Pre-race stress is very common amongst most runners. There’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with competition and pressure. As a runner, before a race we worry about the weather, was my training sufficient, how is my body feeling today. To add some comforting pre-race rituals may help eliminate some of the nerves that are part of a competitive event. As human beings, we are wired to seek out and hold on to rituals. Our brain doesn’t like disorder or chaos, rituals help you stay focused and in control. Rituals are organized, formalized and repeated personalized behaviours that will make your body and brain very happy and reduce stress. To set up pre-race rituals will help reduce stress levels, which will help to conserve energy, keep good performance levels, even look after our digestive system. Runners need to set up a ritual routine according to their personality. One of the primary reason we follow rituals that we know work for us prior to a race is that it helps us feel in control prior to a stressful moment.
Some runners rely on preparing their running kit the day before the race with a specific shirt or shoes that they know always feels comfortable, or some runners will prepare their usual comforting pre-race breakfast the night before, others will have their usual pre-race coffee. Other runners rely on a ritual pre-race warm up with a pre-race playlist. To set up a regular pre-race routine that will make you feel more comfortable and relaxed will have good benefits.
Benefits of setting up a pre-race ritual routine
- Leads to better performance.
- Reduces pre-performance anxiety in high-pressure situations (race).
- Reduces the heart-rate= improved performance.
- Helps the brain find the anxiety sweet spot.
- Helps connect back to a sense of trust and give a sense of control.
Tips to develop pre-race ritual
- Create a pre-race ritual during your training– By creating your ritual ahead of time, you will ground yourself in the familiarity of what works for you. It could be when and how you warm up before a race, what you eat or drink, what gear you wear. Figuring out your pre-race and race nutrition during your training will help you find simple foods that fuel your body, you will know what type of food or meal leaves you energized and without any stomach issues. Finding the proper pre-race warm up routine is also important to avoid any stress by performing new exercises or stretches. You need to figure out which warm up routine makes your body and brain happy. Also, make sure you don’t wear gear you’ve never tried before, you never know some of the side effects.
- Review your plan– The day or night before the race, review and organize your race-day plan. Set up your morning alarm, lay out your outfit, make sure you prepare your breakfast ingredients, double check the race start-time and course. Think about your strategy of pacing and envision yourself moving through the race course. Make sure you stop visualizing two hours before bedtime to make sure you relax and get some sleep.
- Pre-race warm-up and dynamic stretching– After you have warmed up, increase your flexibility by performing dynamic stretches lightly. Not only will dynamic warm up help prepare your muscles for the race ahead, it will also help you refocus your nervous energy towards preparing your body. Make sure you don’t perform static stretches before a race or run. Static stretches release muscle tightness, but it doesn’t activate your muscle strength. For the first 10 mins of a run, your speed and performance will be lower than usual. Dynamic stretching and warm up increases flexibility, primes the nervous system, strengthens the joints, and help prevent injuries.
- Breathe– Breathing properly while running is important for staying calm and cramp-free, but breathing before a race is an excellent way to de-stress before the race start. Practice one of these two breathing techniques that your body prefers.
- Inhale for 2 counts through your nose, and out 2 counts through your mouth.
- Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose, holding for 2 seconds in the stomach, then exhale for 8 exhales by bringing your belly button back to core through the nose. Both of these techniques will help decrease your heart rate, so find which one is easiest for you. You can use these breathing techniques anytime you have some stressful moments.
- Embrace your nerves– Feeling anxious and nervous results in an increase of adrenalin, a hormone secreted during stressful times to give us an extra boost. With small doses secreted at the right time it can increase our performance. But if there is a huge adrenalin drop caused by nerves, it can decrease the performance. We need to realise what that feeling is so we can control our nervous system.
- Smile– Every time we smile, we are telling our brain to feel good and happy. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that fight off stress. Endorphins, dopamine and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face, it can relax our body lower the heart rate and blood pressure.
Setting up pre-race rituals can help control the emotional experience, making it more manageable. If we successfully complete this ritual action, we have succeeded, it will give us more confidence so we can succeed in the behaviours that will follow.