The hours leading up to a race can be super stressful… as a result everyone has their own pre race rituals or superstitions which allow them to calm their mind.
Aside from superstitions there are also nerves. On the day of meets and even the night before meets I would get ridiculously nervous. I would be a complete train wreck actually, and while to some it may have seemed over the top, it’s really not something that I could control.
Pre-race nerves are completely normal and they manifest differently from person to person. Everyone has their own way of letting them go and preparing themselves to run. While one person may want to be left alone, others may want to socialize to help keep the race off their mind.
In response to the nerves, I used have trouble sleeping the night before any of my races (whether they be big or small). I would wake up countless times throughout the night and have trouble falling back asleep once I was up. My mind would be racing (pun intended) with different possibilities of outcomes. Due to this, some nights I would maybe get 4 hours of sleep on and off.
On the day of meets I would obsess over who was in my heat, as well as my times compared to theirs. This past year at my first indoor meet I actually wrote down everyone in my race (500m) and their personal bests on a sticky note and studied it on the bus ride there.
To put into perspective just how absurd this was… there were 30 people in this race and I knew each and every one of them, as well as which heat and lane position they were in; I also knew every time they had run in different race distances and when they had ran them.
Looking back this made no sense because personal best times aren’t the times you run every race, especially not the opening race of the year.
Considering I had never in my life even ran this race before, I really had no reason to be this nervous. I realize now, there was no pressure or expectations, and I had just made it seem like there had been… it was all in my head.
However, eventually this stressing came to an end because of one teammate!
My coach had roomed us together at a meet and she was the complete opposite of me when it came to pre-race… as we were in our room getting ready to leave she turned on some music and started to dance. In my head all I was thinking was, “ARE YOU CRAZY?! Why are you not conserving your energy? We literally have to go run now and this is what you’re doing?” She continued to do her thing and eventually I thought screw it… why not join in? So I started to dance and before I knew it all those nerves I previously had were now gone.
Since that meet we’ve been roommates at any other meet we’ve gone to and we always have our pre-meet dance party. Like I said earlier in this post, everyone deals with nerves in their own way.
I learned from this that no matter how bad your nerves get, there is always something that can help nip them in the bud. You just need to find what works best for you!
Something you should always remember as well is that coming up to the race, you’ve prepared yourself well. You’ve put in weeks… maybe months of training and hard work already. You can do this, don’t let yourself get into your own head now.
Worrying about the race will not change the outcome and that was something I had to learn. I now tell myself exactly that before racing: “There is nothing else I can possibly do now that will change the time I am capable of running“. This mantra is all to the credit of my coach who one day before a meet told me that there was nothing to be worried about, and that the work has already been put in… racing is the easy part and now I just have to trust in my own abilities.
While pre-race mentality may play a large role when racing, physically preparing yourself is just as important.
Some of my own pre-race rituals include:
- Pasta the night before racing (to be exact: spaghetti with grilled chicken and marinara sauce)
- A cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter for breakfast the day of racing
- Wearing the same socks (unless I’m steepling) and sports bra for every race that season… yes, I wash them after each meet
- No food 3 hours before racing to ensure my stomach is okay come race time
- For cross country, when we’re doing our course walkthrough the day before… absolutely NO crossing the finish line (I save that for the actual race)
I’m putting these examples out there as a reference to what some different superstitions could be. They are merely there to show you that everyone has their own weird quirks that they follow before races. These just happen to work for me and give me some mental reassurance when preparing for a race.
In the days leading up to a race there are some key things that I do to ensure I am able to perform at my best.
Something that I find many runners overlook is their sleep patterns. I’m not one to talk… as my sleep patterns aren’t the greatest, but slowly I have been correcting that. What many runners don’t know is that the sleep they get 2 nights before a race is more important than the sleep the night before in terms of making sure you’re adequately rested and recovered. I was surprised when my coach told me this but once I started paying attention to it I quickly realized that when I had a better sleep a few nights out, I always felt more awake and energized the day of the race.
This fact can apply to training as well and can carry over into all aspects of life!
Another thing I pay close attention to starting a few nights out from a race is my diet. I’m not talking about cutting back on foods or eating more or less. I just make sure that all the foods I eat are ones which I am familiar with and know agree with my stomach.
A huge part of performance is HYDRATION! Did you know that if you lose even 2% of your body’s water weight without replenishing it, there are noticeable physical and mental effects? Yeah… neither did I until this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still horrible at consuming enough water and find myself dehydrated from time to time, but after hearing this fact from our nutritionist I smartened up big time.
Finally, the last thing I do to adjust before racing is give my body a break. I try to get off my feet, cut back on the pace of my mileage runs and just let my body recover to ensure there is no lingering fatigue come race day.
The final fact of this post also comes from my coach: the run you do 2 days out from a meet actually has an impact on your energy levels and how your legs feel the day of the race.
Sadly, I learned that one the hard way. So from personal experience and for the sake of your race… never EVER try to get frisky on the run 2 days out or you will regret it! Seriously that run can not improve your fitness and it will not make you any better than you already are for that race.
I find it amazing how such small differences in routine and training can make such an impact on your racing. While I’m still learning my own body and the little things that work best for me, these are all big things that I can do to better prepare myself.
The Day of the Race
On the day of the race I try to sleep in but not too much, I find that if I oversleep it actually has adverse effects on my energy levels. I eat my pre-race breakfast (bagel) and if I don’t race until later in the day, I’ll do a shakeout run which is usually done about 6 hours before race time.
For those of you who may not know what a shakeout run is, it is a slower, shorter run (6-10 mins for me) which just gets your body moving so that you’re not sluggish later on in the day.
I usually roll out as well if I have time and just relax during the day. If I’m still in school, then it’s the perfect time to catch up on homework or studying!
I usually like to get to the meet a little earlier than necessary (about 2 hours early), as this allows me to get used to the environment and settle in before I have to warm up. I start my warm up about 45 minutes before the event but everyone is different!
Once I start warming up, the ear buds go in and I blast my favourite pump-up tunes! This is the final step of preparation.
Before a race, always believe in yourself! You’ve put in the work, you’ve prepared and you are ready. Don’t doubt your abilities now… remember you cannot control what others do around you! Focus on yourself and your race and only compare you to you! This sport is about improving upon your own times and being the best you can be.
Finally, when it’s time to get on that line and the gun goes into the air I know…