Last week, after surprising my coach with the news that I had spontaneously signed up for the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec. 7, we had a long talk to go over the training schedule he had put together for me and what my goals are for the race. While most of his feedback and words were encouraging, he provided some good constructive criticism in one area that I need to work on. I happen to welcome constructive criticism, as I believe everyone has flaws and areas in which they can improve. So I was happy to see this when reading through his notes:
“The one area that you need to work on is calming the nerves in the lead up to your races.”
Yes, I agree. I have a lot of nerves and unnecessary anxiety that begins to stir in the days before a race. However, I always assumed that this was OK and that I could just channel these nerves to amp me up and push me harder. But then, my coach continued on to say:
“Remember, being excessively nervous just wastes valuable energy that you can use on race day.”
Whoa. I never thought about it that way. For some reason I believed that the nerves would provide me with energy, not deplete fuel from the tank. But now that I look at it from this perspective, I can think back to some of my races that were excessively nerve wracking and it all makes sense. One race in particular that comes to mind is my first triathlon at Ironman 70.3 Boise. I was overly nervous, and it showed in my anxiety, mannerisms, mood, and temper (or lack thereof) leading up to the race. I did not calm down or relax until I started on the run, and my performances on the swim and bike (no smiles whatsoever) were hindered by unnecessary nerves as a result.
This discussion with my coach urged me to start thinking about why I get so nervous in the days leading up to my races and where this anxiety might stem from. I don’t believe that I have always been a panic-attack waiting to happen, but rather, it is something that has developed over time. Giving some thought to this, I have recognized a few things particularly this past season:
- Knowing that I am responsible for the outcomes I produce, I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on myself.
- I have a fear of not being able to perform up to others’ expectations, whether real or perceived (mostly perceived).
- I am trying new things and am stepping outside of my comfort zone.
- As I grow stronger, mentally and physically, my expectations and goals become larger and more challenging.
- I have perfectionistic tendencies, which I am trying to work on.
- I also have a high fear of failure.
Looking at these traits and qualities about myself, it is easy to see why the nerves kick in and how they might interfere with my performance. Sure, some stress and nervousness (butterflies) before a race can be good and productive. We all experience it to some degree. But too much can be a bad thing. Taking a page right out of one of the psychology texts I teach from, there is an optimal level of stress that produces engagement, challenge, and peak performance. Any more or any less can be counterproductive. I think a lot of my season has been spent in the “high” and counterproductive region.
So, what can I do about this? As someone who is always inspired to learn and make improvements, I decided to do a little research and planning. The CIM will be an excellent opportunity for me to make some modifications and test out a new mindset going into the race. My goals are to:
- Keep an open mind and control only what I can. If it rains, it rains.
- Always have a plan, and a backup plan, and a plan C.
- Trust in my coach and my training. If I put in the work, results will show. Remember the deck of cards analogy.
- Stay calm and relaxed. When I feel my shoulders starting to tense or my fists beginning to clench, release that tension and use that energy to run faster.
- Establish and maintain a race routine. Familiarity can be an antigen to stress.
- Develop a mantra and remind myself that racing should first and foremost be fun and enjoyable. I love the race environment and would not put in the work or effort if it were not important to me.
Hopefully I can execute this plan for CIM, and use it as a springboard into my 2015 race season with the goal of peaking at the optimal level of stress for each of my races. I am also hoping to read Brain Training For Runners, as I have heard it is quite informative.
Last week was my first week back on the legs after taking more than two weeks off following the Portland Marathon. Everything seems to be in working condition, aside from a little fatigue here and there. I put in a few good miles to rebuild my motivation and confidence for CIM. You just never know how you are going to mentally or physically feel after two weeks off. Luckily for me, I snapped back into it quickly.
Wednesday: 6 mile run with some speed work intertwined. It felt good to get the legs spinning at max capacity again. And with views like this? Well…
Friday: 7 miles of dodging puddles and running with the falling leaves. We’ve been having some rainy/windy days around here, which means all of the colorful leaves are starting to fall from the trees, leaving them naked for the winter. My guess is that all of the fall colors will disappear soon. Sad.
Saturday: 6 mile run with a new group of girls that are aspiring to do more outdoor activities. One of my friends started a Facebook Page called Outdoor Women of Bend Oregon and is trying to organize various outdoor events and activities for women who want to meet others with similar interests, spend more time outside, or try something new.
This week I am looking forward to more mileage and speed work. It seems that running in the rain will be inevitable, but hopefully it will prepare me well if it happens to be raining in Sacramento on race day.
Justin is getting his cast off in two days and will start some vigorous physical therapy learning to walk, run, and do all those fancy things an ankle is built to do. He has been such a trooper!! Looking forward to having my man back just in time for skiing, snowshoeing, and backpacking/camping trips this winter!
Do you get anxiety before a race? How do you control it?
Have you ever gone tent camping in the snow?