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Managing Race Nerves – RISE workshop summary

I had the pleasure of delivering another workshop to RISE UK charity runners on Saturday, 2nd February 2013 in preparation of the Brighton Half Marathon.

As all the participants were first-timers and had never run a half-marathon before, there were many fears raised!

The concerns that were raised included not being able to ‘do the distance’, that they would struggle at the end, walk a part of the way (and be seen by their supporters), or that they would get injured.

I reassured the runners that they could all do the distance, particularly as they have done the necessary training. I suggest that everyone is physically capable of crossing the finish line whether they ran or walked the distance. The fear is related more to the mental barrier that they would be venturing into unknown territory and that the excitement and adrenalin of the day would keep them going.

The idea of taking walk breaks actually prolongs endurance was then discussed. The Running Room in Canada, where I first learned about running, incorporates walk breaks into all their training programmes and even has pacers at races doing the 10 minutes run / 1 minute walk. Walking through water stations or walking at set intervals would help them complete the distance.

Regarding the concern around the embarrassment of being seen walking, I challenged them to assess whether the opinion of others matters. Ultimately, they are the ones completing the 13.1 mile distance in a race where perhaps others were not even attempting to have a go! That thought definitely made them feel better!

We also talked about going off at the start to fast and then ultimately slowing down. Pacing in any race is always challenging to get right because the excitement and adrenaline at the start means that many runners get swept along and run at a faster pace that they normally would run. This could result in ‘crashing and burning’ whereby they might slow down at the end. Sometimes runners who slow down and struggle at the end might never take up running again because they had such a negative experience. My suggestion was to try and start slow and finish faster, rather than the other way around. This helps them to finish the race with a more positive feeling about their efforts and hopefully encouragement them to continue running.

The fear of injury is a very real fear and one that every runner worries about. As this is really a very personal call by each runner, I suggested that it is up to them to determine whether a pain in just an annoying distraction, or whether they is some serious injury happening where they need to stop and seek professional advice.

We then continued discussing strategies to calm their nerves. Routines in our every day life generally help us to do things easily and effortlessly. Even when we are doing something exciting like going on holiday, the disruption in our routine to get up and out the door to take the flight, can be somewhat stressful. Therefore, in the case of a race situation, having a plan and a somewhat familiar routine was discussed. I encouraged all the participants to think, in advance, of what they will do and what they will need for race day. This can minimize any last-minute nerves and stress about forgetting something because they will have hopefully thought about everything they need to do and have for when the race begins.

To help calm the race nerves even more, we discuss relaxation exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation and using deep breathing. Overall, I encouraged the runners to focus on themselves and what they are doing, as if they were in their own protective bubble, and were able to ignore everything and everyone who were on the outside of that bubble.

In addition to having strategies to calm the nerves, we also talked about strategies to boost their confidence. Some of these strategies included ‘Acting As If’ they had loads of confidence and writing a confidence resume. I challenged the runners to think about how they might approach the race if they had lots of confidence, and what a difference it would make in their outlook and approach. The confidence resume is simply a list of all the different things that they have done which makes them feel good about themselves in any area of their lives. Reviewing this confidence resume just before the race would help them feel more confidence simply within themselves which would then give them a boost to start their race with.

The workshop was then handed over to Katie from FitBitch for the physical side of things and in the end, all the participants felt they had a great boost to help them complete their first half marathon race!

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