on pre-race jitters
Posted on June 23, 2017
Thurs 22 June 2017
Start time: 4:14 pm
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: I’m not sure?
Well. I finally bit the bullet and signed up for a race. Tomorrow’s 5K Pride Run will be my first race since a trail half-marathon way back in December. I’m not sure how it’ll go, but lots of little alarms are blaring DISASTER. A pang shoots through my left leg as I walk down a hill. Easy runs are slower than usual. My stomach does somersaults in the middle of the night. I foam roll obsessively. A particular yoga move nearly caused a fainting spell. Sleep is fraught and fleeting.
Experience tells me these warning signs are mostly, purely mental. On the eve of the Chicago Marathon, I went on a 2-mile shakeout run that convinced me my leg was broken and I wouldn’t be able to race. The next day I went out and ran a ten-minute personal best and felt no pain at all. Maybe I have a tendency to jump to dramatic and fatalistic conclusions. Blame it on pre-race jitters.
The craziest part is, this race is not the Chicago Marathon. This is not Boston or New York or the Olympics. This is a local Pride run! It’s about raising money for LGBTQ mental health services. It’s about getting outside on a Saturday in Golden Gate Park and deciding that if the famous San Francisco fog does not break for us, we’ll bring our own rainbows anyway.
Personally, it’s about getting back on the race train, judging my fitness, and learning how to deal with a little stress. If I’m lucky, it will be over in less than twenty minutes. In part to quiet my own nerves, I’ll lay out a few tips and tricks for how to survive and thrive through the worst of pre-race jitters:
- Sleep – This is probably the most important pre-race preparation step. I have not slept very well this week. Don’t be like me. Sleep is so important before a race because your muscles need hours and hours to recover fully from your training. For big races, sleep is arguably the most important part of the taper. Also, in my own experience, a good night’s sleep puts all the little annoyances and irritations in life in perspective. I’m a lot more likely to get upset over something inconsequential when I haven’t slept. Getting upset = useless energy expended. When I have slept, I’m more likely to appreciate bits of beauty, like the smell of eucalyptus or a child holding hands with her grandmother on the bus.
- Eat well and hydrate – This is a tricky one. What does ‘eat well’ even mean? I want to write so many blog posts about running and eating, and I probably will. In short, it’s a question you have to answer on an individual level. For example, I regularly eat avocado toast for lunch, but my mom won’t go near an avocado with a ten-foot pole. If you know certain foods cause stomach distress, avoid them. Don’t gorge on food the day before a race, but don’t deprive yourself of your usual amount. ‘Intuitive’ eating comes in really handy here. Listen to hunger and fullness signals. Don’t decide to suddenly become Anthony Bourdain and go on wild foodie adventures. If you’re running less than a marathon, there’s no need to carbo-load. Drink lots of water, and think about subbing out juices and sodas for water. If you drink a cup of coffee in the morning, don’t suddenly decide to abstain, unless you want to feel out of it and unlike yourself. Maybe don’t get wasted the night before a race. Basically, take care of yourself, listen to your gut, and don’t try anything radical food or drink-wise.
- Set the bar low – If I go into a race with high expectations, I WILL psych myself out. I’m not discouraging setting big goals for yourself, but as race day gets closer, try to put those big goals in the back of your mind and focus on the present. Big goals aren’t achieved by fantasizing. Big goals are achieved through a combination of factors, and in running, those factors include weather conditions, race organization, competitors in your field, the difficulty of the course, and the maximum capability of your body at that exact moment in time. The only things you can control are a) the work of running, which is hard, grunty, sweaty, and mostly done by the time you reach the starting line and b) your mindset, which should be like a calm lake with a tingling spark of fire threading across the surface.
- Keep things light – Even if you’re dreading a race the day before, remember that there’s some enjoyable aspect to the sport that keeps you coming back for more. Another way of saying this is, “have fun.” If it’s not fun why do it? You can do anything else on a Saturday or Sunday, and you literally signed up to run. You likely paid someone else money to let you run. But on a deeper level, you will likely perform better if you add a little lightness to your steps. To do this, give yourself a silly mantra, crack a joke with the person next to you, run in a ridiculous outfit, or high-five the volunteers at the water table. It will release some of the pressure you put on yourself, while connecting you to your surroundings, making the race a more memorable overall experience that’s not tied to a particular time or placing.
- Be social – Spending tons of time alone before a race is not the best idea. Hanging around friends and family members will remind you that nobody else cares about your race. They care about you, of course, and your happiness, but they probably don’t know the difference between a 19:53 and an 18:59, and really could not be bothered to try to learn. Being social offers much-needed perspective to goal-oriented individuals. Nobody wants to hang around a super-fast runner if they’re a grouch or a basket case. So even if you’re feeling that way on the inside, you’ll have to pretend to be kind and generous in the company of others.
OK, I’m feeling a bit better. Time to get out of the house and do my usual thing. Send me jokes and well-wishes! And if anyone has a rainbow shirt to borrow, text me.