“Nerves and butterflies are fine - they're a physical sign that you're mentally ready and eager. You have to get the butterflies to fly in the same direction ... forward, that's the trick. ”
Whether competing to win, achieving a personal best or simply completing the course - nerves can envelope our thinking and ultimately our performance.
So it is for the beginner triathlete it is for the experienced elite athlete: they all admit to suffering from nerves on race day. It is normal to have questions and doubts swirl around in your head: What lies ahead? Am I wearing the right outfit? Have I done enough training? Did I have enough breakfast? Will I finish? Thankfully there is more you can do than visualising the butterflies fluttering in the same direction.
Although it won’t feel like it, nerves are actually a positive sign that your mind is focusing on the task ahead. You’ve trained your body to compete for a specific race distance and your nerves are a sign that your mind also understands how important this challenge is to you. So it’s a good sign that you’re nervous. It means you are mentally prepared as well as physically ready.
Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
It's always the athletes who make sure they have prepared properly in every possible way, who have the best chance of making it to the finish line happy. If you are organised about everything, from fitting your training into your lifestyle, to eating/sleeping properly, to getting your kit ready days in advance, to getting to the start early, you will have given yourself every chance of success. So extend that way of thinking to cover everything. Check the weather forecast and pack the right clothing. Turn over every rock to make the day go as smoothly as possible and believe it or not - it does!
Control the controllable
Having done all you can to be ready, you have to accept that there are other things that might happen on race day that will be out of your control. It is completely understandable that you will be anxious about that, but focus instead on all the things you can control. You are in charge of the amount of training you’ve done, how fast you want to go, what you eat, what you drink during the race, where you start etc. The building blocks of any successful race are the simple things you can control - stick to the basic ingredient of race performance. Simple is sophisticated. Aim to move from A to B, start to finish!
When we’re tense or fired up, it is incredibly easy to forget to breath. Anxiety is a natural emotion and our body naturally responds by tensing up. So try and stay as loose and relaxed as possible. There is nothing more you can do on the start line. You’ve done all the hard work now, you’re ready to go, so enjoy it and breathe deeply. Relax your body and remind yourself of all the training and preparation you have done leading up to the event.
Remember why you are doing this
Focus on why you are taking part in the race. Being fit and raring to go, toeing the start line in one piece is what it is all about. Visualise positively cruising (maybe a sprint) across the finish line with friends taking the hundreds of celebratory pictures - don't forget to post to Instagram the sweat laden face and messy hair! Soon, very soon those visualised pictures will be your reality - and remember a smile makes an exhausted face look fresh!
No need to overthink things
A feeling of being overwhelmed when you are just about to START with a mass of nervous, laughing, cringing tangle of bodies can happen. Many others around you with the same goals - this ain't the time for self doubt and side tracking focus on others. Please please please stick to your race plan, clothing choice and any other little race routine you have planned. Copying others is a recipe for who knows what! Equally don't be panicked into a warm up routine seen done by another athlete. Stick to what is tried and tested for YOU! YOUR plan will carry you through the race - to a smiling end.
As you stand on the start line one of your biggest fears could be the unknown. A good knowledge of the course and its landmarks will give you more confidence. If you know where the water stations, toilets (for that nervous one) and corners are, walk the transition entries and exits, it will make you feel more in control. Research the course in detail and make it seem familiar to you. The more familiar you are about it all, the easier your race will be.
Aches & Pains (the phantom niggles) Vs genuine injuries
The mind is an interesting muscle that might try to trick you into giving your best, or worse not racing! Although it is always important to listen to your body, be a little circumspect on race day. That sudden, sharp nagging pain in your knee, calf, shoulder or ankle, could just be your body’s version of mild panic.. dont laugh, it happens. Stay the course in your pre-race preparation, now isn’t the time for excuses.
Some triathletes love a pre-race ritual, which they use to be more mindful of what is going on around them, this is very different from ‘switching off’ from what is going on around them. The objectives is connectedness and situational awareness – ready to adapt and improvise to any ensuing challenges. With human beings being creatures of habit, we take comfort from doing the same things. Focusing on your own prerace schedule is best. Play your regular warm-up track, Carry out a short, gentle stretching routine, listen to your favourite ‘pump me up’ music, apply sunscreen a certain way, pick up some dirt and rub it into the palms of your hands (Oops this doesnt have to be equivalent to a battle in Gladiator!) Simply avoid distractions around you and certainly forget about what lies ahead...
BOOM!! You are off and racing!