by Russ Cox
After months of work race week creeps up on you and you realize there are only seven more days before it's all over. Nerves hit. You know there is nothing more you can do, this is as good as you get, but you fear that there is something that might happen in those remaining few days to derail your goal. Panic builds. Each day that brings you closer to the race also brings increasing doubts and fears.
This is perfectly normal and with experience you learn many ways to better manage the stress. Here are some things that work for me.
- Plan - I won't be the first here to mention the need to plan your week, but it does make a difference and allow you to take control of the days ahead. Many concerns centre on a fear that you'll do something wrong that will ruin your race; it's not likely, but fears are irrational. So plan everything. I've gone so far as to plan my hours of sleep, meal times and even what I would eat each day of race week. A little obsessive perhaps, but it left me in no doubt I was preparing to the best of my abilities.
- Socialize - Don't lock yourself away and brood. For me race week is a social event and a chance to catch-up with friends I haven't seen in a while. I make time for this, I plan time for this. Sharing stories of training, goals, doubts and fears helps me put my race in perspective and reminds me that everyone else is going through the same emotions. And while the conversation does mostly focus on Ironman, it also takes my mind off things and allows me to relax.
- Train - After months of very focused training sessions I find the last week of the taper very hard - I just want to race and the taper sessions are frustrating steps towards that goal. It's important I stick with it though, there's a reason we don't just stop and completely rest in the week before a race. Stick to the plan, do whatever it takes to stick to the plan. For me that means getting sessions done early so there's little chance to be distracted later in the day.
- Visualize - If I'm already thinking about the race as I try to go to sleep I might as well use the time more productively to mentally walk through my race plan. It doesn't necessarily help me sleep, but again it puts me in control and allows me to put some of my race day concerns aside. I can guarantee I'll need to do this the night before the race.
- Reflect - One of the most effective means to calm my nerves is to simply remind myself that I chose to be there. Nobody makes us race it's a choice we've made and prepared for, when race nerves are upon us it's easy to forget we are doing this for fun. That's what I remember - it's my sport, I train and I race for fun, and I choose how hard I push myself on race day. Again it's about control, I don't deny it will be a tough, physical day, but I recognise that I'm in control of the situation.
I'll be honest, while experience has lessened my nerves, I still get nervous. It may not hit me until the day before the race, but it always does and I have to put in the time to visualize and reflect and get into the right frame of mind. I know that on race day, shortly before the gun fires and the swim starts, I will feel calm and I will get on with what I've trained for.
Russ is a full-time triathlete and endurance coach who has raced and trained around the world. His Trains, Travels blog focuses on endurance triathlon training from an athlete's perspective, covering topics such as nutrition, training, psychological preparation and what to do during taper and recovery.