How Do You Relax Before a Race?

On Friday, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins just happened to be in the office. With his gold medal.

I deeply regret not putting it on and getting my photo taken wearing it.

I deeply regret not putting it on and getting my photo taken wearing it.

Luckily, the razzle-dazzle of this real Olympic gold medal did not render me completely senseless, and I was able to take in some of the stories 1996 Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins shared with the group that gathered around him in the web cube.

Someone asked what it was like competing at the Olympic Games that were held, essentially, on his “home turf.” (He was living just outside Atlanta at the time.)

He said that the hardest part was staying relaxed. He needed to forget that his family and friends would be there, that his race would be nationally televised, that eternal athletic fame and glory (and a real Olympic gold medal!) were all riding on this one lap around the track. He needed to focus on getting from the start line to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Who knew that I, of not-quite-BQ-level talent, would have so much in common with an Olympic gold medalist?

I’ve gotten so tense during races that strangers running near me have noticed the ever-shrinking gap between my shoulders and my ears and urged me to relax. (See: Hartford.) I seem to have improved somewhat—the mantra, “Relax, you’ve been through this before,” works wonders—but I haven’t found the solution for the days and hours leading up to a race.

I tend to put so much pressure on myself, to build up a race so much in my mind, that I experience physical symptoms (like this one, among others) and arrive at the starting line in less-than-peak condition. Shorter races aren’t much of a problem, but marathons are.

Race morning rituals some runners love, like listening to pump-up jams, make me feel like barfing. And a whole lot of races feature said pump-up jams in their starting corrals, where I can’t help but hear them. Do I need to register for races with fewer than 150 runners or bring an iPod loaded with Enya to solve my problem? Please, say it ain’t so.

Has anyone out there struggled with this and found a solution? Meditation? Deep breathing? Calming music? I’ll try anything!


About Meghan Loftus
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