Q+A: How can I overcome these pre-race nerves?

Q I’ve been running for just over a year and have recently started entering races. The thing is that as soon as I stand on the start line, I’m always overcome with nerves. I feel queasy and my legs shake, and I’m sure this is affecting my race performances. Is there anything I can do to calm down?

A A certain amount of pre-race nerves is natural. It’s tied in with the body’s ‘fight or flight’ instinct when confronted with danger. You should be able to tap into this system to psych yourself up for important races.

Nervousness is part of every runner’s mental pre-race preparation, although some runners handle it better than others. If you’re going into every race frightened or nervous, you’re correct in thinking it will be detrimental to your performance. Try these three strategies to help calm your nerves.

Training Getting in good shape will boost your confidence in your ability to perform. Knowing that you can run well will take some of the edge off your nervousness.

Experience Entering as many races as possible will get you used to the racing ‘scene’, and you’ll find this will help you relax. Enter local events and you’ll recognise the same runners time and again, and soon get to know them. Chatting to them on the line will help you stay calm. Familiarity breeds confidence.

Routine Another way to relax is to have a specific warm-up routine before every race. For example, jog a mile or two, stretch in a quiet area, pop to the loo, run a few strides, listen to some music, then go to the line. Keep a mental checklist and ‘tick things off’ as you complete them. Whatever your routine, warming up the same way each time will help you relax, and also occupy your time during that final nervous hour or so before the race.

Don’t relax too much, though. A certain amount of tension is essential for success. It’s one way the body knows it’s in a race rather than a training run.—Hal Higdon, RW USA Senior Writer