Improve Your Race Performance by Managing Race Week Stress
Poor management of race week stress is a sure way to derail the countless hours of preparation you have put into getting ready for an event. During the final week, all the physical training has been completed and there is little that you can do in the final seven days to bump up fitness. However, there is a lot that can affect your race day in a negative way.
Staying focused on the goal ahead rather than worrying about “what might be,” is a key attribute. Much of this anxiety can be real or imagined. Stress or anxiety is technically an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future. One of the simplest ways to control these anxious feelings is to adopt the Boy Scout motto- Be Prepared. As renowned author Dale Carnegie once said, “First ask yourself: ‘What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.’ ”
Factors that can affect your mental state are logistics, the course itself, and finally, actual competitors. Below are tactics you can use to manage your time and tasks leading up to a key event. The explanations are written for an athlete who is travelling, however the same principles apply if your race is in your hometown or close by.
It shoud go without saying, but plan your stay well in advance of the event. The goal is to make your stay at the venue as close to what you experience at home in terms of habits, food, and sleep. Start preparing at least two months prior to the event, even more if it is a World Championship or in another country. In addition to relieving the stress of getting all the travel arrangements finished, early preparation typically allows you to get the best rates as well as the shortest or most direct flights.
If your room has a kitchenette and you plan on making your own meals, bring a few of your usual recipes and lay out the week’s menu in advance. Cooking your own meals also gives you control of serving sizes and nutrient content of the food. Sticking to a normal routine will help keep nerves calm and also avoid unwanted gastric surprises. You can even go so far as to make early reservations at a favourite restaurant for the final pre-race meal. Often, in smaller venues, the popular eating establishments are overwhelmed and you could be waiting longer than anticipated or forced to eat somewhere not as appetizing.
Course Specific Preparation
I wrote an article a year ago about doing race specific course preparation for the bike. This should also extend to similar training for the swim and run as well. Knowing that you have prepared to your potential for a hilly or flat, hot, humid, or chilly destination should help alleviate any anxiety that you are not yet ready for the race. The internet is a massive resource and there are plenty of sites like that provide accurate course specific data. Search for previous athletes race experiences and read blogs that provide information and some of the smaller nuggets for a particular venue.
Testing any new gear ahead of time and ensuring your nutrition is effective at race intensities should reinforce positive thoughts for race day. Arrive at race site knowing your equipment is tried, tested, and complete. Hitting the expo looking for magic pieces of gear and not knowing how they are going to integrate with your race plan is not productive.
Read the race guide or website to determine key points of the terrain profile to replicate in training. Have an idea of what each venue looks like and even use Google Maps with street view to analyse where you will be competing.
If you able to train on the course prior to race day, plan and know what workouts you can do on the course. Use this time to place landmarks that you can use in your race. Strong sessions in key areas can give a huge psychological boost come race day.
Research the logistics of races that involve two transitions. Organizers of events like 70.3 St. George or IRONMAN Canada are able to manage two separate transitions, but athletes should pay special attention to when buses run and the times that gear needs to be in transition. Examining maps and getting an overall lay of the land can help avoid being in the wrong place unnecessarily.
While hard, you should try to relax as much as possible. During race week, let your body recover from the training leading up to the race. The final week is not the time to cram in more workouts. Use your time to read, watch movies or TV. Your mind will often play tricks on you with insecurities, along with physical niggles. Know that this is normal and aim to relax.
Reflect on the goals you are aiming to achieve at the race. Have a clear idea of the effort that you expect to hold during the race using power, heart rate, or pace. To manage stress, these goals should follow the process rather than just time or placing focussed. For example, rather than aiming for a 25 minute swim, visualize yourself maintaining focus for the entire time in the water, being in a draft as much as possible, or sighting properly.
Keep in mind the sport you have chosen is part of your journey as an athlete. The race is a stepping stone along the way to future events and as such, it is also a learning experience. Goals should be focused on the process of racing, not a particular outcome, as this puts added pressure to perform.
Review some of your best workouts over the month leading into the event. These will remind you of how you feel when you are moving well, and give you confidence that you are ready for race day. You are going to swim, bike, and run like you do day in and day out in training.
Keep your thoughts confined to your own race and don’t be concerned about other athletes. By knowing what you are capable of and having a plan for race day, you are controlling your own destiny. How well you stay focused on your own effort will reflect how the day evolves. You can’t control who shows up to race and there will always be faster and slower athletes to compete against. By keeping yourself engaged in the act of racing rather than comparison, you remove a factor that is outside of your control.
Knowing that you are going to feel relaxed during race week along with when and where workouts are going to happen before you arrive will help alleviate most of the stress so you can focus on the race at hand.
Thanks to LifeSport Senior Coach Dan Smith for his contribution to this article.