How to Overcome Race Performance Anxiety

Most runners experience pre race performance anxiety to varying degrees—ranging from jittery excitement to full blown anxiety and depression. Having pre race jitters is normal and adds to the excitement of racing. It can even help your performance on race day, but extreme levels of anxiety can negatively affect you and your performance. 

When we experience extreme pre race anxiety, we feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed. We just want the whole thing to be done and over with, and we may even start thinking about ways to get out of doing it.

Our thoughts are negative and self-defeating, and we subconsciously repeat them over and over. This race or any other external factor is not the problem. It's our own internal dialogue that has created the anxiety we are feeling. Instead of feeling excited and looking forward to the race we trained so well for, we wish it was over.

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Symptoms of Race Performance Anxiety

Race performance anxiety can cause the following symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Cannot relax and feel constantly stressed
  • Cannot stop thinking about the race
  • Regretting the commitment to race
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Sudden onset of a possible injury or minor illness
  • Second guessing your training
  • Worrying about small race details
  • Trouble with indigestion
  • Constant trips to the bathroom

Race Performance Anxiety

Fear of the unknown and lack of confidence in our abilities can put us in a downward spin. Our mind runs wild with crazy thoughts, we imagine the worst possible scenario, and we become tense and stressed.

We begin to doubt our ability to achieve the goal we set for ourselves, and we wonder if we have trained as well as we could have. "Why did I sign-up for this race!" 

Our mind goes on and on in this negative pattern. It is any wonder we have performance anxiety!

However, if we can begin to recognize this thought pattern and realize the effect it is having on us mentally and physically, we have already taken a step in the right direction. Awareness is the first step in learning how to deal with race anxiety.

Marathon Taper Anxiety

Running is usually a great way to relieve stress; but race training, especially marathon training, can be a cause of stress rather than its antidote. We often put a disproportionate amount of pressure on ourselves prior to a race and marathon training is the big kahuna!

Strangely, marathon paranoia aka maranoia usually occurs during taper time when most of the hard training has been completed. This should be a less stressful time as all the difficult physical demands have been met and the runner is just maintaining fitness in preparation for the big day.

However, this is usually when doubt and fear thoughts begin to creep in; and self-confidence begins to wane. Suddenly, a little niggle feels like an injury or a slight sniffle begins to feel like a cold. New worries begin to arise: have I trained enough, will I achieve my goal, will it be too hot, will I get to the race on time, maybe it's not too late to cancel, etc. 

This is a common experience for race and marathon training, but it is not a pleasant one. We can change this stressful experience when we learn how to control and overcome this undesirable pattern of thinking. 

Performance Anxiety

Using Performance Anxiety to our Advantage

Slight performance anxiety, when controlled, can help us perform our best during training and on race day. It can help us focus on our goals so we stick to the plan, and we can prepare ourselves mentally and physically to do our best. It motivates us and helps us to feel energized and determined. Feeling a little anxious or excited before a race can be beneficial. 

On the other hand, if we feel over anxious and stressed to the point that it begins to affect us physically, then we need to take steps to get it under control. The good news about extreme performance anxiety is that we can control it.  We mentally created this situation, so we can also mentally change it!

Tips to Overcome Pre Race Anxiety

Try the following to reduce and overcome performance anxiety:

1) Remind yourself how well you've trained for this race. You are prepared to do this race and you can enjoy it. You deserve this.   

2) Use positive affirmations before and during the race to remove fear and doubt. They will help you feel good so you perform your best. 

3) Have a reasonable but flexible goal in mind for the race. Conditions may not be ideal on race day and this will be reflected in your race time. A rigid goal will only add extra pressure and stress.

4) Prepare all your race items the night before. Use a checklist to reduce the number of things to worry about.

5) Develop a ritual to help you relax before a race. Listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation or do yoga for runners.

6) Do deep breathing exercises. As this study shows, deep breathing has a positive effect on stress. Try the breathing exercise in the video below to help you relax before going to sleep, whenever you feel stressed, or just prior to starting the race.


Use the Power of Intention

Use the Power of Intention to have a great race day experience. It will raise your expectations of having an amazing experience. You will feel more confident and this will show in your performance.

When we use the Power of Intention, we are focusing our mind on a desired outcome and this helps us perform at our maximum efficiency.  Don't underestimate the power of a focused mind. 

We do this by setting an intention for the day of the race. We then align our thoughts with that intention, which strengthens our belief in our ability to achieve or experience the desired outcome.

Set a strong mental intention to have an amazing race day experience - to run well, to feel strong, to enjoy the experience, to finish strong, whatever is important to you...

The Power of Intention increases positive thinking and expectations and helps us overcome performance anxiety.


See It, Feel It And Believe It!

Use visualization techniques to increase your confidence. As vividly as you can, imagine seeing and feeling yourself running and finishing the race. Your mind will believe you have already successfully completed the race. Visualizing helps you believe in yourself and your abilities.

Talk to your body before the race. Tell your body how it will feel and how you will deal with those feelings. Your will begin to believe in yourself and your confidence will soar! You know you got this. See it, feel it and believe it!

Keep your visualization images fresh in your mind during the race to stay strong and motivated. See yourself finishing the race feeling happy and confident. Relax and enjoy the race. It's your reward for all the time and effort you spent training. Make the event a pleasant memory.

The right amount of performance anxiety can really work to your advantage. Use it wisely and have your best race yet.

Try this Race Visualization Exercise to ensure that your race day experience is a great one!

Also, check out these race day tips to ensure you are well prepared on race day.


You may also be interested in:

How to Relax

10 Most Powerful Affirmations for Runners

Positive Self-Talk



Back to top of Performance Anxiety

Return to Running Psychology

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