Have a bad race? Shake it off and make a comeback

Jos Everts collapses during the 1991 Hawaii Ironman  Credit: Gary Newkirk/Allsport
Race-day fear can be particularly smothering if your previous performance was a clunker. If you suspect that pre-race nerves were a contributing factor to your last race-day bomb, then take steps to defuse it.

Bad races happen, yes. But planning and fulfilling a comeback will more than make up for the occasional setback.

  • First, recognize that even the best runners experience pre-race nerves. Don't dwell on those feelings, but don't deny them, either. "Any runner who denies having fears ... is either a bad athlete or a liar," said Gordon Pirie, one of the great British runners of the 1950s.

  • Second, dissect your feelings of fear. It's rarely more than simple apprehension not the full-blown terror of, say, hand-to-hand combat. The worst that can happen is we might fail, which, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, "is rarely fatal." In fact, says psychologist Jerry Lynch: "Failure can be a wonderful teacher. It's like in Buddhist philosophy the arrow that hits the bull's-eye is the result of 100 misses."

  • Third, realize that you can use fear to your advantage. "Fear is a great motivator," believes John Treacy, Ireland's two-time world cross-country champ and '84 Olympic marathon silver medalist. Experienced runners learn how to distill fear into adrenaline a jet fuel that's set off with the mere crack of a starting pistol.

  • Fourth, the warm-up routine can be of great value here. Once you embark on your warm-up jog and stretching routine, the butterflies tend to get pushed to the back burner until you actually go to the line. Then a few, quick strides will get you race-ready. Once the gun goes off, you can usually count on the "automatic pilot" to take over.

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