Psych Out: Dealing With Race-Day Anxiety

Thomas is now a four-time Wildflower Long Course Triathlon champ. Photo: Aaron Hersh


Do you tend to freak out before a big race? These three expert tips can help you annihilate race-day anxiety.

When pro triathlete Jesse Thomas raced Wildflower for the first time in 2011, nobody knew who he was. When he came back as returning champion in 2012, he was larger than life—literally. He was on billboards, signing his photo on issues of Triathlete, and trying to tune out the race announcer who wondered aloud if Thomas could repeat his win. How did he cope with all of that hoopla—and his personal expectations—to dominate once again? We asked his coach, Matt Dixon, how to keep it together when the pressure’s on.

1. Plan it out.

“Understand the framing of your race in the context of your season and in the context of your year,” Dixon says. It’s easier to avoid stressing yourself out at a certain event if you understand how that event fits into your long-term racing plan. Thomas had to recognize that both his career and his 2012 season weren’t built around Wildflower, so he wouldn’t let his success or failure at becoming a repeat champ define him as an athlete.

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2. Have a vision.

“The reason many people don’t have the emotional tools to cope with pressure is because they haven’t thought it through in advance,” Dixon says. Picture yourself at your event. What external or internal pressure do you think you’ll face? What worries you the most? Work through your anxiety triggers in advance so you’ll know how to face them on race day.

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3. Quit thinking about your time.

“It’s good to have a goal because that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going,” Dixon says. “But as you come into the race, if you’re still thinking about a time you want to do, a qualification you want to achieve, or a podium you want to step on, you’re almost doomed for failure.” Why? You’re thinking about what you need to get done two, four or eight-plus hours ahead of time instead of what you can control right now. The fix? Ten days before your event, start thinking less about that specific goal and more about everything you can control, like fueling properly and getting enough sleep. “It’ll give you something productive to focus on and hopefully enable your body to do what it’s trained to do,” Dixon says.

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