It’s OK to admit it. We all have dealt with race anxiety in some fashion. Some are really good at dealing with it, while for some it becomes so overwhelming even getting to the start line is an effort worthy of the race itself. It also doesn’t limit itself to triathlons. Runners have it. Cyclists have it. Swimmers especially have it. It can be as simple as a faint feeling of butterflies in the stomach. But it can also be full-blown, run to the nearest porta potty, full body cleanse.
Anxiety is not pretty.
I have dealt with this at various degrees since I started racing, and I am here to tell you that it can subside at times, but it never really goes away. Even when you think you have it whipped, the next race it can be back full-blown, like a long-lost friend popping in for a visit, just to remind you that people have died in triathlons.
Thanks. I needed that reminder.
But, because I have had to deal with anxiety, I have also learned ways to manage it, at least to not do things that I know will set it off. Let me share a few of them with you in the hopes that it might help you on the next race morning before you are heaving in the bushes 2 minutes before the swim start.
I am anal. I am a Virgo (if you believe in that sort of thing). I HATE being late. I hate being out of a routine. I hate rushing around at the last-minute or trying to cram too much into too limited a time. If you are time challenged, or the partner of someone who is time challenged, this may not be the portion for you. But this is what has helped me.
To mentally prepare for a race everything needs to be scheduled for me. I need to be preparing my race day items the night before, laying everything out as if I am in transition, and counting over and over again the items I am taking. I have found over the years that what I take to a race has dwindled a great deal, to the point that I always think I am forgetting something. The list is now pretty basic, especially since I am only doing sprints this season:
- Ear Plugs
- Tri Suit
- Race Watch
- HR Strap
- Swim Cap
- Bike Shoes
- Bike Gloves
- Water Bottle
- Running Shoes
- Hat or Visor
- Race Belt
- Transition Mat
That’s it. I lay everything out then pack it all the night before, except for what I am wearing to the race, which I lay out on the chair next to me. This consists of the race suit, HR monitor, shoes, and MAYBE the hat. I also take the time in the morning to self body mark (unless I have to wait until the venue) with a sharpie.
I plan on getting to the race start as early as possible, usually before it even opens. This worked great in Augusta as we found a parking spot next to transition and then took a short nap until it opened. This gives me plenty of time to go set up, use the bathroom if I must, check my bike, then head to the water. Which brings me to my second point …
Get In The Water
The swim leg, for most everyone, is the most fear inducing, anxiety provoking, portion of the race. The only thing I have found that works to calm myself is to get into the water before the race. In smaller venues this is usually possible. In larger ones, like most Ironman races, there is no place to do this. I like to go down and spend the time left before the gun just swimming around, nothing strenuous. I usually head toward the first turn buoy and check depth. I am not sure why, because I never put my feet down once I start swimming, but the thought that I COULD touch bottom if need be calms me.
The other trick I use is to not fight the crowd when the gun goes off. I am not a “type A” triathlete, a rarity, so sprinting into the water for a leg of the race that is not going to matter much in the long run seems silly to me. I let those people run into the water and I take my time, then start swimming after the mad dash has subsided. Inevitably I end up catching many of these guys before the swim is over (it must be them because I am usually in the last wave and I am passing someone). The bottom line here is that the fastest swimmer rarely wins the race, so why provoke anxiety and other issues by battling other people in the water?
The bike and the run are usually low-level anxiety provokers, so I will leave it as stated above. The one thing I will add is this; over the last 4 years the one constant that has reduced my race anxiety more than any other thing is preparation. Even at the shortest races never let the idea of “it’s only” get into your head. Respect the distance and prepare for each race. It goes a long way to reducing the fears you may have. It will be there, anyone who says they enter a race calm and collected is probably lying, but the belief that you have come prepared for the race or event goes a long way to alleviation of those fears.