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Pre Race Jitters

It’s common for runners to get nervous before their big goal race. Who wouldn’t? You’ve run countless miles, toiled in the hot summer sun, shivered in freezing winds, and hit lung-busting intervals until your head was spinning. As race time approaches, you can’t help but get the jitters. However, remaining calm heading into the race not only increases your enjoyment at the event, but it can help ensure you run your best.

To reduce pre race nerves, we need to analyze what makes us nervous. For most runners, focusing on the outcome of the race is what gets them nervous. Too often, runners focus on their final time, the weather, the crowds, or how they will finish in the field. The fallacy in this thinking is that these are outcomes that, to a certain extent, are out of your control. Just like any other aspect of life, lingering on events or situations you can’t control is stressful and nerve-wracking. So, the trick with racing is to focus on the things in the race that you can control.

Focus on what you can control

Focusing on what you can control starts with the race plan. You should have a concrete race plan that explicitly outlines what you want to accomplish at each mile or during certain portions of the race. This can be with target splits, positions within the field, or simply a state of mind. Whatever your strategy, it should be supported by the training and workouts you have done so that you can derive confidence from your previous hard work. In doing so, you’ve broken down the race into small, executable parts that you are confident you can accomplish.

So, when you start to get nervous, don’t focus on things you can’t control. Instead, concentrate on exactly what you’re going to do in each step of the race. The uncertainty then turns into specific, actionable steps that you are confident you can execute.

Likewise, during the warm-up of the race, continue to focus on what you can control. If you’ve been doing workouts, than your warm-up for the race will be much the same as the countless times you’ve done it in training. As you work through the warm-up process, thing back to your great workouts and take comfort in the familiarity of the warm-up process.

Be prepared

Next, you want to make sure you set-up everything before race morning. This includes when you’ll get up, when you’ll eat, and when you’ll get to the starting line.

Run through different weather scenarios and how you will dress accordingly. If you’re traveling to the race, lay everything out on the bed before you pack and put your running gear in the carry-on bag. By having a plan in place early, you can eliminate any last minute surprises, which can be a major cause of nervousness.


During your training, visualize every aspect of the race, from waking up to crossing the finish line. Run through different scenarios – weather, crowded start, missed water station, a dropped GU and envision yourself relaxing and remaining confident during the race. In the days leading up to the race, focus on executing your race plan and hitting each of your target goals throughout the race.

During your visualization, remember that the race will still hurt. There is no “magic” happening on the course. No special or euphoric feeling. It’s still going to hurt just like every other race; that’s the challenge. Runners that have bad races are looking for a magic feeling. They hope that all the tapering and extra energy during the final week leading up to the race will suddenly make them feel differently when the gun sounds. It won’t happen, so don’t expect it. Expect it to feel just like your hard workouts and take pride in the challenge of pushing yourself as hard as you can.

Next time you start to get nervous before the race, think back to your specific race plan, the warm-up, and all the little things you know you can control. In my many years of racing and coaching experience, runners who can relax before their race and execute their race plan succeed more often.

I am interested to hear if you have any pre race tricks or tips that help you relax.

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4 Responses on “Pre Race Jitters

  1. Thank you for this advice, this has really helped to calm my nerves for my 10k on sat. I have done various ones before, but feel the most nervous about this one, but you have really helped by visualising the route, thank you

  2. Omg I got a HUGE hurdles event coming up if I make it into this one then I get to verse the WHOLE OF VICTORIA in my age level (I’m 12) I’m so nervous I shake and shake the closer I get to the day I’ve had 1 training session I don’t train (that training seasion was a 1 off) and I’m versing children who do little athletics I want to join but I haven’t gotten around to it this website has helped me stop shaking thank you

  3. Thank you so much for this advice! Although I’m not doing a running race this weekend, I’m still doing an ergatta (an indoor rowing meet on the machines). I originally am a runner and I have a runners mentality which is what is making me successful on the rowing team that I just joined. So this advice goes well with other endurance races too.

    Wooo man I’m so nervous but I just know it in my heart I’ll do amazing!

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