Have you ever signed up for a race and done all your training, mostly kept your wits about you for a few months, and then (come race morning) had some real anxiety? I know I have. Or maybe you had been running pretty consistently and a friend (or two) convinces you to sign up for a race (perhaps a distance you have never done before?) and as you sit down in front of the computer that night you suddenly feel a sense of impending doom while the cursor hovers over the sign-up button on the site. Again, I have been there. Or maybe you have felt just a tinge of worry or doubt somewhere in-between those times during your training cycle. I myself certainly have felt all those things.
While running is certainly not all about racing (and quite frankly racing does not always seem to be all about racing)- and while you definitely do not ever have to enter a race to call yourself a runner (please don’t think that) I know a lot of you will try a race or two (even if it never turns into “your thing”) and there are a couple of thoughts I would like to share.
The first thought is this: It is going to be ok. As some of us begin to worry about what might happen during a race I have to tell you that often the worst thing that could happen is not that bad. And if the worst thing that happens will not cripple you for life (literally or metaphorically) then perhaps when that sinks in your stress level will be lowered (even if only just a little). Over the years I have entered a lot of races. They did not all go very well. Somehow I am still OK. I have run way slower than I had wanted to (and I’m still ok). I have DNF’d (Did not finish) and I’m still OK. I have showed up thinking I was “undertrained” and I am still here. I am showed up thinking I was “appropriately trained” and discovered I really really was not- and I am still ok. I have gotten sick but I recovered and life went on just fine. What I am trying to get at is just that a lot can actually go wrong when it comes to races but most of the time even if the train does go off the rails you really will be ok and I think that should be a comfort (and of course let’s not forget that not everything we fear will go wrong actually does).
The second thought is: racing is a low consequence arena to train yourself to deal with stress. We all have stress. We all will experience stress. Life can hit pretty hard sometimes. There is no version of life for any person on the planet that does not involve learning to respond to stress. Racing presents stresses- before, during, and sometimes even after. This is a good learning opportunity if we take it. Are you anxious before a race? Well, you might be anxious before a work meeting, or before you sign for a house-or even before you ask someone out on a date. Learning to respond to different stresses (and learning that they do no always lead to doom) in racing could definitely prove to be helpful and carry over to other areas of your life. And while racing, if you don’t respond in a way that proves all that helpful (even just helpful to yourself), you can just about always recover and play with responding differently in the future. This is a good thing. I hope I myself will continue to learn and grow from the stress and jitters I get all around racing.
So while it is natural to avoid stress a lot of the time, I would just like to suggest that maybe some of the time we do not avoid it. And if you would like to try it out in a safer environment I might suggest racing every once in a while. It is totally normal to get the “pre-race jitters” but learning you can feel those things and still move forward is more important than most things we will hopefully learn in life. Be kind to yourselves and each other out there. If you feel a little anxious you are definitely not alone.