pace. Apparently my body needs a good amount of time to settle in.
4. Set things up the night before and have a morning routine. If everything is set up and ready to go and all you have to do is move step by step through the morning, your anxiety levels will not increase. I set out my clothes, make my breakfast, plan my drive, etc. all the night before. That leaves me the freedom in the morning to eat, drink my coffee, and kill some time on social media. The last thing I need to do is get my heart rate up searching for a missing sock or Garmin right before I need to leave.
5. Remember that we do this for fun. Most of us are not running for a cash prize or monetary sponsorship. At most, we are hoping to place in our age groups and maybe win something like a coffee cup.
My next race is Ragnar. I’m already regularly reminding myself that it’s supposed be a FUN experience.