Overcoming Pre Race Nerves – Zoe Smith

We spend a lot of time training our bodies to swim, bike and run, and even to streamline our transitions. But do we forget about mental preparation for the race itself?

I’m going to split this preparation into three different sections, and share some tips that have helped me:

  • During training in the weeks leading up to your race.
  • The night before race day.
  • The morning of the race.

During your training. On those long bike rides, take some time to think about race day. Try to come up with mantras. In the past, I have taped these to my top tube so they’ll be right in my face when the going gets tough. These ought to be personal to you, but don’t worry about how cheesy they might sound. Here are a couple I’ve relied on in the past: “Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.” “You’ve put the miles in. You’ve got this in the bag.” “Don’t let the power of the mind win over the power of the body.”

You may be superstitious, needing to follow a certain plan on race day. Left trainer on before right? Run through transition humming a particular song? Receiving a message from a loved one just before the start? Whatever works for you, make sure you have it nailed for the race. These psychological crutches are powerful, and you should practice them in the same way you practice taking off a wetsuit. Let supporters know what you need from them. They’ll want to help.

The night before race day. For most, this is when the nerves kick in. The very night you want to make sure you get a good sleep, you tend to spend it tossing and turning looking at the clock every five minutes. Consider doing things that will calm you down: a nice meal (not too late), a bath, or even a glass of wine! Remember to stay hydrated though.

The morning of the race. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being at a race with me, you will know that I am a real grump. I don’t have my usual happy demeanour on the morning of a race. Instead I am taken over with a quiet rage, which can quite easily turn to tears. There is a large element of self-doubt that comes over me like a crashing wave. Despite knowing that I have put the training in over a period of months, I still stand there thinking I can’t do it: I can’t swim, I’m going to fall off my bike and will need to walk most of the run. The ridiculous thing is I have NEVER done any of these. The mind can be a wicked thing if you let it run away.

I am working on overcoming this, as quite frankly it is really starting to annoy me and I can’t even imagine how my nearest and dearest feel having to spend that time with me. (Note from Gareth – it is a pain in the arse.)

So, what I am doing to become calm and serene pre race? For me it’s all about creating a positive mental attitude. I remember standing alone on the beach before Ironman Barcelona (other than the 2000 other athletes around me). I started saying out loud, that I had this race in the bag, I need to go out and enjoy it and that the sea is my friend. What did this do for me? It immediately calmed me from the inside, putting me into an almost trance like state.

You will often be at a race with someone else, so talk to them and let them know what you need or don’t need. Your friends will want to help. If they are talkative and chatty, and you need to be alone, politely tell them, and find some space. They won’t be offended. I’ve discovered this is what I need, so I get a big reassuring hug from Gareth before the race, and then I bugger off and leave him to his own race preparation so that I can have a quiet word with myself.

Remember though that we are all individuals, so what works for one person may not work for others. Try different things, just like you might with other aspects of training. Keep talking, ask what others do, something may click and work for you.

You must remember though: this is YOUR race, no one else’s, so be a little selfish and work out what you can do to enjoy every single moment of it. Knock any self-doubt on the head, know you are ready, nerves are nature but how you manage those nerves will inform your race.