Don't be scared, get prepared
Combat Pre-Competition Nerves FOREVER!
The hard training is done. It's time to race. However, the last 24 hours can be crucial in the makings of a good performance or bad.
It's normal to have pre-race nerves. Advantageous in fact: a bit of adrenaline helps one fly. We should embrace the jittery feeling and accept it will be present at any race you care about.
However, it’s a double-edged sword: we don’t want those nerves to get out of control and send you into a nauseated, hysterical frenzy of self-destruction. That signals Game Over before the gun goes, and is pretty common in competition.
A typical triathlon scenario:
It's 24 hours before the start of your first race. You've been down to the race site and it is awash with honed/gaunt looking individuals all talking about triathletey things. "My heart rate was 24 this morning'" says one bronzed fellow with no body hair and a bike that looks like it's part of a spacecraft. "I love your Deathspeed700 frame" he says to his Ironman-branded mate (who has two Ironman tattoos on one sinewy calf), and who already has his race kit on. "Yah" says matey boy, "my ‘weapon’ is really aero now it has the ceramic bottom bracket and WIFI-enhanced bar-end shifters, though how do you find it compares to the Megatron6000 in terms of rideability and stiffness?"
Let's leave that conversation there.
At races, triathletes congregate en-masse so it's bound to be a place where triathlon in every aspect is spoken about in detail. People like to talk the talk, but that's no reason to be intimidated. The best thing you can do as a newcomer, and even as an experienced athlete, is distance yourself from any gobbledegook that makes you question how much or how little you know. It doesn't matter. I'm a pro and I don't enjoy unnecessary tri chat, or even understand what some people go on about!
With 3 sports to consider, there is a lot to prepare for, so here's what to do...
Don't get caught up in the pre-race hype. Do what you need to do at the race site, then leave. For one thing, it wastes nervous and physical energy as you are on your feet for longer than you need to be. Even I can feel that everyone else looks fitter than me, more confident, better. It's a dangerous game to start watching others. Best not to put yourself in that situation in the first place.
Do not start queuing for things at the expo that can wait until post-race. I always see people buying mementos and kit the night before the race, in case they are sold out the next day. There tends to be big queues and lots of bustling. It wastes energy. Don't do it. Leave the shopping for after. Get those tootsies up.
Use your time at the race site the day before to get your bearings with transition and the start/finish location. Once your bike is racked, physically run from the swim exit to your bike following the shortest possible route. Look for markers, i.e sponsorship banners/strange trees/nude sculptures close to your bike, that will help you locate its position when you are in the race. All bikes look the same (except the Deathspeed700 which looks like a spacecraft) so unless you have the location nailed down, you may struggle to find it in amongst the sardine-style squish fest of pride and joys, which will add to your panic.
Checking the logistics of transition takes 5 minutes, and could save that kind of time in the race. It is very common to run past your bike, or up the wrong row and flap about wildly wailing to yourself. Note: spectators collect at transition. So you'll have an audience for this bit. If it does happen (and it happens to the best of us) do not panic. Slow to a walk and retrace your steps.
Make sure you are familiar with the race course and description. Sometimes it's not always possible to go round the course before but make sure you have had a good look at the maps and know of the profile of the course (i.e how hilly it is) so you know what to expect. That helps you take control of your race.
Get your kit bag set out the night before. Attach your number, make sure your timing chip is in the pile, lay out your race kit, check tyres are clean of grit, attach gels and have drinks ready. Do not leave this until the morning, just in case you can't find something. A mild fluster the evening before is far preferable to a mad panic an hour before the start!
The race is where you can demonstrate your fitness. Not the day before. Warm up efficiently. The day before the race you will see people pelting past in their ninja suits looking very stealthy indeed. Not you. You will wait until the race to unleash your powers. A simple warm up will open your circulation and energise you. You certainly don't want to expend any more energy than necessary. Keep calm. The work is done.
Use distraction techniques. I try to read a book or watch TV in my hotel room the night before, after a light and quick dinner. Once everything for the next day has been sorted out, do your best to switch off. It is hard not to have race thoughts swilling round your brain, hence an oft broken sleep. This has been proven not to affect race-day performance, so again, don't worry about it. But you can take measures to prevent this. My tipple of choice is to read Heat magazine which is first for celebrity gossip. Enough to turn even the most overactive of brains into zombified grey matter. Thoroughly recommended.
Get down to race site early but not too early. For a big race, I look to be there about 90 minutes before the start, to get set up and do the final part of my warm up. Any more than this and again, you'll waste energy. Any less, and you'll feel you are rushing. Always leave a bit more time than you think you'll need.
So in conclusion, take away any unfamiliarities. Get organised early to combat the worst of the pre-race jitters. Nerves are good, panic is not. Get to the race fresh not drained, and all will be good.