It’s race day. Body feels good, you trained right, you’re confident, you got this. Ok, so why is it that your heart is racing as you wait in the corral, you’re clammy, your stomach is doing gymnastics. You’re nervous, shaking in your shoes you feel faint, but why? You’re ready!
What’s happening? Welcome to the pre-race brain. You may feel certain that you have forgotten all the effort you’ve put into training, but it’s your brain getting your body ready for the race. Your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your heart rate, blood pressure and blood vessels is pumping adrenaline and other hormones into the bloodstream. This is the surge of your “fight or flight” hormones getting your body primed and leaving your more alert. This all sounds great, but it can become an issue if you’re overly agitated. The last thing you want to do is rocket out of the gate and start weaving between fellow competitors.
Knowing what to expect can help keep your SNS response in check and enable you to channel that energy the right way.
There’s a difference between making a packing checklist and trying to plan for every conceivable detail - the latter is basically impossible. It’s pretty easy for runners to get overwhelmed by details such as pace calculations, course concerns, shoe decisions, Gu decisions and every technical detail you can imagine. Understand that this race is not unique among runs or a mystery to be solved, you know what to expect for the most part. Maybe it’s a few miles more than you’ve ever run, or maybe it’s your first race, but know all you’re doing is putting one foot in front of the other. Successful runners accept that 100 percent effort will be good enough.
Don’t change a thing. From what you eat for breakfast to how you warm up to what socks you wear. It may be tempting to want to incorporate something special because it’s race day, but don’t. Some would even say try not to think of it as anything other than a training run (we know, easier said than done). Different food can cause gastro distress, and something as tiny as a seam where it usually isn’t can put your nerves into overdrive before you even cross start.
In the weeks or days leading up to race day, fear can start creeping in. It might give you compulsive ideas; to test your fitness, add more interval sessions, hills or one last long run. When this starts happening, relax (again, easier said than done). Changing something this late in the game is not going to upgrade your fitness level for the race. Fear can make you second guess your strategy, but chances are, the training you scheduled was exactly what you needed, and you’re ready.
Mental training is just as important as physical training, and visualization is a large part of preparing for a race. A study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology suggests visualizing the worst parts of a race, and seeing yourself overcoming them in order to better prepare you when you encounter them. Every runner out there has gone through tough spots in training or a race, for most of us, they’re not easy to forget. You can benefit from those memories by using them to visualize yourself persevering through the rough spots and achieving your goal.