How to NOT Freak The F Out Before Your Race

I LOVE that so many of you are runners and do races. It’s not a requirement to be my friend by any means – my bestie and I don’t run together, but I really enjoy hearing your stories about training and racing.

new running pose half marathon (376x502) (376x502)

I also enjoy getting your questions asking for advice. And one of the most common ones is… I have my first 5k/10k/half marathon/marathon coming up and I’m super nervous!!!! HELP ME MONICAN!!!

you're stressing me out

This question came in over the weekend and I thought I should share my answer here…

“Hope you’re doing good..!
I am running my first half marathon this Sunday and I’ m super nervous…I would like to be more “zen” about it…would you have some advice for me?”

how to prepare your mental game for a race

How To Prep Your Mind For Race Day:

1. Trust your training.

Go over your training calendar for this race – that’s a lot of running! Remind yourself you already put in all the work, now you just have to show up on race day. Believe that all those runs you did leading up to the race have prepared you to conquer it.

2. Establish your race day strategy and goals.

Write down your “A”, “B” and “D” goals (D = don’t die).

Think out a plan for the race:

what pace do you want to start at?

what pace will you take if you are feeling bad?

what pace will you take if you are feeling GREAT?

3. Check out the course and aid stations – this is usually available on the race website.

Knowing what you have to deal with helps make it less intimidating – it’s like researching your opponent. Mentally prepare yourself for when to expect hills, turns and water stations. The more you know, the more confident you’ll feel to conquer it.

peeta running

4. Figure out race day logistics.

This is the most stressful part of race day for me because I am always late and very random. So, I am eternally worried about waking up late or not knowing where the starting line or parking is located. Usually I just tag along with a peep, but if I can’t I look it up before hand.

5. Choose a positive, calming mantra to tell yourself.

Listen, you might still freak out. It’s okay. It happens to a lot of us (me included). Be prepared for that with something you will tell yourself to calm down and stay positive.

you can do it


Tip: Make a list of everything you’ll need for race day and lay out all your stuff before hand.

Here is my list of Race Day Bag Must Haves!

Now carb-load it up and go get it!!

eat hard run hard

Question: How do you stay calm in nerve-wracking situations??


  1. says

    Apparently I don’t stay calm. I paced a half last Saturday and at mile 12 missed a turn and got off course. I panicked, hitch-hiked (twice) trying to find my way back to the race course and ended up finishing 8 minutes after my scheduled finishing time. I’m going to work on the whole “staying zen” thing (and studying the race course BEFORE the race). Thanks for this post!

  2. says

    The biggest for me is to trust my training! That training has pushed me physically and mentally preparing me for that race in so many ways. I’m ready for it and I know it, but having the “back-up” plan – aka mantras, knowing where there’s water/bathrooms/etc on the course are all great. Also, remember you’re there to HAVE FUN so take the stress off. On Sunday I set out to complete my 3rd half marathon, I had no time goal for myself (just to finish around my past 2 times) and I ended up setting a new PR by over 5 MINUTES – which is HUGE!

  3. says

    Having everything laid out and ready to go the night before helps calm my nerves a bit. And going to the bathroom a dozen times before the race starts, I am always nerves I am going to have to go to the bathroom as soon as I start running!

  4. says

    Well since I’m anal retentive, I’m pretty much always prepared and that helps immensely. And since I’ve almost always done my research and planned everything out, once I’m lining up for a race or whatever, I tell myself that this is never going to happen again and I need to enjoy every single minute of it and have fun. I also remind myself I’m just excited, not nervous, and I really believe that helps.

  5. Tara says

    I will have to add ‘do not over think it’. I totally had a bad mental game my first half. I didnt know what to wear-it was raining when I got up. So I wore my wind/rain resistant running jacket. And a hat. 5 mins into the race, I wanted to take it all off, it was bothering me (I didnt run in a hat or a jacket while training).
    Just having all that ‘stuff’ with me really messed with me.
    I learned so much from that half. Less is better-wear and bring as little as possible.
    I try to calm my nerves by telling myself its no different then getting up and heading out for my training run.
    And most importantly, ENJOY the race! I wish I had done that, but I was too in my head. The day after our half, my husband and I drove the course (around a lake with beautiful mansions). I didnt remember or recongize half of the houses because I could not get out of my own head to enjoy the course/race.

  6. says

    I do my best to make a detailed list of what I need for race day. I even set out most of my breakfast the night before too. I am a nerd and read all the material provided by the race for parking map and other instructions. I also ask questions if there is a Facebook page. Lots of times locals who have run that race before can comment with tips on how much time to give for traffic etc. but nerves are an important part of race day. The excitement and exhilaration comes from being out of your comfort zone or antsy about the race. I think nerves help push us. :)

  7. says

    Love the “d” goal 😉 I like to add a few calming songs to my race playlist to listen to on the way to the race. I also crank my music during my warm up to get myself pumped up and focused on the race to block out other people’s nervous energy around me.

