Pre-race jitters… why they happen & how to manage them

[t gellenbeck]Columbus marathon 2014-3

Race week typically brings anxiety to many runners, especially if you are running a new distance, trying to set a new personal best or maybe qualify for an even bigger event [Boston is a popular one.]  I am running a 10K this Sunday and hoping to PR, so of course, I’ve been nervous about it since I woke up Monday morning.

So why does this happen?   

After doing some soul searching, talking with friends, runners & student-athletes as well as perusing the web, here’s what we’ve come up with…

Five Reasons For Race Day/Week ‘Jitters’

1.  You’ve worked really hard for __ [enter training schedule here] weeks or even months. Some runners train for 16+ weeks for that one moment… if you don’t perform to your expectations, the last x amount of weeks can seem all-for-not.

2.  “Fear is an indicator that you’re doing something remarkable.”  Many times our goals are set high and we know we are pushing ourselves to the limits, reaching out of our comfort zones.  This would make anyone nervous!

3.  You’re afraid of failure.  We don’t want to underachieve.  We definitely don’t want others to know if we underachieve! No one likes “failure.”

4.  You’re passionate [and/or competitive].   If you really truly want to do well at something, its only natural that some nerves will come into play.  That just means you care!

5. Adrenaline.  This is too much science for my brain (sorry mom!), but you can read more about it HERE if you’re interested.


So how do you overcome it?  Well, I’m no expert because as I sit here typing this, half of my brain is focused on the race and I’m a tad sick to my stomach thinking about it.  But here are some tips I’ve tried in the past and/or advice that’s been given to me…

Surround yourself with positive mantras and people.   You know you can do this.  Keep telling yourself that.  Put post-its on your mirror or share an inspirational quote on Instagram.


Allow yourself some solo time before the race.  Take a moment before the gunshot for deep breathing, quiet meditation, prayer, visualization… whatever lifts you up & calms you down.

Bend active leggings and outer layers

Always have 2-3 goals for race day; that way you don’t feel let down if you don’t achieve your main one.  My previous run coach, Teresa Turnbull from MIT, always suggested having multiple goals.  This allows you to still feel a sense of accomplishment if you don’t PR, qualify, or whatever your top goal is.  Plus, what if you get a stomach bug?  What if it rains?  Sometimes, your main goal may become unachievable.  My goals for this race are…

  • Goal #1 – Cross that finish line [ideally running] & embrace the joy of running & finishing
  • Goal #2 – PR with a time under a 9:03 pace (should be totally doable, I’ve just never raced a 10K; in fact this 9:03 time is from a half marathon split time)
  • Goal #3 – Stay between an 8:20 (my 4 mile PR) and an 8:40 (my half marathon PR)

Here are some Half Marathon example goals from YogaOnTheRun

  • If it’s a great day – Go for a sub 1:55 (8:40ish pace)
  • If it’s an good day – Try to hit around what I did for A1A (8:55ish pace)
  • If it’s just a day – Just have fun!

vision - goals - goal setting - development

Know that in the end, you did your best ~ and that is all that truly matters.  Even if you don’t make your main goal, lululemon’s blog reminds us that “Setting a goal & falling short is still better than not trying at all.”  Be proud that you trained.  Be proud that you CAN run.  And know that you’re awesome!


For other tips on RACE WEEK PREPARATION, check out our previous post HERE.

Info & photo credits to…

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