IRONMAN 70.3 Race Week: Helpful Pre-race jitters, or Debilitating anxiety?

From Training Peaks

Avoiding Mental Sabotage Part 4: How to Channel Pre-Race Anxiety

BY PATRICK J. COHN, PH.D. AND ANDRE BEKKER
In part four of our continuing series on mastering your mental skills for race-day, we discuss how to properly channel your pre-race anxiety into positive energy and focus.

How to Cope with Pre-Race Jitters
Every triathlete, runner or cyclist, no matter their level, experiences pre-race jitters—the feeling of excitement or butterflies in your stomach prior to the start of a race. However, some athletes turn pre-race jitters into performance anxiety. Pre-race jitters are a natural part of your racing, but pre-race performance anxiety will cause most athletes to tense up, worry about their performance and ultimately not perform up to their ability.

Are Pre-Race Jitters Helpful to Your Performance?
The first step is to find out if you experience common pre-race jitters or if you are anxious or scared. The difference is that pre-race jitters or butterflies are helpful to your race—they help you focus and perform better.

However, real “performance anxiety” is a reaction to stress or fear about the event that can cause excess tension. We think that pre-race jitters are a form of respect for the event you are about to engage in and part of the physical way your body prepares for the race.

How can you distinguish between pre-race jitters and performance anxiety? Look at the characteristic of each below:

Pre-game Jitters
You feel excited to get the race started.
You feel physically up and alert.
You think clearly about what you want to accomplish.
You feel ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way.
You feel your heart beating harder, but you think it’s natural and helpful.
When the race starts, you relax, get into the flow, and don’t focus on how you are feeling.
You have energy to keep going until the end of the race.
Performance Anxiety
You are over-excited about the race and feel scared before you start.
You feel physically sick to your stomach.
You have excess internal chatter and can’t think clearly or calmly.
You are worried about what you might encounter during the race.
You feel physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, but worry that you are anxious or uptight.
You feel anxious or tight well into the start of the race and it may last for the entire event.
You feel drained and exhausted before the competition even starts.
If you identify with pre-race jitters, that’s great. That’s what you want to feel just before the event. You want to embrace the pre-race jitters.

If you identify more with performance anxiety above, you’ll have to learn how to overcome your performance anxiety by channeling it in a more constructive way…

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