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Overcoming Pre-Race Anxiety: Mental Preparation Strategies

Overcoming Pre-Race Anxiety Joanne Bullard Run Tri Bike

For endurance athletes, pre-race jitters are a normal part of race day. Toeing the line usually brings emotions, including excitement, anticipation, and nervousness. Athletes typically experience responses physically, mentally, and behaviorally. Some athletes might describe experiencing butterflies in their stomachs, heart racing, sweaty palms, difficulties concentrating, dry mouth, pacing, etc. Although athletes need to experience their “sweet spot” of pressure to achieve optimal performance levels, they could hinder their performance if they don’t know how to regulate their emotions. Overcoming pre-race anxiety requires mental preparation strategies.

Developing the right strategies can assist an athlete in managing these pre-race anxieties and stepping confidently onto the starting line.

Strategies That Can Help In Overcoming Pre-Race Anxiety:

Embrace the Nerves:

It’s normal to feel nervous before a race. Instead of viewing these feelings as unfavorable, embrace them as a sign that your body and mind are preparing for the challenge. Your body is telling your mind, LET’S GO!!! Recognize that how your body speaks to your mind is a natural part of the process and can even enhance your performance if channeled correctly.

Focus on the Process:

At the start of the race, it is easy to focus on the outcome instead of recognizing the importance of shifting that focus to the process. Instead of fixating on the result, focus on the process of racing. Break the race into smaller, manageable segments and set goals to keep yourself focused and motivated. Concentrating on each step of the journey, you’ll stay present and in the moment, which can help alleviate feelings of worry or nervousness when thinking about the race.

Visualize Success:

Use visualization techniques to rehearse the race mentally. Close your eyes and imagine yourself executing the perfect race from start to finish. Visualize the course, your strategy, and how you’ll overcome any obstacles that may arise. This mental rehearsal can help build confidence and reduce anxiety on race day.


Mindfulness and Relaxation: 

If you notice nerves starting to creep in before the race, practice mindfulness, and relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body. Close your eyes, take slow, deep breaths, and imagine tension melting away with each exhale. Incorporating mindfulness practices into your pre-race routine can help center your thoughts and reduce anxiety.

Stick to Your Routine:

If you have a pre-race ritual or routine, stick with it! Rituals and routines provide a sense of familiarity, which helps you maintain calm during times of uncertainty. Staying consistent with this practice will help boost confidence! Trust in yourself!

Positive Self-Talk:

When experiencing pre-race nerves it is common to struggle with self-talk. Work on creating awareness by recognizing what you’re saying to yourself. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations and self-talk. Remind yourself of the progress you have made throughout your training, your previous successes, and what you have overcome in the past. Speak to yourself in an encouraging way, just as you would speak to a friend or teammate.

Trust the Process: 

You have come a long way since the first day of training. Have confidence in the work you’ve put in leading up to race day. Trust in your training plan, your coaches, and your abilities. Remind yourself of the hard work and dedication you’ve invested in preparing for this moment.  Believe in yourself and trust in yourself!

Overall, it is extremely common for athletes to experience pre-race jitters. Although this can be uncomfortable, these jitters don’t have to dictate performance. By learning to embrace the nerves, implement visualization practices, stick to your routine, focus on the process, practice mindfulness, and implement positive self-talk you can overcome pre-race anxieties in a proactive manner. Never forget to trust the process and you can overcome nerves on race day.


Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.