In the final minutes before a race, I watch runners impatiently sprinting from overcrowded porta-potties to line up at the start, which is always bustling with the commotion of over-anxious athletes. I notice myself thinking, “Am I ready? Where should I hope to place? How does my body feel today?” These final few minutes before the start can be nerve-racking, so I do my best clear my head of distractions and focus on being relaxed. A clear mind can set a positive tone for the race to follow, which helps me to avoid negative thoughts and self-doubts before and during the race. Listed below are a few tips on how to keep your head in the right place for an enjoyable race experience.
Get Away from the Start Line
I used this technique before the 2017 World Long Distance Championships. I left the start, away from the commotion of all the runners, to grab a small bite of a Stroopwaffle in my backpack at the athletes’ tent. This short excursion to get a small and sweet bite of one of my favorite treats helped me focus on something besides the race for a few minutes. It might seem silly to leave the start line for only a Stroopwaffle, but when I returned I felt more relaxed and grateful for the sugary-caramel taste in my mouth!
Stride out the Nerves
Many runners, particularly athletes in high school and college cross country and track programs, take “strides” in the few minutes before their events. Strides are short sprints at about 75-85 percent effort where athletes opens up their running stride and prepare their body to move quickly. In long distance trail races, it may not be as necessary to ensure your body is prepared to run quickly immediately when the gun goes off, but there are still important mental benefits. For me, taking strides helps release my nervous energy as I wait at the start-line. Three or four strides usually gives me the energy boost I need to feel focused and ready on the start line.
Remember You’re in it For the Long Run
Despite all of your efforts to feel good at the start of the race, you may still have races where you feel sluggish, tired, or notice aches and soreness. All of these sensations can lead you to start out your race thinking negatively, which makes it tough to stay positive when you encounter the harder parts of the course. I advise that even if you don’t feel your best at the start, remind yourself that things can change. The race is not won in the first half and there’s plenty of time to find your rhythm, especially in longer races 50K and above. I suggest thinking about things you can be grateful for and feel good about. For example, if your left calf feels sore, think about how great it is to have a right calf that works well. Never doubt that your body cando amazing things!