Monday, February 24, 2014

Race Stress ... The Great Energy Thief

BEST/WORST race photo ever!!!
Crossing the finish line mentally and physically spent
at Wichita a few years ago ... too much pre-race stress!
- Funny story about this photo, ya know when you
get email ads from the race photo company a few months
after the race letting you know there's only a short
time left to order, and they choose one of your photos
to display for you as a reminder of the race ...
THIS is the one that popped up in their advertisement
to me to purchase my pics, so funny!
Regarding yesterday's post, and thinking about nervousness before a race, not long ago I was wondering exactly how much energy does pre-race stress steal from your performance?  Well that's probably tough to accurately quantify.  But my wife, Michael, helped me put it into perspective.  We were walking our dog Jack, and she said look at this way ... 

"Think about those times when you had a big speaking engagement and you stressed over it for days, and sometimes weeks in advance.   And then think about how relieved, and more importantly ... how physically exhausted you felt immediately after it was over.  That's the same thing you're doing to yourself before races.  You're literally wasting a TON of energy, and maybe even becoming physically exhausted before the race even gets started ... just from worrying about it!"  

And she was right.  Man, not only is this woman beautiful, sexy, a great cook, best dog mom ever, very fashionable, and an unbelievably committed triathlete, (I could go on) ... but she's also smart as heck!

In 2012 I had a pretty major failure in a race in Wichita, KS (photo proof on the left).  By far, it was my biggest failure as a runner, and maybe as an athlete in my life.  It really forced me to put a few things into perspective, and make a few changes in my mental approach to running.  The physically demanding aspects I could embrace, but I vowed after that race never to be the mentally exhausted guy in the picture again.

So last year, I started taking a completely different approach to training and especially racing.  More than ever before, I made a conscious effort to mentally RELAX leading up to race day.  And I can honestly say that for the most part it's worked.  For most of 2013 I was able to focus on the positives before a race, and not worry about failing.  I wouldn't really call it "not caring" about the results, because I obviously do - but I've just been able to compartmentalize and put the race in the proper box in my mind and not worry about it excessively.  I try to focus on the idea that unless I fall and break my leg, or suffer some running-career ending injury ... there will always be other races!  And as a result I've been able to run with more confidence and know that if I trained adequately, and planned correctly, I can hit most of my targeted times at the finish line without building them up into some unobtainable goal in my mind.  Mentally and emotionally grinding over them to the point it makes me physically weak is just ridiculous.  And I feel like over the years I left way too many good training cycles at the starting line due to worrying myself to death.

Along with not putting too much pressure on one single race, here are few other things that I've been able to focus on and have helped me relax before a race ...

    1. Trust the process ... Know that I did everything possible physically for a great race
    2. Be confident ... Believe that my body is capable of amazing things ... be the one!
    3. Be thankful and humble ... Unfortunately, some folks around me are struggling with real life issues.  Embrace the fact I've 
        been blessed beyond measure with a beautiful family, and an amazing life ... this is just a race ... just a race

Just how much has this approach improved my running.  Well it led me to my fastest year of running ever last year.  In 2013,  I set seven different PR's, won the Master's Division in a race twice, and placed at the top of my age group six times, and qualified for the Boston Marathon twice. Just "a day at the office" for some of you, but those were really fast times for me.  Of course I won't discount revamping my physical approach to training as well, mostly by training at faster paces.  But being more relaxed when they sound the gun has been nothing but positive.  And running with less tension makes the races so much more enjoyable.

Like I eluded to yesterday, it's definitely a work in progress.  And there are times, like this week before my running of the 2014 Little Rock Marathon, when the butterflies start to dance a little.  But I'm really
 learning how to better manage that nervous energy and use it more effectively on race day.  Because at times it's not the distance or the pace that's the biggest hurdle for me in these races, it's my own mind.  And the more I learn to get out of my own head, the more I'll succeed on race day and accomplish more and more of my running goals.  And who know, maybe even a sub 3-hour marathon some weekend this year ... just not this weekend, ha!  Have a great week!
... be great today!


  1. She is super smart, that's an astute observation. It's true that completing a nerve-wracking project or event leaves you drained. Certainly something to consider. You should hang on to that lady.

    1. Grace - I've found that I'm usually the dumbest person in my circle of friends - that's why I enjoy your blog so much ... way out of my mental league. And it's especially true in my marriage - indeed I will hold onto her, she got the short end of the stick on that one!

  2. I'm running my first marathon on Sunday, so I'm going to TRY to take your advice to heart here. Although it's a little nerve wracking to be facing a big unknown for 26.2 miles. My husband is smart about not getting over stressed (he swam the English Channel last fall, so he knows these things) and tells me it's counterproductive to get anxious. Like you said, trust the training.

    1. Best wishes on your first race Pandora! I have no doubt you'll be great and it will be a most memorable day!

  3. Michael's absolutely right again. Before both of my marathons I've been almost sick with nerves and both my races have been less successful than my training runs. Last marathon the stress was unavoidable thanks to my husband's dodgy back. I'm hoping next time I will manage things a lot better.

    1. Let's not get carried away with the "right again" ... we get it, she's smarter than me!

  4. Luckily this has never been a problem for me. Maybe because I'm slow and never really bothered about what times I run. Maybe I just feel like this because I've been running for 32 years. Then again, I never stress about anything really. I think it's a blessing I have. I'm always relaxed and calm about everything.

  5. You are right Jim. At the base of every venture, athletic or non-athletic, is a cornerstone of trust. I think that each of us can relate to this post. Great insights.

    Thanks c2iowa


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