Embracing Pre-Race Nerves

I’m in Ogden, Utah. The weather is beautiful and sunny, about 25 degrees celsius, and the leaves are turning beautiful colors of red and yellow along one of the most beautiful Xterra race courses. Here is a sample of what the scenery looks like as we wind our way up the trails riding and running…

If I flashback to exactly one year ago, I would say the same things at this point. The only difference was I started vomiting all night before the race, and instead of starting the race at 9:00am with everyone else, I was heading back onto the Interstate northbound to start the long 13 hour road trip home. A big bummer!! So I must say, I am rather excited to be back again, fitter and a heck of a lot healthier condition than a year ago!!

And going into races these days, excited is often the word I use instead of nervous to describe my feelings. Of course, it hasn’t always been so…I’ve had my far share of bundles of pre-race nerves over the years! But maybe now that I’ve been racing for almost 25 years, and that I know every single race is a personal choice, I don’t like wasting any time being nervous in a negative way or dreading the race in any fashion. So here are my reminders to keep races fun, and nerves on the excitement end of the spectrum:

1. Accept any physical signs of nervousness as N-O-R-M-A-L! Everyone is unique as far as nervous symptoms but when I get dry mouth, lose my appetite a bit, get testy with my family, and start taking extra trips to the bathroom, I just go with the flow (excuse the pun!) and remember it is just my body getting ready for “go time”, and let it do its thing! No need to freak out when you start to feel a few butterflies.

2. Keeping investment-return worries in check. Yes, I’ve trained hard, yes I’m hoping to do well, but as I always like to remember and remind others, racing is only about 10% of the time you spent doing your chosen sport. There are just as many victories to be celebrated in the other 90% of the time you spend training, developing relationships and living the lifestyle that goes along with your sport. If you’ve done your best to make it all come together on race day, and can say you gave your best effort and focus at the end of the day then a “result” is icing on the cake!

3. Its your choice to race so you might as well enjoy the experience. What if I said you’re not allowed to race tomorrow? Or you’ll be sick? Or you’ll get injured or in an accident and won’t even be able to attempt your sport for awhile or forever? If you’re lucky enough to be in the position to choose (e.g. fit and healthy to go the distance as a start!) then don’t give yourself any excuse to hold back! Have a few perspective reminders in your back pocket in case excitment tips towards dread from time to time – also normal!

4. Stay focused on the “controllables”. As related to the above, if you’ve done everything in your control to be as prepared as you can for any given race including training, equipment checks, course scouting, strategizing etc within the time you have to do so then you can just enjoy the countdown to race time! And this also means sticking with what you know works for you as far as pre-race routines. I’ve seen and heard too many stories of athletes full of pre-race adrenaline thinking they need to make changes, and suddenly try something new right before a race, not always the best time to experiment – save that for training!

5. Finally, at the end of the day it is just a race! If you put all your self-esteem eggs into your racing basket then your life might be an emotional roller coaster! If not, you can give it your all and no matter how it goes, you can have lots more to look forward to when its all said and done. When I remember to smile during races it is because it takes way less muscles, helps relax the rest of my body and is because I’m looking forward to unconditional love at the finish line from my favourite little fans 🙂 Nico is with me at this race, but I’ll look forward to getting home to see “Princess Zoe” on Sunday….

Zoe, wearing her new Minnie dress, every day this week and counting since receiving it on her recent 4th birthday!!

Pros of being an Athlete Mom # 2: No time for pre-race jitters to hit you!

“Wow, I’m suddenly on the start line – how did I get here so fast?” or “Oh, I’m racing, time to get going!” have been all too common thoughts since I’ve been racing with kids in tow. While I’ve never considered myself an overly nervous racer or very prone to pre-race jitters, the any waves of nervous butterflies I used to feel on race morning have almost been nonexistent since I first came back to racing 6 months after Zoe was born. Not that butterflies are bad – they are getting your body “UP” and ready to race, I just haven’t been able to pay them much attention anymore!

I think part of the reason is that having little ones like I do doesn’t give me the time to sit around and ponder what the race means or think about what competitors I will be up against – I rarely have time to even bother looking up the start list before a race! If I think about the reasons why being a mom is a great cure for race jitters, I can relate it to some of the things I try and teach athletes about mental performance such as:

1. Staying focused on what is in your control. When I think about the day before a race and the morning of a race these days I’m so busy getting my equipment ready on top of feeding and organizing my family, that race weekends allow no time to dwell on anything outside of my control like the weather, the competitors, what could go wrong, any doubts over my readiness to race etc. So I just stay focused on my race before and after the gun goes off.

2. Having a routine to follow. Race routines with kids have taken some trial and error. For one Xterra race in 2009 that JF and Zoe traveled with me to I was the last one to set up my transition and barely made it to the swim start line on time! It was scary, and now my pre-race routine checklist always allows for as much time as possible to get everything done and get in a decent warm-up which is always a plus, ha! Following a routine I know works will allow me to focus my best once the race begins. Of course, “mom race routines” have to be flexible and add some “go with the flow” room too!

3. Keeping emotions in check. Like most athletes I know I start to get a little edgy as a race approaches. And my family will be the first to notice me getting a little more impatient for example as a race approaches. However, kids remind me not to take myself or my races too seriously, they keep bringing me back to the present moment, and keep me laughing right up until it is time to focus on the race – and for me that is when the warm-up starts! And since I find that little daily joys with kids by far trump the emotional highs and lows of competitive sport, they keep my perspective in check too!

4. Staying in the here and now. As related to all of the above, children are amazing teachers at how to live in the present! They don’t care if I have a race in an hour – they are hungry now! Or need a diaper change now! Or just want some mommy attention now! They can have a temper tantrum one minute and being showering you with hugs and kisses the next, they don’t hold grudges or worry about what will come tomorrow. They teach me to enjoy every moment before, during, and after a race. During the race I can focus 100% and it is my time to do so. Before and after the race I can allow myself focus 100% on everything else!

Overall, although bringing my family to races can definitely take my stress level up in a negative direction at times, most of the time they are a positive distraction in the sense that they keep me busy enough to stay focused on just one thing at a time, and in the present moment, a practice that is also a positive for racing, to focus on taking it lap by lap, or section by section, until voila, I’m across the finish line and back to being a mom again!