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How to deal with pre-race anxiety

We’ve all been there, pulling up to race day and getting that all too familiar feeling of adrenaline. Butterflies in your stomach, a raised heart rate, and sharpened senses all signal that your body is ready to perform, but what happens when that adrenaline is replaced by nerves?

Where the sharp focus that often accompanies butterflies can help you perform better, pre-race anxiety, on the other hand, is likely to be detrimental to your result. Focusing on the negatives, feelings of physical sickness and tense muscles will certainly hinder your performance, but there are things you can do to help alleviate race stress.


Recognising your feelings: Pre-race anxiety

  • You’re scared before you start

  • You may feel physically sick

  • You can’t think calmly

  • You may feel anxious or tight in the race

Recognising your Feelings: Pre-race jitters

  • You’re excited to start

  • You feel alert

  • Your heart beats harder, but this feels helpful

  • When the race starts you no longer think about how you’re feeling

Can some pre-race nerves be good?

Yes! Although they’re likely to feel much more like jitters. If you’ve figured that your symptoms are more likely to be this, embrace them! Adrenaline is your body’s way of preparing for action. Remind yourself that you race for this kind of excitement. Chances are, as soon as you start, you’ll run on the adrenaline and remain fully in the zone.


How do I overcome pre-race anxiety?

If you’re worried that your feelings are more in line with being anxious, don’t fret - there are still things you can do to manage it. The first step is to try and pinpoint exactly what causes your anxiety. Do you focus exclusively on your result? Catch yourself in negative self-talk? Worry that you won’t perform to your own, or other’s expectations? Race anxiety is often rooted in the fear of failure, so once you’re aware of your black and white thinking, you can start to recognise when you may be blowing things out of proportion. 

Similarly, you might start to notice that you’re worried about more specific things. Maybe you didn’t time your taper well enough? Or your climbing isn’t quite as quick as you’d like it to be. Even if you can’t change things before this race, reassure yourself that when you finish you’ll have a better understanding of what to work on before your next one. 

Remember, if you have a bad race, it’s not the end of the world. Take some time to chill out after you finish, and when you’re feeling like you're in a position to do so, review your performance and be realistic about it. If you have a coach, talk it through with them, as they are much more likely to be able to offer you a balanced perspective on the day. 

If you’re really struggling to hold your nerves, and the above tips aren’t helping, don’t be afraid to talk to a sports psychologist or therapist, who is trained to help you deal with these kind of thoughts.


What more can I do to combat nerves?

If you’re finding that you’re still struggling to deal with general negative emotions or nerves, even though you’ve done all the preparation you can, why not try a training programme dedicated to improving your mental strength? There are lots available, but if you want to get really tough, why not check out the mental training programme from The Sufferfest

Alternatively, you could take advantage of the indoor racing scene to practice your pre-race rituals. E-cycling races are growing at a huge rate, and have the potential to be highly lucrative, so why not sign up to Zwift to put some into practice?

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