I’ve recently heard from several of my athletes that they get nervous before big races, to the point that it hinders their performance because they can’t eat or sleep properly in the days leading up to the race.
Back in my racing days, I often got nervous too, and the best advice I ever heard about how to combat this problem came from my coach at Columbia. A few days before the conference meet in cross country my senior year, I told my coach that I was extremely anxious about the race, and in his typically gruff way, he asked me why. I sputtered out a disjointed response about how it was the most important meet of the year, it would be my last chance to run it, I really wanted to perform well, and before I could finish he cut me off and said the following words, which have stuck with me to this day. “There’s no reason for you to be nervous, because there are only two people in this world who care how you do, and that’s me and you.”
The logic of his statement was irrefutable, as I was, at best, a marginal athlete, and my performance, good, bad, or indifferent, would have no bearing on the team scoring. That realization allowed me to see the race for what it was–a chance to meet my goals, with no expectations from anyone to weigh me down.
Those words of wisdom are as applicable to your road racing as they was to my cross country racing, and should be comforting to you as race day approaches. Think of it this way–if you run 10 minutes faster than your goal at your fall marathon, is your boss going to give you a raise when you walk in the office on the following Monday morning? Conversely, if you run 10 minutes slower than your goal, is your spouse going to love you any less? Since the answer to both of those questions is obviously no, it’s clear that your race result isn’t going to change your life one way or the other. But then ask yourself this–will it make me happy to achieve my goal at the big race, and will running well encourage me to continue participating in a sport I love? The answer to those questions is clearly yes. Which leads to our final question–will getting nervous help me run fast, or will it decrease my chances of meeting my goal? The answer is once again apparent–pre-race anxiety will not help, and could very well hurt, your chances of running fast.
So the next time you start to get nervous before the big race, remind yourself that while your race is very important to you, no one else will care about your time one way or the other. When you realize that you are running only for your own fulfillment, the pressure will be off, and you can relax and focus on meeting your goals.