Fear not...

Posted by James Greenwood | 10:26 AM | , , , | View Comments

I find the weeks leading up to any race, no matter how big or small, pretty nerve wracking.

I see myself as a very positive and optimistic person, and when it comes to training, I am very focused on sticking to the plan, doing exactly what is required, no more and no less.

But a few days out from race day, I sometimes find a couple of self doubts creeping into my consciousness. Why the occur and where they come from, for me, is rooted in my fear of failing in front of others - even people I do not know.

So how do I limit the impact these negative thoughts have on me leading up to the big day?

These are a few things I do to calm and reassure myself.

1: I make sure my body is allowed to recover from and adapt to the training

This is why we have a Taper period. A few weeks, depending on your event, where the total training volume gets cut, by 25% - 33%, compared to the volume in the weeks leading up to the Taper week.

It is essential to maintain your training intensity during your taper, so while the reduction is training volume is ensuring you are getting rested up, the maintenance of training intensity maintains, and has been shown to increases, your levels of fitness.

Here is a short list of things you can think about doing to maximize your bodies adaptation and recovery in the weeks leading up to race day:
  • Get an additional hour sleep
  • Eating frequently, and small meals
  • Cut back on the processed, high sugar and high Glycemic Index foods.
  • Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • When it comes to training in the days leading up to the event, if you are not sure whether you feel up to doing a session, or if you should be doing it all - LEAVE IT OUT!
  • Rather to do to little and feeling rested and fired up on race day, than do extra sessions, and feel tired and lethargic.
2: I recognize that doubt and anxiety is completely normal

Whether you are at the top level of your sport, or a first time racer, accept that you will have doubt and a certain amount of anxiety about your preparation, "Have I done enough".

You will certainly have worries about any number of aspects, both race and non-race related. Things such as: Not oversleeping, getting to the race on time finding parking, the hills on the race course, your nutrition before and during the race, your ability to avoid cut off times etc.

A great way to deal with these doubts and these worries is write down those things causing you doubt and anxiety in a list.

Next to each doubt / anxiety, write down what steps can be taken to deal with it. Perhaps having a second alarm clock will ensure you do not sleep through. By getting to bed earlier in the days before the race, you will more rested, and ready to get up at the early, race day hour.

If the course is extremely hilly, think back to all the training you did in preparation for those hills. Remember how you developed a strategy during your training, to deal with the climbs, and how you will apply that preparation into the race. Remain seated, keep your cadence, relaxed upper body, rhythmic breathing.

Do this for all of those things cause you worry and anxiety. This forma part of your race day strategy.

3: I try to avoid Goal Inflation!

Goal inflation occurs as race day approaches, and conversations with other athletes and spectators leads to an athlete becoming over confident, often unrealistically, and the goal for the event changes.

Perhaps it is an adjusted goal time, becoming faster, or perhaps it is thinking about going harder than is realistic in one of the legs of triathlon.

The best approach to take is to have a look at how your training and B races have gone leading up to your A race. Use this information to determine what is realistic and what is not.

Revisit the goals you set for yourself at the start of the training program, and see if these have remained the same.

By inflating your goals, you are not only putting unnecessary pressure on your self, but you are potentially setting yourself up for disappointment.

You know what you are capable of, you know what your body can and cannot do, so be wise, and avoid Goal inflation.

I also use these pre-race and race day stretageies to make my Taper week as worry free and as beneficial as possible.

  • Check your equipment at a few weeks before race day. Get your bike serviced, do you need new running shoes, do you have spare tubes, etc.?
  • Ensure your race day supplies are sufficient. Items such as: gels, energy bars, rehydration powder and any other items you will need on race day. The last thing you want to e doing is walking around on the day before the race looking for your brand of energy bars.
  • Write up a Gear Checklist and a Race Day Itinerary.

    The Gear Checklist should contain everything you are going to need for race day, from A-Z. Check everything before a day or 2 before the race, and then again on the evening before the race. Be sure to pack your gear the night before, lay out everything in order so there is no panic and stress at 3am on race day.

    The Race Day Itinerary should have a time breakdown of everything you are going to do from the time you go to sleep the night before the race, to when you are standing on the start line. This will ensure you have set sufficient time aside to wake up, eat, travel to race, check in, check gear, go to washroom, warm up, have pre-race nutrition etc. with time to spare.
Race day:

  • Get up 3 - 4 hours before your race begins, to allow you sufficient time to get prepared and get to the race.
  • Stick to your Race Day Itinerary. This should have left time to:
    • Check in and check your equipment one last time.
    • Get to the washroom
    • Mentally prepare yourself for the race
    • Warm up as planned
    • Have your pre-start snack
    • Get to the start line feeling warm, positive, relaxed and confident.
  • Stick to your racing strategy
I know that these techniques have helped me get a handle on the fear and stress leading up to a race, I am sure they will help you too.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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