Call it butterflies in the stomach, slightly lightheaded with knotted insides, or the feeling that you constantly must go to the toilet, but everyone has had this experience one way or another whether it is before a major examination or a big competition/race that you want to do well in.
While we would like to completely get rid of jitters like these, it is often challenging to do so. However, we can come up with coping mechanisms to help decrease the likelihood of it happening and to reduce the level of anxiety/arousal when it does happen.
Plan ahead, no ‘what ifs’
Worrying is often a precursor to the jitters that we experience and we usually see it start manifesting in the form of asking too many ‘what ifs’.
‘What if there I need to take a last-minute nature break and get stuck at the back of the pack away from the starting line?’, ‘What if my gears suddenly get stuck as the race starts?’, ‘What if it rains?’ are some examples of the questions that might run through our mind every time it is the night before we line up for a race/competition.
These are all legitimate questions but should have been asked a lot earlier rather than last minute.
The principle here is to plan ahead of time and have an answer to such questions whenever they come up, even if it is on the morning of the race itself.
Having a ready answer would help to calm yourself down whenever you start worrying and the jitters come up.
Here are some practical ways to include in your plan:
- Create a checklist of what needs to be done
– Bike servicing
– Race-day bag (with wet weather clothing)
– Warm-up routine
– Knowledge of race route/terrain/location/sitemap
- Do not leave it until the last minute to execute your plan
– If you are sending your bicycle to a shop to get it serviced, try to do it at least 2 weeks before the race day to allow for some buffer time (shops get very busy especially when it is a popular race event).
– Follow the FB page/subscribe to the email of the race organizers to easily get the latest updates on the event.
– Check your clothing a few days before the event to ensure that you have enough while giving yourself time to buy if you need to replace something.
– If possible, include the race route into your training plan a few weeks in advance.
- Spilt the ‘what ifs’ between those that are under your control and those that are not.
Try to answer as many in the controllable list, and tell yourself that you have done your best to prepare for the race when they pop up in your mind.
Establish a routine
It is no secret that most of us perform best in familiar and comfortable environments. Establishing pre-race routines enables one to experience lower levels of anxiety and over-arousal even though it might be in a completely different place as it provides some form of familiarity and a pattern that the individual can reassure himself/herself with.
Think of the moments when you felt the most jitters and establish routines for yourself during those moments.
Here are some examples:
`1. Tapering (typically 3 – 7 days before race)
A tapering routine is a good way to keep your body fresh for the race while allowing yourself to validate the past weeks/months of training.
I usually throw in a field test 4 days before race day to prove to the individual that his/her current fitness level is high, which helps to clear any self-doubts that the person might have.
It also provides the body intensity (without too much volume) so that the body isn’t ‘cold’ and is ready to go hard on race day.
2. Night before the race
Perhaps as crucial as the actual day itself, the night before is usually when we experience feelings of nervousness and anxiety about the next day.
Start getting ready for the next day earlier than usual, not too close to bedtime. Pack your bags, check your equipment on last time.
Rehearse in your mind what the planned schedule for the next morning from the time you get up until the time you are at the starting line.
Once that is done, you know you are all set and there is no need to worry/think about anything else. Remember to hydrate throughout the evening and plan to have an early night.
3. Race day
D-day! Your routine should have already been planned the day or two before at the very least, with buffer time included.
Stick to your schedule and know that if any unforeseen circumstances pop up, you have enough buffer to reach the race site on time. Few key things to include and take into consideration are:
- Traffic & Parking conditions
(parking spaces and traffic might get quite congested if it is a hugely popular event with limited parking and closed roads)
- Toilet locations
(because you need to know where the nearest toilets are to the start line!)
- Transition location
(memorize how to get to your transition spot, I’ve seen athletes get lost in the transition area)
- Warm – up
(this should have been fine-tuned in your regular training sessions, stick with something familiar. This not only gets your body ready but your mind as well)
Despite all our best efforts, some may still experience that dreaded feeling of nervousness and anxiety. Or perhaps some might even feel a bit flat and need to psyche themselves up.
Manipulating our breathing rhythm is a useful yet simple way to calm ourselves down or psyche ourselves up. It also prevents us from subconsciously hyperventilate when we get too nervous or anxious.
You can try the following breathing techniques and adjust the timings according to what you feel works best.
To calm yourself down:
- Inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds
- Keep it to 3 – 5 cycles
- To psyche yourself up:
- Inhale for 4 seconds, exhale strongly
- Keep it to 3 – 5 cycles
The first half of the year is a perfect time to practice these coping strategies as there are many races happening during this time of the year.
Remember to plan ahead, establish crucial routines, and use the breathing techniques as you prepare for your events!
Author: Lemuel Lee
Founder and coach at CrankSmart, Lemuel is passionate about all things concerning cycling. He has been in constant pursuit of methods and ways to improve human performance ever since he start cycling competitively in 2005, and has spent his cycling career not just as a rider, but also dedicating time in the field of Sports Science, applying those lessons to his own training. He graduated with a Diploma and Bachelors degree in Sports and Exercise Sciences (Republic Polytechnic, National Technological University of Singapore) and is now helping individuals unlock their potential through smart training.