Dear Miss Race Manners,
I’m about to run my very first half marathon/marathon/5k – how do I cope with race day jitters?
Dear Jitter Bug,
Considering that I’m sitting here on the couch after waking up in a dead panic at 4AM the day before my 11th or 12th half marathon (I honestly can’t remember), I can tell you that there is a pretty high possibility you will never get over race day jitters. I recall that when I ran my first long race I spent the entire night up out of pure fear I would miss my alarm, and took the first bus in to the starting area a good two+ hours before the gun went off. I can also tell you that I’ve done such things as set two or three alarms, forced myself to eat despite feeling ill (you need to because it is nerves), and have a fixation with visiting the port-a-potty at least twice to make sure I don’t have to run off course to do my business in the woods… which you will see about mile two of any major race. Mass exodus to the nearest patch of trees. I’m not kidding.
I know seasoned endurance racers who have given up on any practical means of rest the night before racing because they are so excited/nervous. I know others who can fall asleep, wake up refreshed, and post their personal best and then go grocery shopping. I can tell you that it gets better in time. That even if you are like me and have a bit of a panic that you will have it like clockwork and then say to yourself, “Well, you’ve had your panic now get what you can out of rest before you really need to get up.”
But most importantly I will say this: Despite whatever nerves, worries, excitement, make sure that you eat and hydrate. Don’t try for fancy food on the day, just the normal stuff you eat for a normal breakfast. After the race is over and you have your little medal then do something fancy.
Finally, don’t worry – everyone at the race is nervous in some form. Everyone. You’re just becoming part of that tradition.