f you know me – personally or peripherally through this web site, you know that I struggle to manage race stress. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to let the perceived enormity and perceived expectations to get the better of me. Resulting in a rather high-strung, unsavory version of myself coming to the fore moments and hours before a race. This is not good. Wasted energy and emotion which could be channeled to the pedals and race course was being wasted. So this year, I vowed to be different. To be better.
Reasons for this are two-fold: I will race better if I’m not so keyed-up and I need to keep my stress down to keep my UC in check. So two very important reasons to get on top of this race stress business. Now, don’t get me wrong, I recognize that some race stress is a good thing – it shows that one is hoping to doing well and wants to achieve a solid performance. But at times this race stress, for me could get me wound up rather tight. Hence the vow.
I’m pleased to say that I’m two double race weekends into the season and I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job at handling the race stress cauldron. Yes, I still get a bit of a nervous stomach and my voice might get a bit more urgent at times. But overall, I’m entering the races with a completely different mind set and body awareness. I wish I could pinpoint three or four key things that I’ve done to change things. But for me I think it really has been a result of a slow but steady concerted effort over the summer and fall training periods of working at improving my own self-confidence.
It seems that this improved self-confidence has helped to take some of the fear out of racing. Since I believe in my abilities, my training, my nutrition, my equipment and my mental strength – I no longer have the crazy thoughts entering my brain. I’ve also tried to force myself to relax a bit. I used to stick to a pretty rigid race day plan. I realized this doesn’t work. As soon as one thing doesn’t go according to plan/schedule, everything else would be messed up. Now I approach the race weekends/days with a loose plan of how I would like things to unfold. I have a solid idea on what I’ll eat race day and when. But the rest of the day is flexible.
For example, take this past Sunday in Vermont. Normally, I’d get on the course after Marc’s race to get in a few more laps of the course. But since it was raining and damp, I made a last minute decision to wait until the elite warm-up period to get my last laps in. Cool. This was a change for me. In the past I would have gone out done the laps. Gotten cold and damp and fretted about being cold and damp. Instead I set the bike up on the trainer, spun my legs out, chatted with the folks around the car, got kited up and then hit the course for the elite warm-up. I arrived at the line loose, dry and confident with seeing the course minutes before the race start.
The other component for me that has helped to reduce my race stress are my keywords. Yes, keywords. I have a few personal keywords that I repeat to myself when training, when brushing my teeth, riding to work, sitting in the car, warming up and on the line. This helps me immensely. Kind of like a little race angel on my shoulder. I learned about doing this from various sports psychology books and podcasts. It works for me.
I’ve also worked hard to remove the word “expectations” from my vocabulary. I don’t check these web sites that try to guesstimate how I’ll finish. I don’t look at start lists. I don’t get psyched out by who is or isn’t there. Or even by someone else’s flash kit. I just show up and do my thing. Not an easy thing to do.
Of course, all this being said, I’m by no means perfect on race day. There will be times when the stress does get the better of me. But hopefully I’ll be able to recognize when this is happening and get on top of it.
So there you have it, my thoughts on race stress. I believe that race stress is very individual. Some people thrive on stress. Others do not. Determining what works for you is all part of becoming a complete athlete. Just as important as the training we do, the food we eat, and the equipment we ride.