Racing Anxiety

During the last week of the Australia Rowing Championship I made a few mental notes about the various thoughts and feeling that came up prior to racing. What I decided was that instead of sharing them during the week I thought I would make some mental notes and also write down a few of things I found happening and how I best prepared or coped.

Racing anxiety is the term I will use for anything that includes, nerves, doubt, fear and the stresses that are present leading up to racing. It’s rare not to feel some sort of response to a strenuous experience, particularly when we know it is coming. The reason I mention this is because of the years with training some times not knowing what the session is going to involve can reduce the anxiety obviously, but also inhibit performance through lack of preparation. Anyway what I ma talking about her is know the time and place of a race and all the things that go with putting your self on the line.

Before the Kings Cup on Sunday I found myself having one of the many toilet stops and as I sat there I could feel my pulse thumping through my whole body. The momentary thought of what the heck is this, popped into my mind. As I told myself that I have been in the position before, many times and I should be ok about it. It’s true the literal position was regular one, but figuratively speaking even the Kings Cup still only number in the single digits I think. This was only the second time I was in the stroke seat, so maybe that was it. Maybe being in a key seat was making me a little extra nervous. Having been in enough big races, I reminded myself that surely this is not all that different to those other times. When something really means something that is when I get anxious and on that occasion prior to the Kings Cup I felt many of the same things I have come to know as almost familiar in a new kind of way. Now I know that is confusing, but that’s how it is or was leading up to each main race last week.

The oscillating charge spikes ever so often. It is wave like and with each rise and fall of emotion meet with a conscious dialogue of self-talk that either narrates the experience or manages to dilute the extremes. There is a tipping point where arousal reaches a peak and the nervous energy is exhausted. Bringing your self up for a peak experience in a controlled manner that will enable the best performance is one that is not linear, but rather a wavering roller coaster that with each drop, it gains speed and energy to rise high the next time.

The cyclic nature is very interesting and what I was noticing was that it would begin about 2hr 30min before each race. It would start out as subtle surges in emotion that would sweep through and fade away slowly. It was as if the strength and intensity was rising, the closer the event came. What I tried to do was stay aware of how many cycles I went through and it was a real challenge. What I found before the pair race was that about 5 times I sensed the ebb and flow as I came to a moment of being ready to start. The challenge was that once we got on the water for our warm up, initially it hit me then again as we waited to be called on to the start pontoon.

The conclusion I started to make was that while I was moving my mind was pretty occupied or focused by the action. It was in the moments of down time that I felt most anxious which was not a surprise, but it is certainly important to keep in mind. Even though I enjoy the slow moments building up to a race, they have often been the ones that I take in the richness of the moment. This is not to say there isn’t an opposite side to this because the fine line between absorbing the depth of the experience can lead to the many invading thoughts of doubt and fear about what will unfold in the race. Constructive self-talk is essential, but I wonder why at times I can find such calmness before an event only to have the chatter invade the peace.

Before the fours final I really had a couple of great moments where I could play around with the time delay of holding a stretch before my mind would begin to whiz round almost like it was taking bets on would I or wouldn’t I hold it together. The obvious outside indicator is the deep breath and there was a few time where I almost laugh when I took a deep long claming breath. The laugh was like a little chuckle inside as I caught myself see sawing between the extreme ranges on offer.

By the time I came to racing in the Kings Cup eight I felt settle about being in full flight, but still something turned inside me and I wondered what, where or why it was. So I search around to see what I could find. Before I share this I thought I should say that it made me feel a little loopy, but understand that this is my best impression of the experience. Considering the moment preparing with nine other guys for a race that means a great deal to all. We pass each other as we ready ourselves, changing cloths, stretching, going to the toilet and doing various routines of warm up. The energy is a low level hum amongst the group that I am sure we all sensed and there was a collective building process taking place as we climb to the moment of readiness.

The racing anxiety was not something that I looked upon as a negative, but a sign of preparedness for what was to come. Let me stop for a moment. Could it be that the expectation of what will be required is the trigger for the various responses? Yep, I am sure of it, but that’s not all. The unknown holds a mystery that sends surges of adrenaline through the body as quick as a flash and in the wake can leave you feeling drained. Sometimes this can get slightly out of control as you start to second guessing your readiness for the challenge. So as I had a slight hit of adrenaline I found myself thinking it was important to remain clear headed and focused on what matter.

What matters is being able to perform to my best and what is often scare is what I have to go through to realise the opportunity. Lining up against serious competitors does not worry me, but know that they will challenge me to go into new zones and zones that may not be comfortable exploring can be a little unnerving. I love finding these new zones, but I guess the fear of not knowing what will be found. The discovers are amazing and after the fact the exhilaration is out of this world. So why then if the other side can be so good, is it often so hard to face that big step.

Each final last week gave me a gift and that’s why I think racing anxiety if kept in perspective can be the greatest indicator of the reward that waits at the end of effortful performance. One of the final realisations I reflected on was that the mind can make things seem much worse, just like it can be used to make the experience seem easy. So the choice is yours, do you make it hard or do you make it easy? To me a critical need is to find a way to be honest, clear and driven with out needing to show it on the outside. I could see the my crew mate for the eight were also going through there own range of emotions and when I consider competing against them and others we are all very similar in what is available to us. So then what defines us is our choices and how we deal with those important moments in life.

Racing is not everything, but as an athlete it’s these distinctive moments that we are mainly measure by. It is a point of pride to be able to perform when it matters most. With all the same fears, doubts, anxieties and nerves as any other athlete it is critical to live and learn for every experience and last week has been a great opportunity to explore, play and realise new ways of preparing to race. Racing anxiety is natural and the ranges of responses are on offer to all. Being bold enough to line up and take on the challenge is never easy and developing strategies that enable your best performance to flow is the bridge to the rewards on the other side.

Now I realise I have taken some time to come to some of the strategies that I use to prepare and deal with racing anxiety.
∑ Develop a routine, but be adaptable and flexible
∑ Take time to enjoy the build up to the race
∑ Go for a walk and enjoy taking in the sights and sounds around you
∑ Visualise the race and run through your race plan, but don’t dwell on it
∑ Give your self plenty of time to go to the toilet, a few times if needed
∑ Make sure your system is up and running on land and on the water
∑ A few deep breaths at specific times always helps
∑ Remind your self why your there and look forward to being the best you can
∑ Let go of the result and focus on the process that will enable you to perform

6 thoughts on “Racing Anxiety

  1. I think you’ve pretty much captured how it feels to be on the edge of the unknown.KC seems to be especially nerve racking as there is no prior form from any crew – people can come out with anything. Sometimes it feels like the pre-race is the most exhilarating time, as the main feeling crossing the line is relief! cheers, JM

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