Feeling anxious before a race is natural and it happens to runners of all levels. It’s normal to feel anxious when you think about performing, especially if you have spent a long time training for a specific event.
You may feel pressure from family, friends, or other runners to do well. Many runners put pressure on themselves, especially when aiming for a specific time or a new PR. In some cases pre-race anxiety can be caused by tapering before a big race.
Being aware that it could occur is the first step to manage pre-race anxiety. Preparing for it can help you to deal with it more effectively.
We have 26 tips to manage pre-race anxiety effectively so you can run your best race every time.
Tips to Manage Pre-Race Anxiety
1. Figure Out What You’re Feeling
It’s important to understand that feeling anxious before a race is normal. But recognizing it when it’s happening can be difficult.
When you start to feel anxious or panicked, take a moment to consider what you’re feeling and why. If you can recognize your feelings as pre-race anxiety, then you can take further steps to alleviate it.
2. Warn Your Family and Friends
Anxiety can manifest in many ways. If you spend time with others on a regular basis you may find that you take your feelings out on them in the weeks and days leading up to the race.
Let your family and friends know that you may be irritable or cranky leading up to your race. Assure them that it’s simply pre-race anxiety and isn’t personal. You can also ask one of your friends or family members to be your sounding board where you can voice your anxieties and get them off your chest.
3. Clear Your Calendar in the 2-3 Days Before Your Event
A busy schedule can contribute to feeling anxious. If you can, keep 2 to 3 days open before your race so you can spend the time relaxing and getting into the right state of mind before your event.
You should also make sure you’re getting early nights, so if you can’t clear your days fully, try to at least keep your evenings free.
4. Just Breathe
Breathing is an underrated form of anxiety relief. Slow, controlled breathing can help to lower your heart rate and activate the parasympathetic—autonomic—nervous system, which brings the body into a state of calm.
Practice slow breathing in the days leading up to the race or any time you feel anxious. Take a few moments to move away from the crowds on race day and focus on your breathing to calm yourself down before you start.
5. Prepare Some Words of Encouragement
Find a few phrases or sayings that motivate and encourage you. Learn a few of these off by heart.
They should be short, positive mantras that you can call up in your mind readily when you begin to think negative or anxious thoughts.
6. Get Away From the Start Line
Spending time in a crowd of people can worsen anxiety. On the day of the race, try to avoid the starting line or big crowds of excited people until the race is about to start.
Find a quiet spot where you can relax and do some slow breathing and prepare yourself mentally for the race. A place with a calm atmosphere as well as some space to warm up would be ideal.
7. Focus On What You Can Control
You can control your nutrition, sleep, hydration, and what positive things you surround yourself with. You can’t control the weather, what other people do or think or what may or may not happen during the race.
Focus on the things you can control and put the others out of your mind. If you find yourself worrying about something you can’t control, remind yourself that it’s out of your hands and should be out of your head. Make an effort to shift your thoughts to something else in these moments.
8. Listen to Music
Music can be a powerful motivation tool. If you have the time and inclination, put together a playlist of songs that motivate you and get your adrenaline flowing.
Also, make a playlist of calming songs that you can go to if you need something to calm you down or bring you back to a relaxed space.
You can listen to music while waiting for the race to start. If you have a watch that can store music or a portable mp3 player, you can even listen to music during your race to help keep you calm, motivated, and focused.
9. Visualize a Strong Race
Spend a few moments mentally running the race in your mind. Google the course so that you have a good idea of what terrain to expect.
If there are specific sections that you’re worried about, visualize yourself pushing them strongly. Run through the mental race from start to finish in your mind as many times as you need to to help you feel more comfortable.
10. Plan Taper Projects
If you know you’re going to be tapering and it could lead to pre-race anxiety, add some other activities into your schedule that will help you to relax and feel your best, mentally and physically.
These may include things like reading motivating books, getting a sports massage to ease tension in your muscles, or watching uplifting movies or documentaries.
11. Think Beyond This Event
Remember that this even is not the be-all and end-all. There will be more races after this one. You should have a plan for what you’d like to do after this race is complete.
Having future plans keeps you feeling hopeful and it takes some pressure off of you for the upcoming race as you know you have new goals to focus on after it’s over.
12. Test the Waters
If you can, do a test run before the actual event. Don’t push yourself at full power during this race—you still want to have the energy to go all out during your main race.
