Runners who don't feel any tension prior to a race are a very rare breed. If like me you've suffered from pre-race nerves, it means that you care about your performance and you really want all the hard work you've put in to pay off. A few jitters is fine and can even be useful, but if you let nerves get the better of you, your enjoyment of the day could be compromised and your performance could be negatively affected too.
Here's some advice I've been given over the years and have incorporated to ensure that nerves don't take over come race day:
Create and follow a pre-race routine - For structure and familiarity, it's important to follow a plan in the lead up. This could start the evening before by laying out your kit, looking over your training log as a reminder of all the work you've done and familiarising yourself once more with the race course. On the day, know exactly what your nutrition is going to be and have a precise warm-up routine prepared. These rituals will combine to help keep you calm, focussed and grounded.
Focus on what you can control - Pay attention to the areas that are in your grasp (like the ones above). Don't waste your time and energy worrying about things like the weather, the course conditions and what other competitors are going to do as this'll just raise your stress levels without bringing any benefits.
Stay away from the start area - This zone is notorious for being busy with copious amounts of nervous energy buzzing about. Remove yourself from it! Find yourself a spot away from the madness and do what you need to do. You could do your warm-up, listen to music or chat to a friend. Then head to the start area just before the gun goes off.
Make sure you relieve yourself - Try to check this off the list before arriving at the race venue. Or at the very least, head to the loos as soon as you get there. What you really don't want is to be in a long queue with the race start quickly approaching. I've definitely been there and it raises stress and anxiety levels significantly!
Take some deep breaths - In the start pen, take some deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This will help slow your heart rate and keep you relaxed just before the start. The final thing I try to do before the gun is smile. It may sound a little forced and even a bit odd, but personally it acts as a simple reminder that I'm there to enjoy the run and whilst I want to do well, if I don't it really isn't the end of the world!
By Marc Brown