Due to the sacrifices and challenges you’ve endured while training, chances are good you'll have some anxiety come race day. Feeling slightly nervous is actually beneficial, as it will provide you with a boost of adrenaline. Getting that adrenaline will allow you to push your physical and mental threshold.
Considering that you’ve trained to perform at your peak ability for this race, it’s important that you properly warm up both your mind and body. This guide will take a closer look at effective warm-up tactics so that your muscles are loose and strong, and your mind can combat any excessive anxiety.
It All Starts With Sleep
Getting some good rest the night before an important race can be difficult. However, stumbling to the starting line like a zombie because you were too anxious will do nothing to help your chances at having a good race.
To combat the sleeplessness that can plague you the night before a race, it's a good idea to head to bed a few hours earlier than you normally would in the days leading up to the event. Not only will this allow you to store up a couple extra hours of sleep each night, it will also help prepare your body for an early-to-bed-early-to-rise situation, as it is on race-day.
The energy that can be gained via extra sleep will help your physical performance levels on race-day; your muscles and body will be well-rested and fire efficiently when recruited. Sleep deprivation often results in poor choices on race-day, and poor choices can lead to frustration and loss of composure. A well-rested mind is a strong mind, and the extra sleep will make it easier to concentrate and make good decisions.
Level with Yourself
If you are going into your first race, be honest with yourself when predicting your overall performance:
- Know that you will inevitably be learning as you go. Even veteran triathletes recognize that they learn new tactics and strategies with every race.
- Don’t work yourself up with first-race anxiety. Know that everyone has been in your shoes and each race should be taken as a learning experience.
- Assess your ability in a realistic manner. Although it’s important to go into your race expecting a successful race, do not overestimate your outcome. Expecting to walk away with first place is a good source of motivation, though if you should find yourself in the middle of the pack halfway through, it can be discouraging and detrimental to your mental edge.
It’s best to enter the race only thinking about your abilities and how well you want to perform; all that should be based on your past training and/or competitions.
The demands of some races might exceed your current personal max distance. Knowing that you’re entering uncharted territory can raise anxiety levels. The best mentality to have when entering a race with an unfamiliar distance is to treat it as you would a regular training day. Don’t obsess over the competition. Instead, go out and give it your best while looking to have a good time. This perspective is much more mentally manageable than entering an event worked up over the competitors and distance.
Although it’s wise to integrate stretching as a daily routine to prevent injury and loosen the muscles, it’s especially important to begin pre-race stretching at least two days before the event.
While stretching, emphasis should be placed on loosening all joints as well as extending and opening up the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, shoulders, and calves.
- Practice active and dynamic stretches that call for a full range of motion, rather than static stretches; this will prevent over-elongating the muscle while it’s still cold. This is a common cause of injury.
- Focus on slow and controlled dynamic stretches that incorporate a full range of motion.
- Remember that muscles fire best when they are warm, so don’t skimp on the warm-up stretching.
When available, make use of a foam roll or other equipment to perform myofascial release with is ideal. This will help break apart the muscle and disperse any built-up lactic acid. Alternatives to a foam roll are a tennis ball or lacrosse ball; each will offer a more centralized point of pressure. Continue stretching and foam rolling up until the race begins.
It’s also important to stretch the lungs so entering the (typically) frigid waters at the start of the event won’t shock your body. This type of shock can cause your lungs and muscles to collapse and constrict. At times, this shock can be so intense that some athletes have lost regular muscular recruitment and functionality. In the middle of the ocean and among a large crowd of highly competitive racers, muscular failure such as this can throw you into a dangerous situation. Avoid this by taking your time with stretching and warming up (both on land and in the water).
Create Your Own Warm-up Routine
Some triathletes will also warm up with a light jog and/or bike ride. Ultimately, your pre-race warm-up is dependent upon what works for you. This takes time and practice, so be versatile with your pre-race stretches and warm-up and be open to trying new tactics that you might learn over time. As it is with transitions, training, and diet, experience comes with practice. Within that practice comes success and failure, both of which are important to progression.
Check Your Equipment
Like your body, your equipment needs to be warmed up, as well. Not to say that your bike will fail if you hop on it cold mid-race, but it’s beneficial to warm up your equipment just before the race to make sure everything is working right. A few in-race equipment problems could be:
- Low tire pressure
- Loose bolts in the frame of your bike
- A rock or thorn in the sole of your running shoe
Account for any possible detriment and try to work them out so they may be eliminated. This will help raise your confidence level while racing.
Prepare for Success
Whether it’s getting your body, mind, or equipment ready for the race at hand, warming up is essential for success. Take your time and don’t rush through your warm-ups. You’ve worked hard and made many sacrifices to be where you are on race-day; don’t compromise performance with a mediocre warm-up or by forgetting to check your equipment. Give yourself every advantage you can when preparing for a race. Stretching and warming up should be at the top of your priority list.