Racing Nerves

When I race, there’s something more than the run, how my legs feel, and my physical being that I deal with as well.  And that’s nerves.

The mental game of the race is a well-documented topic in running.  I recently re-read this article on Kara Goucher’s Mind Gains from the March 2010 issue of Runner’s World, and thought it might be good to talk through my nerves & what I’ve done to manage them.

I’m not sure why (particularly since I’m not fast), but I have repeatedly gotten nervous at races.  The first time I really noticed it was at the 2008 Bucktown 5K. I had recently returned from the Dominican Republic and thought it was a case of reverse culture shock.  Then there was the Turkey Trot later that year, in which I had some incredible stomachaches, and cowered in the port-a-potty for 20 minutes before finally getting out to run the race.

Then this year I got into half-marathons, and found myself with some bathroom needs throughout the race. I even stopped along the way during the 5 mile Shamrock Shuffle. I wasn’t super nervous mentally, but felt like I needed to use the bathroom pretty early on in the race.  One race I stopped 2 or 3 times! I realized that I could cut off a few minutes just by eliminating the bathroom breaks, not even trying to get faster.

So at the Madison Mini-Marathon, I made my only goal to wait until 2nd half of the race before going to the bathroom.  And somehow, I didn’t actually stop for the bathroom at all!  (And I had a few sips of beer around mile 7!).  But I didn’t stop for a potty break at all.  Certainly some of this might be working on my pre-race nutrition (no more chinese takeout).

At the Turkey Trot last week, I faced a “return demon.” I think I was a bit superstitious about my previous turnout at the race, where I spent almost as much time in the bathrooms as I did in the race, that I was worried about what this year would be like.  I realized that I had to take a low-key approach to the race — no particular time goals, but just to have  a good race on a cold day, and I think that was a key to my success.

Lessons Learned:

1. Pay attention to nutrition & rituals the day before & morning of the race.  I would like to do a better job of tracking this so that I don’t repeat mistakes.  Goal for next year to track more centrally.

2. Consider what your true goal for the race is.  I made a few races this year just about overcoming a challenge: how far can I run w/o using the rest room? Can I have a good Thanksgiving day race on a cold day?   Time isn’t always what’s important, and in the long run, I’m getting faster too.

3. When I get tired, and want to slow down, use a Mantra.  I found I kept having an achey back after my longer races. While I’m working on strengthening my back, I also use the mantra that M shared with me when I get tired toward the end of a race:  “Run Tall.”  It truly helps me to run taller.

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