The brain is a miraculously powerful organ. It is capable of deep thought and incredible ingenuity that has brought civilization amazing literary works, the ability for humans to fly, the Pythagorean Theorem and the Snuggy. Unfortunately, the brain can also be a powerful device for evil, too. It has lead to the destruction of many civilizations, hurtful words and the creation of Crystal Pepsi.
Over the past years, I have seen the power of the mind be nearly debilitating for many endurance athletes. It has created sub standard results, levels of frustration and, for some, it even creates stress that is great enough to cause vomiting.
Why is this? In an age of cell phones, emails, TPS reports and board meetings, our “fight or flight” responses have taken a bit of a turn in what they respond to. It no longer takes a saber tooth tiger lurking in the bushes to trigger our sympathetic response. It is now these new stressors that create our “fight or flight,” and, for athletes, a big race is the reason for the dump of norepinepherine and epinepherine getting both our bodies and minds jacked and ready to go for broke in an all out fight to the death.
Variables such as upbringing, personality, life experiences and even ethnicity and gender can change our reaction. The important thing is how can we counteract these high levels of anxiety and stress, and turn what would be a negative into a positive, performance enhancing result. Here are several steps we recommend you try to start and then fine tune to your specific needs:
Acknowledge the Stress – Remember: this is your body’s way of preparing for battle! These chemicals that have been released are preparing you for your best performance yet and your interpretation of this stress has an impact on the final outcome.
Refocus the Stress – Your heart rate is elevated and you have a pit in your stomach, but you can still take control. The key is to turn this negative impacting force into something positive and you can do that by:
- Positive self talk- It doesn’t have to be complex, something as simple as, “I am ready for this race and I will do great!” on repeat in your head, or even out loud, could be enough to recenter you and get you under control.
- Developing Self Confidence – Rely on your past experiences to solidify your confidence in your ability to compete/complete the event. You can draw on previous positive race experiences or even amazing training workouts that drove home the fact you are physically prepared.
- Distraction – This can be a bit more difficult to accomplish because setting, people and scenarios change but if you have a person (spouse, significant other or friend) that you often travel with to events they can provided a nice added distraction. Getting lost in music on your headphones can be a helpful options and with the right play list it can help to get you excited to race.
- Focus on the details within your control – There are many factors on event day that you have no ability to control. Events starting on time, weather, traffic or other people’s actions are far from your control, but you can own so many other key variables. These include things like the time you leave for the event, the food you eat, your clothing selection and the condition of your equipment. Some of these may take preparation leading up to the event, but you will know that you have your details under control.
Have a plan – For many athletes, battling pre-race anxiety it is not a one time occurrence. It has happened over and over again. It reduces expected performance, causes a lack of confidence in ability and, in worst cases, it is event ending. If this is you, it is important to create a plan prior to race day. You know what you are likely to experience on event day, so it is time to create a plan for your day. Keep in mind things such as: Food, travel, equipment, clothing, meditation, warm-up and hydration. The plans for each person can be very different, much like training, but it is important to create and then fine tune a plan for yourself.