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Pre-Race Nerves

The Question

This question is from Sally. Sally's feeling a bit nervous:


“So, I know I'm never going to win a race, and I'm not even that worried about PBs, so why do I get so nervous before races? I start worrying days in advance now and it's getting to the point where I don't want to do them any more.”

Simon's Answer

Simon - running coach
Simon Loughran - Middle-distance runner and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and Athletics Coach

“As runners, we often put pressure on ourselves to perform well at races. We usually want to beat other runners, beat previous times, or just finish feeling like we've put in a worthy performance. Having clear goals established before you get to the start line can really help. I recommend having three goals:

  • A Goal: This is what will happen if everything goes brilliantly. If you're looking for a time it could be a PB or a sub-xx:xx. You'll probably only achieve this if you're feeling really good on the day and there aren't any problems. It's a bit of a bonus goal, and you won't be too bothered if you don't achieve it.
  • B Goal: This is a more realistic goal. Something you're pretty confident that you can achieve. If you're in much better shape than your previous race then it might be a PB, but if you've been racing a lot then aiming for a certain time that's not a million miles away could work.
  • C Goal: This is the goal for when things don't quite go your way. It allows you to still feel some sense of achievement even if you didn't quite get what you were hoping for. It could be something as simple as just finishing the race, or running faster than you did at last year's event.

And if you miss all your goals? Well, then you get a consolation prize, which is the chance to reflect on what went wrong. Sometimes external factors are to blame (terrible driving wind, twisting your ankle), but the majority of the time you'll be able to identify something you can work on to improve future performances.”

Phil's Answer

Phil - running coach
Phil - Marathon coach and parkrun fan

“You're not alone. Runners from complete beginners to established elites suffer from nerves.

And they can be useful. The focus of attention and increase in adrenaline that they bring about can result in better performances. It can be worth bearing this in mind and seeing it as a positive. Instead of feeling as though nerves will scupper your performance, believe that they'll improve it.

However, if you're really suffering days in advance, then something needs to be done. One thing that can help is being really prepared. Have a look at our race day tips.

Also, schedule yourself a little time (10 minutes or so) in the five days leading up to the race to sit down and think about it. Outside that time be strict with yourself and avoid thinking. Easier said than done, I know. But if you find race thoughts creeping in then just tell yourself that you're going to save them for your next 10-minute "race thoughts" block.”

Our Member's Answer

Deborah in North Devon suggests getting out there and doing it... again and again and again:

Deborah - race crazy

“Race, race, race. The more you do the easier it gets. I still get nervous before races, but it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be. Maybe enter some cheap races and just run them as training runs, so the pressure is really off? That'll get you used to the racing environment. Races are now so familiar to me that it just feels like another day in the office. I even forget about upcoming races sometimes.”

Thank you Deborah, that's a really good idea. Races, weirdly enough, don't always have to be for racing.

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