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Managing Pre-Race Jitters

BY OLIVIA COFFEY
PHOTO BY ED MORAN

I’ve never felt an overwhelming sense of confidence before an important race or erg test. Instead, I generally feel quite nervous and uneasy. You’d think that years of training would help shift my mindset, but instead, it has only moved the goalposts.

I used to view this trepidation as a bad thing, a signal that perhaps I hadn’t prepared as well as I should have or the competition was too stiff. This feeling of apprehension is uncomfortable, especially because–having played sports my entire life–it’s not something I’d felt until I started rowing.

What I’ve come to realize, though, is that these pre-race nerves are usually a good sign, and most, if not all, rowers feel this way before a big event. Nervousness is a signal that I care about the outcome of a race and that my body is primed to perform at its best. Generally, the more anxious I feel before a race, the better the result. That doesn’t mean, though, that I let my nerves take over. If I’m not careful, these feelings can manifest themselves in ways that detract from my ability to achieve my goals.

The first step in conquering pre-race nerves is admitting they exist. When I start to sense these feelings creeping in, I take time to recognize how I’m feeling, reassure myself that it’s OK to be nervous about the task ahead, understand what I can control, and try to move forward with a clear mindset. As the race draws nearer, though, this can get harder and harder to do.

To mitigate the impact of pre-race nerves as the big day approaches, I’ve come up with a few methods to cope in three areas that are usually impacted by these feelings. I hope the advice below helps prepare you to have your best race possible.

Sleep 

It’s difficult to get quality sleep the night before an important race. If this happens to you, don’t worry; it’s totally normal. If you make sure to get as much rest as possible the week of a race, tossing and turning the night before won’t affect your performance. 

Fuel

 Nerves have a huge impact on your appetite and gastrointestinal tract, and the last thing you want to do, especially on the day of an erg test, is weigh in light. Try to prept weight loss by consuming as much food as possible the week of a test. That way, when the race-day breakfast won’t go down, you’ll still have enough fuel in the tank to power a good performance. 

Focus

Finally, I find that if I’m not actively engaging my mind in a non-rowing related activity, it will always wander to the upcoming race. While visualization is helpful, obsessing over an event is mentally draining, so I try to make sure I have enough work, games, and rom coms queued up to keep my mind focused elsewhere until I decide it’s time to think about the race.

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