60 Seconds to Calm Your Nerves on Race Day

Group photo of triathletes race morning
March 16, 2020

Will Murray


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You have an icky feeling in the pit of your stomach the night before or morning of your race.  You know the feeling—butterflies or churning or queasy or something.  Your brain notices that feeling and makes a judgment about it—nervous, anxious, freaked out, whatever.

While it’s often useful to be keyed up a little before your race (it’s a race after all), icky feelings that are too intense can interfere with your performance if not your enjoyment.

Here are four things you can do, each taking only 15 seconds, to relive those nerves and get you to a more useful emotion on before your race.

Do each of these now one by one (yes you, yes now) and notice how your feeling changes, even though it’s not race day.

  • Breathe.  Inhale deeply, pause briefly, exhale gently.  Repeat three more times.
  • Smile.  Start the smile at the corner of your eyes, and let it spread to the rest of your face.  When you smile a genuine smile (look up Duchenne smile if you are technically interested), your body releases into your bloodstream hormones that promote a feeling of well being.  On race morning, smile at the volunteers, smile at your fellow athletes, smile at your bike, smile at nothing and smile at everything.
  • Look up. While noticing your icky feeling, point your gaze up and around, at 45 degrees above eye level or higher until the icky feeling dissipates.  This might take 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Imagine yourself at the finish line.  In your mind’s eye, see yourself at the finish line.  Look around to see what you see and then notice that your icky feeling is much reduced or gone.

You can do these 15-second techniques in any order.  I like the order presented, but maybe you might consider experimenting with the order that you like best.  

They are quick, they are free, and they work.  Try them anytime, whether it’s about your upcoming race or an important meeting or an interesting conversation with your child.

Ultimately, multisport is supposed to be rewarding and satisfying and even fun.  Unwanted nerves get in the way.  Try these fast, effective techniques to dial your emotional level right to the right level.  Then go have a good time.

Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and holds a practitioner’s certificate and more than 100 hours of advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  He works with beginners to Olympians helping them use their heads to do more than just hold their hats!

Mental Skills Performance Coach Will Murray often hears triathletes saying that the sport is at least 50% mental and 50% physical, but he has come to notice that athletes spend very little (if any) time doing mental training. Fortunately, it’s easy and fast to train-up your mind to help you achieve your triathlon goals. He’s been lucky enough to bring mental conditioning techniques to first-time athletes and Olympians, kids and seniors, triathletes who want to finish the race, and those who are gunning to win.

Will is a USAT Certified Coach, holds a practitioner’s certificate and more than 100 hours of advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified administrator of the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories Protocol. Will is co-author, with Craig Howie, of The Four Pillars of Triathlon:  Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes and Uncle: The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Best Aunt or Uncle.

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