  8. Alison says

    I am kind of new to the whole racing thing, only 5 or so under my belt, but I always feel best if I lay everything out the night before and do a mental walk-through of the morning through my head. I will get up, have coffee, check my gear, go to the bathroom 50 times, leave the house at X, yada yada. When I traveled to a race last year, I went to the starting point the night before to check it out. That really helped in knowing where I needed to be, what parking was like, etc.

  9. says

    Know the course
    Bring fuel
    Listen to your body
    Have fun

    I haven’t done a ton of races, maybe 15 in my life. But if you really have to plan too much, I think it means you are already in your head too much. Simplify.

  10. says

    My first race I did was with a group of girlfriends and that made it so much less stressful because we had each other to lean on. After my first race, I know what to expect now and don’t get nervous as long as I prepare my gear and know my race logistics.

  11. says

    Checking the plan/parking/course 1000 times is generally the biggest help for me. Plus carbs + wine, but those pretty much make anything better.

  12. says

    I can’t stay calm no matter what I do. I normally have everything ready to go about 2 weeks before the race. I knock out all the group logistics. I’ve got my dinner and breakfast planned out. I still panic though. It’s pathetic!

  13. Karen Jung says

    I remind myself why I am doing this in the first place. Sometimes you have to dig deep during a race, really deep. But telling myself I do this because I do genuinely love to run takes the pressure off. I don’t run for anyone else but me so whatever will be will be.

  14. says

    Knowing the course is really important! This helps me calm down and realize I have trained for the course and I know I can do it. Being super organized the morning of the race is also pretty important and helps keep me calm!

  15. Julie says

    Girl, I need this, bad. I am doing my first ever Triathlon, Ironman Raleigh this weekend, and I am simultaneously on the pain train, the freak out train, and the stress train. I have run 22 marathons and a handful of ultras, so those races don’t faze me at all anymore, but this bike nonsense is killing me. Didn’t help that I fell, like a trust fall, off my bike at a downed tree this weekend when a cop screamed at me to “come on, come on, STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!” mid cycle, couldn’t get out of my clips fast enough and down we went. I’m just going to do a lot of deep breathing, meditation, and maybe scream into a pillow a few times to get over it. If I don’t die on the bike, I’m golden, hopefully.

  16. says

    I think the best thing for me is to not compare myself to other runners. Who cares if they are going faster than me? what their goals are? etc. I need to run for me and just do the best that I can do.

    and not go out too fast. That’s a good one.

  17. says

    I always just tell myself that no one cares how fast I run except for me! That normally helps calm me down — my friends and family are going to love me just the same no matter how fast or how slow I run.

  18. says

    Can’t answer your question, because, frankly, I freak the f out. However, I just had to comment that I am loving the Hunger Games pictures today. :)

  19. says

    those are all great tactics. I (try) to utilize all of those before a race. especially the mental mantras (btw…love the hunger games clip!)

    I think a big one is that no matter what- you ARE going to be nervous. youre not going to get to the start line feeling like ohhhh whatever. im cool with this pain im about to endure. haha not going to happen. so the one tip that I think we allllll need is to not let your nerves get to by going out too fast. i was reading a book by pftizinger and he said that 3 out of 4 people positive split and only 25% of us can successfuly negative split. pretty crazy. and its all about NOT going out too fast. find a plan like you said and stick with it.

  20. Sarah says

    I believe that fear and anxiety happens because you’re attached to a particular outcome. You have to let go of your attachment to that outcome in order to be calm.

    For me, to be “zen” on race day means staying in the moment and trusting my training. I accept the fact that the race-day components that might lead me to meet (or not meet) my goals are not in my control. So I turn inward, focus on the moment and do just what I’ve been practicing for so long.

  21. says

    I also get anxious the night before a race that I’m going to sleep through my alarms and miss the start, haha. I’ve found when I feel unprepared I usually end up doing great. The nerves go away once I start running!

  22. says

    Anxious/excited is good! My best tip to avoid freaking the eff out is to be as familiar as possible with the course. Definitely make sure you know exactly where it is (my last race, that was a fail, ended up on the wrong side of the lake and it took 30 extra minutes to get there… can you say STRESSSS?), drive the course, study the course, make a plan, visualize how things are going to go. And then, let go. Listen to good music. Enjoy the buzz. Center and focus. And then, go out and go after your goal!

  23. Amanda T says

    I keep calm by making sure I have all of my ducks in a row well in advance of race day, then repeating positive phrases like “you can do this” when u feel things getting tough. I also play music on my iPhone and sing along (just not out loud) to keep me from overworking myself (because overdoing it = stress).

    I really need to invest in a basic GPS watch that shows my time and pace so I don’t keep looking at my phone for that info during a race. Looking at my phone is distracting and can cause stress.

    One thing I will say is that I LOVE the baggie trick for remembering my race day stuff. I went to Las Vegas a month ago and used the baggie trick to remember to pack my vacation items! It makes things so much easier because I can carry the baggie around with me a few days in advance and just write stuff on it with a marker when I think of it (kind of like a grocery shopping list). Then I just grab and go based on my list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *