It's common for runners of all abilities to feel anxious before a race. To be completely transparent, I was anxious before every race for an entire year before I started working on my anxiety.
It's natural to be hesitant and nervous about performing, especially since you have spent a significant amount of time training for it.
Often times the anxiety would be triggered by the pressure I put on myself. My family has always wanted me to "do my best" but I always wanted to break a PR, win my age group or finish in the top five of the race.
The first step of overcoming it was being aware that I had pre-race anxiety and then I started to research how to manage it more effectively.
Based on my experience, I put together these 26 tips to help you manage pre-race anxiety effectively so you can run your best race every time.
Tips to Manage Pre-Race Anxiety
1. Your Nerves - What Are Your Feelings
It’s important to know that the feeling of anxiety before a race is totally normal. But recognizing and addressing it when you are in the middle of it can be difficult.
Take a moment to think about what you're feeling and why you're feeling it when you begin to feel anxious or panicky. If you can identify your emotions as pre-race anxiety, you can gain a better understanding of why and how you can manage it.
2. Provide Open Communication to You Family & Friends
Anxiety can take many forms. If you spend time with others on a regular basis, you may notice that you take your emotions out onto them in the weeks and days leading up to the race.
Tell your family and friends that you might be irritable or short-tempered before the race. Tell them it's just pre-race anxiety, not personal. I always asked my wife to be my sounding board, allowing you to express your worries and get them off your chest. This helped tremendously as I was able to talk through my emotions.
3. 2-3 Days Before the Race Clear Your Calendar
Feeling nervous can be caused by a hectic schedule. If you can, set aside two to three days before your race to relax and prepare your mind for the event.
This was a hard one for me as I am very busy during the day at work. I am specifically speaking about after-work activities. Try to minimize them as much as you can a few days before your race.
Getting the 8+ hours of sleep per night is going to make a huge impact on your anxiety and dealing with it.
Breathing is an underappreciated method of anxiety reduction. Slow, controlled breathing can help to lower your heart rate and activate the parasympathetic—autonomic—nervous system, which puts the body in a state of calm.
On race day, take a few moments to walk away from the crowd and focus on your breathing to center yourself.
5. Pump Yourself UP
Find a few words or quotes that inspire and encourage you. Learn a few of these by heart. They should be short, optimistic mantras that you can readily recall when you begin to think negatively or anxiously.
I always did - "One Step At A TIme"
If you would prefer a little more religious quote - my favorite is Psalm 46:10 "Be Still & Know That I am God". That one put me at ease as I thought, he's God. He can handle anything.
6. On Race Day, Find A Quiet Spot
Spending time in a group of people might make you feel worse.
One solution to calming your nerves is try to avoid the starting line or large groups of people until the race is about to start. Find a peaceful location where you can unwind and do some slow breathing before the race. It would be great if there were also some room to warm-up or do a light jog.
7. Focus On The Things YOU Can Control
There are many things you cannot control on race day but the things you can control are your nutrition, sleep, hydration, and the positive things you surround yourself with.
If the weather is bad or there are too many people near the starting line, that is out of your control.
Only focus on the things you can control or influence and disregard the rest. Remind yourself that it's out of your hands and should be out of your head if you find yourself worried about something beyond your control. Make an effort to divert your attention to something else at this time.
8. Crank Up The Music
Music is a tremendous motivation tool. Create a playlist of songs that inspire you and pump you up. Also, create a playlist of relaxing music to listen to if you want something to focus your attention or help you return to your calm surroundings.
I liked a pre-race playlist and a race playlist. Both were really good at preparing me for my race and allowing me to run my best by keeping me calm and focused.
9. Visualize Yourself Crossing the Finish Line
Visualization is a powerful technique that can be used to reduce pre-race anxiety and increase your confidence. The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, close your eyes and imagine yourself running the race perfectly.
The course is clear, you feel strong and confident, and you cross the finish line with a smile on your face.
10. Things To Do When Tapering (For Long-Distance Runners)
Add some other things to your schedule if you know you'll be tapering as this will help reduce anxiety before the race. Reading inspiring books, getting a sports massage to relieve muscular tension, or watching uplifting movies or documentaries are all examples of this.
Disney Movies tend to be great light-hearted stories that never sparked anxiety. Encanto is a popular movie in our house right now. I also like a slow run on a trail.
11. Think About Post-Race
Remember that this is not the conclusion of your story. There will be more competitions after this one and life will go on.
To control your race jitters, you should make a plan for what you want to do afterward. Having future objectives keeps you optimistic and relieves some of the stress associated with the following race since you know there will be new goals to pursue afterward.
12. Be Confident in Your Training
Oftentimes I remember thinking .. "did I train enough", did I get enough miles in", "how about my intervals", all of these are common thoughts.
Just trust that you did your best with the training plan you used.\
-Here are my top 5K training plans
13. What You Put Into Your Body
This is one of the areas where you have a lot of power. Make sure you're eating enough calories and that the meals you pick are nutritious and nutrient-dense.
Also, make sure you drink enough water on a daily basis, not just when you're running.
14. A Word About Carb-Loading
Carb loading is a frequent practice for increased energy during a race. However, it must be done correctly in order to be effective. Too many carbohydrates on race day or the day before can result in bloating, nausea, or water weight gain.
If you want to carb-load in order to enhance your performance, be sure it's done correctly. I recommend planning ahead of time so that you can ensure that you're eating the correct meals and that you're well-prepared.
15. Avoid Junk Foods, Sweets & Alcohol
This was the hardest for me. I enjoy a Friday night beer or a glass of wine with my wife.
Junk meals and sugary meals will make you feel bloated, unpleasant, and lethargic. When you're anxious, it's easy to want comfort food and booze rather than sticking to your healthy eating plan.
Alcohol has the potential to increase feelings of worry. It's also high in calories, so drinking won't provide you with any nutrients.
16. Be Like A Lake
My six-year came to me one day and said "Dad, you need to be like a lake, not the river". The lake is calm and the river is rolling. She said it when I was having a bit of a Daddy meltdown about something. Rolling meant my emotions were all over the place.
Talk about poetic. That hit me like a ton of bricks.
Even if you don't feel it, try to be confident. It's possible to deceive your mind into thinking or believing that you're calm and confident if you do this on a regular basis.
17. Wash Your Hands
You want to be at your best both physically and mentally on race day.
Try to avoid being around a lot people or large crowds before your event. Trying to avoid germs as much as possible will keep you from getting a cold, a healthy immune system is essential for successful racing.
18. Self-Care Activities (During Tapering)
It is important that you set aside some "me time" during your taper. Even though you aren't working as hard, you must still look after yourself. You can still enjoy easy activities such as easy runs, walks, or light cross-training sessions. Keep your body healthy but go easy on the activities. Most training plans incorporate tapering for longer races (half-marathons and marathons).
You may also unwind by taking naps, meditating, practicing deep breathing, or spending time in nature. I have run into several runners who have taken up journaling.
Whatever it takes to get your mind engaged in creative activities helps you to relax and get into the correct mindset.
19. Get Your Mind Right
Both your body and mind will benefit from activities that challenge both of them. It is very important to keep the mind/muscle connection via stimulating activities, as this helps maintain muscle flexibility while keeping your thoughts in the proper place.
A great example is doing Yoga or meditating.
20. Get Outdoors
Spending time outside allows you to breathe fresh air and receive a boost of vitamin D, which has several advantages including improving bone strength, reducing inflammation, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Make an effort to get outdoors and do something relaxing.
Consider going for a picnic, an easy hike, or spending some time in the pool.
21. Organized for the Race
Individuals who like to be as prepared as possible can eliminate pre-race anxiety by making a few days' worth of arrangements the day before the race so you don't forget anything. Choosing race attire and make plans for how you'll warm-up.
Runners are creatures of habits so keep the same routine that you have on non-race days vs race days will keep anxiety levels from spiking.
22. Review Your Progress
If you have training diaries or notes, go through them a few days before the event. This can help visualization of how far you've come and the progress you've made, as well as remind you that you've prepared well for the race ahead.
23. Connect with Other Runners
Even experienced runners can suffer from pre-race nerves. Even if you're a seasoned runner, reaching out to your running buddies may help you feel less alone and might provide excellent advice on how to address pre-race anxiety.
24. Make a Race Day Plan
It may be useful to think about the whole day ahead of time for some individuals. How are you going to get to the race?
Who will travel with you?
What time do you plan on leaving and what are you going to do when you arrive?
You may also include finishing times and other post-race activities, such as meeting with running friends.
If you're taking any medications, talk to your doctor about any worries you may have. If, for example, your medicine causes sleeplessness, consult with your doctor about alternatives or methods to obtain excellent sleep ahead of time.
26. Post-Race Celebration Plan
Planning a celebration after your race will be helpful and pleasurable. Make a list of who you'll celebrate with, where the ceremony will take place, and what sort of activities will be involved. It might be as easy as dinner at a restaurant or as complicated as an event at a location or at home. This will offer you something to look forward to after the race.
Pre-race anxiety is common for runners of all levels. By using some or all of the tips provided, you can help address and conquer any pre-race nerves that may surface in the days leading up to your event.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.