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Tips for Managing Pre-Race Jitters and Performance Anxiety

How to stay calm and deal with performance anxiety

By

Updated June 13, 2014

Almost every runner experiences pre-race jitters or performance anxiety at some point. And it usually doesn't go away as you become a more experienced runner. In fact, some runners put even more pressure on themselves as their race performances improve. Follow these tips to successfully manage your race performance anxiety and use that pre-race nervousness to your advantage.

1. Expect the unexpected.

Runner jogging in urban area in the rain
Bernhard Lang/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Preparing for the unexpected can also bring your anxiety down to a manageable level. I always tell my runners to practice running in all kinds of weather: rain, snow, sleet, heat. So if rain is in the race day forecast and you've already run in the rain, that's one less thing to be worried about.

More: Tips for Running Races in the Rain
Tips for Racing in Cold Weather

2. Be prepared.

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Christine Luff
Part of being ready for your race is obviously making sure you do the proper training. But you can do other things to help feel better prepared for your race, which can lower your pre-race anxiety levels. For example, many runners like to study the course map so they know exactly what to expect. If you know that aid stations will be at every other mile on the course, you'll feel less anxious about staying hydrated during your race.

If you're traveling to a race and you're anxious about forgetting an important race item, start packing early and use a checklist to make sure you're not missing anything. Waiting until the last minute to get ready will increase your anxiety.
More: Tips for Your First Road Race
Mental Tips for Marathons

3. Develop pre-race rituals.

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Tetra Images - Erik Isakson/Brand X Pictures/Getty
Rather than trying to fight performance anxiety, elite athletes use pre-race rituals to help them manage it. They might listen to music on an iPod, pray, meditate, or go through a specific warm-up. Work on developing your own pre-race rituals and do them before every race, so they become familiar and relaxing.

4. Try deep breathing.

When you're anxious, your breathing becomes shallow. Try breathing deeply from your belly. You'll feel an instant calming effect and you'll also help prevent side stitches.
More: How to Breathe While Running

5. Use visualization.

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Michael Blann/Allsport Concepts/Getty
Visualization is a technique used by athletes to improve their focus and reduce performance anxiety. A couple of weeks before your race, begin visualizing yourself starting the race, running in it, and crossing the finish line. Picture what you'll be wearing, who will be watching you, and how you'll feel when you hear people cheering as you cross the finish line. Why does this help reduce performance anxiety? You'll be eliminating -- or at least minimizing -- the fear of the unknown, which is a huge cause of stress. By imagining yourself running your race, you're familiarizing yourself with what might happen, as well as how you may react.

6. Run without expectations.

Setting high expectations is one of the biggest causes of pre-race anxiety because you put a lot of pressure on yourself to meet a certain goal. Put your expectations aside and just focus on running your best. You'll feel much more calm, which may actually help you run a great race.
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