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Overcome prerace anxiety

This is an excerpt from Woman Triathlete, The by Christina Gandolfo.

Everyone deals with prerace jitters differently. To stay calm and focused before a race, I follow the same routine each time. This involves getting my bike ready and packing my bag the night before, and I always eat the same breakfast on the morning of a race. I also like to chat with other competitors to ease the tension at the start line. Instead of viewing competitors as adversaries, which can cause intense anxiety, pro triathlete and Ironman champion Michael Lovato uses the following tactic: "Rather than ignore other competitors and/or spectators, I attempt to draw energy from them, in one way or another," he says. "I am generally stronger when others are around to push me."

If you suffer from prerace anxiety, you're not alone. Jennifer Gutierrez finds it to be the worst part of competing. She says, "You can race over 100 times and still be just as nervous as your first. My anxiety usually started the day before the race and lasted until the start of the race. If I had to, I would cry to ease the pain."

While this may sound extreme, a certain amount of stress prior to a race is actually beneficial. Low levels of stress (some call it "nervous energy") increase adrenaline and alertness and ready the body for physical demands. When stress levels increase too much, however, impaired judgment, negative emotions, muscle tightness, and decreased self-confidence can result.

Anxiety occurs when an athlete loses the ability to deal with the factors that cause stress or when an athlete feels she has no control over her situation. Performance invariably suffers when this occurs.

You can combat prerace anxiety with the following tips:

  • Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or listening to music can reduce anxiety. Visualization, as discussed earlier, can help alleviate negative thoughts.
  • Positive self-talk. Many athletes don't realize how many negative thoughts they have during training and racing. It's important to recognize these and replace them with a key phrase that gives you self-confidence ("You are strong!" "You can do this!" "You're a machine!"). These phrases can be repeated to yourself in any combination, at any time, especially when you feel your confidence waning. Self-talk can begin several days before an event and continue right up to or during competition.
  • Take control of the things you can. Train hard and smart; make sure your equipment works properly; have a nutritional plan. All of these things will increase your confidence and give you a sense of power.
  • Don't let past negative experiences influence the future. In other words, if you've had a bad experience racing in the heat in the past and have addressed the issue in your training, feel confident that this time out you will succeed!
  • Implement realistic expectations. For instance, if you are competing in a race to test your fitness (your peak race is six weeks away), don't make the mistake of setting the same goals for this race as you would for your peak event. In this instance, your expectation should be to complete the event successfully and to find out where your fitness lies in relation to your goals.

More Excerpts From Woman Triathlete