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Anxiety before the race is not only butterflies in the stomach and an increased heart rate, but also the awakening of inner demons. All unsuccessful workouts and failures are immediately remembered, plunging more and more into negative thoughts.
The psychology of prelaunch anxiety
There are two main reasons for prelaunch nervousness. Firstly, competition is a big load, and the body knows it. When a race is approaching, mental anxiety and physical symptoms such as nausea or muscle pain arise as the body’s way of saying, “Are you sure you want to do this?” The second source of anxiety is fear of failure.
Physiologically, nervousness is simply a way of describing the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system that responds to changes in mood or the environment.
A little stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system helps to focus and can trigger a fight-or-flight response at the right time, releasing adrenaline and allowing you to work at a higher level (the same competitive “magic”, which is really just chemistry).
However, being overly nervous can lead to severe performance degradation, such as:
- an increase in heart rate, which means harder breathing and increased perception of effort;
- increased metabolic activity – allows you to burn calories faster, so you use energy less efficiently, and this leads to a decrease in productivity during prolonged competition;
- decreased cognitive abilities, and as a result – insufficient concentration of attention and severe mental fatigue by the end of the race;
- sleep problems that affect the speed of recovery and the immune system;
- negative thoughts that reduce self-confidence. Psychological research provedthat this kind of thinking in itself is detrimental to productivity.
Fortunately, there are methods you can use to control your raging nerves and save energy for what really matters – running.
Come up with a backup plan
It’s good to know your goals for a perfect day when things are going 100% right for the race, but there should be plans B and C in case of minor or major failure. Being willing to adapt to any situation can help you stay calm and perform well, even when your original plan went awry.
- Plan A: perfect weather, excellent preparation – we run to the person;
- Plan B: something went wrong or you are in bad shape – we are doing everything possible for the current conditions (we run with a reference to the pulse instead of the pace, deliberately slow down, etc.);
- Plan C: unsuitable conditions for the competition (for example, very hot weather): without remorse, we run as a tourist – take a selfie and look at the surroundings, relax and have fun.
Imagine that you are happily and with a smile finishing, overcome the last kilometers with confidence, smile at the photographers and feel just amazing! The more you load your head with positive images, the less room there will be for negative thoughts.
Visualization stimulates the reticular activation system – an area of the brain that acts as a filter and allows you to focus on what is important, removing other sensations (in this case, excessive excitement) into the background.
It sounds very simple, but it is a very effective technique. The idea is to induce a state of relaxation by avoiding the premature fight-or-flight response.
To do this, place your hands on your stomach and count to four as you inhale, hold for four, then exhale four more counts. As you do this, you should feel your arms expand and relax. Practice deep breathing before the day of the competition to help it flow more naturally.
Come up with your mantra
Stop negative conversations with yourself, it is better to start with positive mantras prepared in advance. When you feel that you are starting to worry, repeat these learned words to yourself.
When it gets tough, replace “I’m tired and can’t cope” with “I trained well and I can walk the distance”, “I know that I can continue and have done it before”, “I am strong and overcome difficulties with ease” and others positive statements about yourself.
Concentrate on your accomplishments
Scroll carefully through your training archive and you will probably be pleasantly surprised how many hours and kilometers you have successfully covered. Often, nerves and self-doubt arise because we feel unprepared, but irrefutable evidence will help make sure that the upcoming race is within your power.
Don’t try to control everything
It won’t work anyway. There are many variables that cannot be influenced on competition day, such as weather conditions. And, so as not to go crazy with anxiety, manage what you can control: sleep before launch day, nutrition and hydration.
Make sure you eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol and junk food. Go to bed early all week before the start to get some rest.
Charge yourself with positive emotions
Emotions play a very important role in our behavior: they affect motivation and confidence, and will also determine how much effort you put into the race. Different emotions correspond to different physiological changes, and these changes can increase or decrease physical performance.
Recent research showedthat the results among sprinters were significantly higher when athletes recalled the happy moments of their lives just before the performance.
Create a positive emotional background for yourself by indulging in memories from the past that make you smile and feel good.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Do you look at your competitors and feel like you’re failing? Or are you worried about how you will perform compared to other runners? Comparisons like these are often cause for concern.
This is your day and your competition. You need to measure your success based on your goals and results, regardless of what others around you are doing. Trust yourself, your training and only compete with yourself.
Be here now
Keeping your mind in the present is one of the most important and powerful things you can do to reduce anxiety and improve productivity.
Stop traveling back in time and remembering workouts that could have been done better. There is no need to look into the future, worrying about the last kilometers, when the forces will be running out. Finally, remind yourself why you are here – to have a good day, right? And why you run is for the love of running. This is more important than finishing time and final place in the table.
Breathe, stay in the moment and enjoy it.
Photo: Dima Kovalenko