But doing a test run that’s a similar distance or terrain to your upcoming race will give you some real-world experience and can help to ease your anxiety about the real race.
13. Plan Your Nutrition
This is one of the things that you have a lot of control over leading up to the race. Make sure that you’re eating the right amount of food—sticking to your calorie count—and that the foods you are choosing are healthy and nutrient-dense.
Also, make sure you’re drinking enough on a daily basis, not just when you’re running but throughout each day as well.
14. Carb-Load with Caution
Carbo loading is a common strategy for improved energy on race day. But it has to be done in the right way in order for it to truly be effective. Too many carbs on race day or the day before can cause bloating, an upset stomach, or water-weight gain.
If you want to try carbo-loading to improve your performance, make sure to do it the right way. Plan it in advance if you want to do it so you can make sure you’re eating the right meals and you’ll be well-prepared.
15. Avoid Alcohol and Junk Food
Junk food and sugary foods can make you feel bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish. When feeling anxious, it can be tempting to indulge in comfort food and alcohol instead of sticking to your healthy nutrition.
Alcohol can increase feelings of anxiety. It’s also filled with empty calories, so you won’t be getting any good nutrition when you drink alcohol.
16. Stay Calm and Confident
There is some merit to the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it.” When you start to feel nervous or anxious, tell yourself to stay calm.
Display confidence even if you don’t feel it. If you do this repeatedly, it can actually help to trick your mind into feeling or believing that you’re calm and confident.
17. Take Extra Care to Wash Your Hands and (if possible) Avoid Germs
You want to be feeling your best physically as well as mentally on race day. Try to avoid being out in public areas or around many people in the week before your race.
Make sure to avoid germs as much as possible so that your immune system is strong and ready for your race.
18. Self-Care Activities
Set aside some “me time” during your taper. You may not be exercising as hard, but you still need to take care of yourself. You can still partake in easy workouts, such as easy runs, walks, or easy cross-training sessions. Make sure not to injure yourself, but try to keep lightly active.
You can also relax by taking naps, meditating, practicing your deep breathing or spending time in nature. You may feel that journaling or doing something creative helps you to calm down and get in the right frame of mind.
19. Mind/Body Activities
Activities that stimulate both your body and your mind are helpful for maintaining the mind/muscle connection and keeping your muscles loose and your mind in the right place.
Yoga is an excellent form of light exercise and relaxation. Meditation can also help to relax both your mind and your body.
20. Spend Time Outdoors
Spending time outdoors helps you to get fresh air and a dose of vitamin D, which has many benefits including strengthening bones, reducing inflammation, and keeping the immune system healthy.
Try to get outdoors and do something relaxing. Try going for a picnic, an easy hike or spending some time in the pool.
21. Get Organized for the Race
Individuals who like to be as organized as possible can alleviate pre-race anxiety by preparing for race day a few days early so you can be sure not to forget anything.
You can choose your race clothing, pack a gym bag and plan what you’re going to do to warm up.
22. Review Your Months of Training
If you have training journals or notes, review them a few days before the race. This can help you to see how far you’ve come and the progress you’ve made and remind you that you have prepared well for the race ahead.
23. Reach Out to Your Running Friends
Pre-race anxiety affects many runners, even very experienced ones. Reaching out to your running friends can help you to feel less isolated and they may have good advice for you on how to manage pre-race anxiety.
24. Make a Race Plan
For some individuals, it can be helpful to plan the whole day. Plan how you are going to travel to the race, who you will travel with, what time you’ll leave and what you will do when you arrive.
You can also plan finishing times and post-race activities, like meeting with running friends or family. Having a schedule for your day can help to make you feel more secure about the day’s events.
25. Manage Medications
If you’re on any medication, speak to your physician about any concerns you may have. For example, if your medication causes insomnia you may ask your doctor about alternatives or about other ways to get good sleep before you run.
26. Plan Your Post-Race Celebration
Planning a celebration after your race can be motivating and fun. Plan who you will celebrate with, where you will hold the celebration and what sort of activities there might be.
It can be as simple as dinner at a restaurant or something more elaborate like a gathering at a venue or at your own house.
This will give you something to look forward to after the race, so you aren’t only focusing on thoughts that make you anxious.