Beat Your Racing Fears

Blitz those race-day nerves and shine with confidence at your next event



by Bob Cooper

racing fears

The Fear: Tackling Hard Hills

The Fix: Put it in Perpective

In a race, focus on the fact that the hill makes up a tiny percentage of the race distance, advises running coach and  former Boston Marathon winner Lisa Rainsberger. To conquer your dread of hill repeats in training, Rainsberger suggests running hills by time, not distance. "Try, say, three sets of 30, 60 and 90 seconds, so you always know exactly how long you'll be in pain," she says. "Knowing when you'll get to stop takes the fear away." Also, as Everest starts looming at the end of Acacia Avenue, try to remember that studies have found people tend to overestimate the steepness of hills by an average of 18-19 degrees. So it may not be quite the monster it appears to be.

Think Positive:
"Hills are speedwork in disguise" Frank Shorter

The Fear: Hitting the Wall

The Fix: Go Round it

"Energy gels didn't exist when I was racing in the 1980s," says Rainsberger, "so runners were falling apart all the time. The body runs out of stored glycogen at about 20 miles, so the wall was almost unavoidable. Now, if you take in calories - I suggest one gel [most are about 100kcal] every 40 minutes - you can avoid it altogether."But the wall still stands if you get it wrong with your race pace. "If you take in calories and still hit the wall, it means you ran a pace your body wasn't prepared to handle," says Rainsberger. Race-pace training runs and 'test' races are tools you can use to decide on the ideal pace. Still, many runners miscalculate, and Rainsberger says it's most often because the training timetable is too compressed. "Even the Olympic Trials runners I coach build up for five months," she says. Respect the challenge you're setting for your body and build the proper foundations.

Think Positive: "If you run into a wall, climb it, go through it or work around it" Michael Jordan

The Fear: Not Getting into a Key Race

The Fix: Plenty more Fish...

Remember that London and New York are just two marathons among hundreds. OK, so London filled its 125,000 ballot applications in 36 hours in 2011, and for New York you have to be either lucky or fast, with a roughly 10 per cent chance of snagging an entry in the lottery. But as great and badge-of-honour-worthy as the sell-out flagship races are, they can have their downsides - crowded streets and a lack of intimacy, for instance. More importantly, they can stop you seeking out the thousands of smaller races in spectacular locations with fantastic atmosphere. Use the events pages at runnersworld.co.uk. Or get the lowdown on charity places.

Think positive:
"Two roads diverged... I took the one less travelled by" Robert Frost, poet

The Fear: Race-Day Anxiety

The Fix: Channel the Fear

Can I really handle my goal pace? What if that stitch hits at halfway? Pre-race anxiety is pretty much inevitable and can actually be beneficial, according to sports psychologist Dr Joann Dahlkoetter, author of Your Performing Edge (£11.90, Stackpole Books): "Fear is a sign that you're excited and ready to roll, and can be channelled to work for you." Dahlkoetter - who is also a former San Francisco Marathon champion, in case you're thinking she's all theory and no action - suggests visualising positive race scenarios during your warm-up, such as tiring but coming back strong with a second wind. "Remind yourself of the solid training you've done," she says, "and tell yourself, 'I'm ready to do my best.'" Take 10 deep breaths immediately before to physically relax.

Think Positive: "The greatest stimulator of my running was fear" Herb Elliott, triple Olympic champion

The Fear: Not Finishing

The Fix: Start Slow and Run-Walk

A DNF [did not finish] can torment you for years, especially if it comes after months of training for the race. There's no shame in dropping out with injury or dehydration, but if having sore, fatigued muscles is the only problem, suck it up and walk the final miles if necessary. At least you'll have the satisfaction of completing the distance and earning the T-shirt. Just knowing that you have the option to walk is the best way to ease your fear of a DNF on a long race. "If you start to fall apart, it's better to take walk breaks as a last resort than to keep running until you  come to a dead stop," says Ladd. "Once you stop, it's very hard to start up again." The best insurance against a DNF, he adds, is to run a conservative early pace. That should make an even pace easier to manage, and you may even run a negative split - so a faster second half.

Think Positive:
"Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight" Bob Marley

Illustration: Ryan Heshka


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