I’m pretty sure I speak for the majority of runners when I say we are not elite runners. When I sign-up for a race it is not because I expect to win it. Never do I think I will leave a race with the cash prize nor do I expect to set any records. In a few smaller races I’ve placed well in my age group, but for the most part I am on the start line with the same goal as most of the other runners–to finish and/or to achieve a personal record. If we are not expecting to win the race, why then do we average runners get the pre-race jitters?My pre-race jitters seem to start at least a week before when I’m agonizing over what gear to bring, what the weather will be like, what pace I will be able to maintain. The bigger the race (distance and/or number of runners), the earlier the jitters begin and the more of them I experience. The night before the race and the morning of the race are, of course, the worst.
Sleep the night before a race is poor at best. I wake up constantly hoping not to miss the alarm–it’s the same kind of sleep I get before I have to catch an early morning flight. It’s more like a series short naps rather than a full night’s sleep. I know to expect this going into the night and I bank on adrenalin to keep me going in the morning. When trying to fall asleep I’m usually replaying various training runs, I visualize my routine for the morning, I think about my race plan, and I think about after the race. What will I do next? How will I transition from training to just working out? Will I be able to stay motivated to run after the race?
On the morning of a race I usually have two sole things that occupy my mind: the weather and taking care of business. (I will attempt to make this as non-TMI as possible, but only because I believe other runners experience the same thing, and I know I would appreciate reading how others deal with it, will I share this information.) I think I have finally determined there is a very specific amount of liquids I can consume before a long run or a race. And there is a specific amount of time I need for my body to wake-up and get through its routine.
Before a long run or a race I prefer to have a solid 2 hours to do what I need to do. I will have no more than 10 ounces of coffee and one full glass of water and that is the maximum amount of liquids I can consume comfortably. Cereal is out of the question because the milk would push me over the edge. I prefer to have oatmeal or toast; breakfast has to be plain because as soon as I wake up I will feel the anxiety in my stomach. Once I’m through eating and drinking, I make sure to hit the head at least two times before I get to a race.
Depending on the weather I am liable to change my layers several times. I will check the forecast incessantly until I am no longer in front of a computer or my Blackberry. I like to know the daily forecast, the hourly temperatures, and what is on the radar for the entire duration of a race. I’ll usually set out the night before more gear than I need and decide on the morning of the race what to use.
At the race site, I usually get very, very excited. I’ll have a perma-grin on my face and look around to see how everyone else is feeling, preparing, reacting to the moment of starting a race. Before lining up I will find the bathroom again at least two more times. Having to go is the absolute last thing I want to be thinking about while racing and if the opportunity exists to take care of business, I’m going to do just that.
Milling around other runners builds up my excitement even more. I will do little side to side jumps, shake my arms out, do knee lifts, anything to keep my body moving and to try to calm myself down. The more excited and anxious I become the more likely I am to start off too fast, so getting into a relaxed state before the gun goes off is critical to a good run.
It’s hard to explain why this anxiety, and the nervous feelings, and the heightened excitement all pile up and seem to explode on race day. Perhaps it’s the anxiety of hoping all the training will pay off. Maybe it’s wondering how well I’ll be able to run. It could be the fear of not making my goal time. Or maybe, because I run by myself during training the energy of being around other runners is extra motivating. Regardless of the reason for the pre-race jitters, I almost depend on them to help me stay excited and stay strong. Even though I’m not bringing home the cash purse, I welcome these pre-race jitters as a sign that I am still excited to be running. They are emotions that I welcome.
How do you deal with pre-race jitters? Do they dissipate as you do more races? Or is each race just as exciting and just as new of an opportunity as the last one?