Being nervous before a race is normal, and can even help you race faster by getting those endorphins flowing. But there’s a fine line between having butterflies in your stomach and hurling into a trashcan five minutes before the start. Here are some tips to keep you calm, cool and collected before the gun goes off.
1. Music: These days, MP3 players are the size of your thumb and can easily be stashed away in your transition bag prior to heading down to the start or handed off to a family member. Put together a list of songs that are uplifting—but not too mellow or too death metal (which will either leave you sleepy or so amped up that you punch the person next to you in the water). Music also drowns out the nervous chatter of other racers. Nothing brings on the butterflies quicker than listening to someone next to you at the bike rack ranting about some rumor they heard about the course or, worse yet, critiquing something about your own personal race preparation. Turn on, tune in—and drop their ass on the course.
2. Relieve yourself: Yes, this means exactly what you think it does. In a short, very non-scientific poll around our office about calming pre-race nerves, “bowel movement” came in as the top choice. Take care of this need before you reach the race site because porta-potties are hardly ideal—but take what you can get. There’s something about knowing that you’ve checked this off the list that makes you feel as if the hardest part of the battle is already won.
3. Breathe deeply: No, this doesn’t mean get in lotus position next to your bike and meditate, but rather take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you’re really nervous, you’re also really tense, which means you’re wasting valuable energy that you will need during the race. Breathing deeply can help relax your muscles, and also brings oxygen to your brain (duh), which can help you slow your heart rate and keep your thoughts focused.
4. Warm up: Sometimes the best way to get calm is to get busy. Head out of the transition area and take a short (five to 10 minutes) jog to clear your head. Focus on your leg turnover and breathing, and just stay in the moment.
5. Avoid high-stress areas: These include any area where you know there are a lot of other racers congregating, and feeding off one another’s nervous energy. Areas like the swim start, the transition area and the porta-potty line should be avoided as much as possible. Set up your transition area early, go to the bathroom and scope out the swim course as quickly as you can—then go find a quiet place and listen to music, breathe deeply or talk to a supportive family member or friend until it’s time to walk down to the water.