I have raced triathlons now for 5 years. It never fails that when I walk up to the start line and the announcer is preparing to say “go,” that my heart rate jumps about 20 beats per minute and I get all dry mouthed. This is race anxiety. I have had race anxiety overcome my racing to the point where it impacts my performance. Here are 5 tips for Triathlon Race Anxiety that have helped me to perform better in my races.
Visualize a good race – I usually start getting butterflies and start to have a bit of anxiety when my race is about a month away. I start to look more intently at the instructions for the race in terms of my final preparation. Is this a wave start in the swim or is it a mass start? Is this a hilly course or a flat course? Is the weather going to be hot or cool? All of these questions begin to inhabit my thoughts and I start to get nervous. I then take the time to visualize the race in front of me. Sometimes races will have a video of the race that you can view to gauge a bit of the scenery and the setup of the race. I may even read some online messages about the race to get a better picture of what the race will be like. I then can spend the rest of the month anticipating many of the challenges of the race by visualizing a good performance in the race.
Be Prepared – Nothing gets you more jumpy or increases your heart rate more than panic. If you are unprepared going into the race then you will panic. I do not mean so much the training readiness because hopefully you have taken care of all you can take care of. I will address this issue in this post a bit later. I do mean your equipment needs to be ready. Is your bicycle properly maintained, are your running shoes in good order, do you have all of your nutritional needs together. If you find that you are unprepared when it comes to race day, then your anxiety will increase in a major way. I make sure I make a checklist for my races a couple of weeks away from the start date. Many times the list is the same as previous races, but have a little change or two. I then lay out all of my stuff a day or two ahead of time to make sure it is all there for me to take on race day. I do not need anything to be left out or my anxiety will climb.
Do the training – I get anxious about my training when I reach about 2 weeks to all the way up to the day before the race. My concern is always “Did I train enough?” “Did I put in enough time?” I even play mind games with myself like “Remember that brick workout that you didn’t have time for 5 weeks ago? That is going to be what keeps you from doing well.” The answer is “No it won’t,” but if I miss several workouts in a row or don’t complete the workouts in the plan I have with about 90% accuracy then there may be a problem. The best way to avoid this last minute issue about your training is to do the training. Make sure you have a solid plan to follow and do the training so that you can remind yourself when you start to doubt that you have indeed done the training. I know going into my Ironman race this year, I was really worried that I had not done enough swim training. I had not swam a 2.4 mile stretch of water before race day. I started to panic a bit, then I realized that I had done the prescribed training and I needed to trust the training. I would just remind myself that my training had indeed been enough. I do not like the attitude that says “well, I can’t do anything about it now.” I like to rather say during the training season “I am going to do the training now, so I don’t have to worry about the my training leading up to race day.”
Find your happy place – I have noticed that just before the gun goes off to start the race, my heart rate can really jump high with all of the previous emotions coming together to give me a huge anxiety attack. I have discovered over the years of racing to find my happy place before this happens. For me, I pray to the Lord about what I am about to do and ask for his blessing for the day. I close my eyes and think about all those who support me including my family, friends, and church members. I take deep breaths to calm my heart and almost go into a meditative state. I realize that all my training has led up to this moment and to just relax. I have discovered that if I approach the race calmly then the swim goes a lot better. If I am overwhelmed with emotion and cannot even breathe that the first half of the swim is a disaster and mentally I am headed for a bad day. I also try to think of the happiest place for me to be which is with my family. Find your happy place before you get to race day and go there in your mind to avoid anxiety.
Just have fun – The sport of triathlon is just plain fun. The anxiety comes from our attempts to do well or beat a personal best. Let’s face it most all of those doing triathlon are not going professional and are not going to win the race. I often have people ask me if I am going to win. I respond with “No, I am just going to do my best.” The truth is that the guys who win, even in the age groups, are usually so fast I have no chance of catching them. So, the end result of these feelings is just have fun. Enjoy the experience. Realize that very few people can do what you are about to do. Relax and have a great time. You will think about this race for the rest of your life. There is no reason to panic or be overcome with emotion. Calm yourself down. Calm your heart down. Just have fun!
I know that when I can keep my Triathlon Race Anxiety to a minimum leading up to the race, then I will have a better overall race and a better experience. If you struggle with this type of anxiety, spend the time to follow these simple tips to help you. I hope you have a much better race next time, because of being able to handle your Triathlon Race Anxiety.