9 Ways to Calm Your Pre-Race Nerves
Get Away From the Start Line
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Unless you have to register the day of the race, try to stay away from the race-day atmosphere until it's almost time to start. The starting line is the most stressful place you can be before the start of a race. Even if you aren't nervous about your performance, you'll likely feed off the energy surrounding the event. It's best to stay calm and do your warm-up and pre-race routine as far away from the start line as possible to avoid potential pre-race jitters.
Try Alternate Nostril Breathing
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Yoga Instructor Rabecca Pacheco recommends trying Alternate Nostril Breathing when you need to focus or energize your body. She states it can be "like a cup of coffee," and can be useful to cancel out distractions. To complete the exercise, close off one nostril and inhale through the open side. When inhalation reaches its peak, close off the nostril. Open the opposite side and exhale. Repeat this exercise several times, alternating each round. This will get you primed to focus your energy in the right direction.
Listen to Music
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Focusing on the wrong things can set you up for failure. Many athletes undermine their confidence before a race and make themselves more nervous than they should be. Music is a good way to relax and think about something other than what you're about to do. Choose music that is uplifting and puts you in the mood to have fun.
Relax Your Muscles
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A technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation can help you recognize muscle tension and loosen your muscles. Before the race, go through each major muscle group. Tighten each muscle group separately (legs, arms and core) for a few seconds and then relax. Go through the routine several times until you start to notice a difference in your muscle tension.
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Most nervous energy or anxiety before the start of a race is caused by the fear of failure. By visualizing exactly how you want the race to unfold, you're more likely to achieve your desired results. Use positive self-talk to maintain a good attitude and build confidence.
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In The Woman Triathlete, Dr. Joanna Zeiger states that most athletes waste energy focusing on things they can't control. Instead, she recommends to "Train hard and smart; make sure all of your equipment works properly; have a nutritional plan. All of these things will increase your confidence and give you a sense of power." Training and preparation are aspects of performance you can control. Focusing on the weather, competitors and the difficulty of the course on race day will only add unnecessary stress.
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The moment right before the start of a race is the most stressful. Take one or two minutes to shut your eyes and step away from the chaos and anxiety surrounding the event. Focus on quieting the noise. Concentrate on breathing long, deep breathes from your diaphragm. This will lower your heart rate and improve the connection with your body, which will help you concentrate your focus instead of wasting energy.
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Smiling is the perfect way to release anxiety and put yourself in a less-stressful mood. Force yourself to smile for a few seconds. This can help stop negative thoughts and is a good reminder that you're supposed to be having fun. It might also psych out your nervous competitors, which is an added benefit.
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Nerves and anxiety are often caused by placing too much pressure on yourself to perform. Instead of psyching yourself out, think of racing as a reward for all of the hard training you've put in. This will remove the stress from the event and put your race-day focus back where it should be: on having fun.