Mental Strength: Race day jitters and uncertainty

By Tripp Norton, USAT Certified Coach, Owner of Endure 3 Sports,

Triathlon Event

I remember it like it was yesterday…standing there listening to the National Anthem and waiting for the race director to blow the whistle signaling the start of the first wave in my first triathlon. So many emotions, so many thoughts, so much nervous tension and lots of self talk….Was I ready? How would I do? What will my time be? Am I going to drown on the swim or crash of the bike? What if I don’t finish? How embarrassing will that be…Sound familiar?

Chances are many of you that have had those same type thoughts and emotions go through your head at your first or at every triathlon you compete in. If you have not yet competed in a triathlon, GET READY, because it happens at some point to all of athletes Elite to beginner. The reality is we can do all the training necessary to complete a triathlon in the desired time as our training would suggest but in many cases it is what is between our ears that prevent us from accomplishing our race goals. There are many ways to mentally prepare yourself and dealing with self-doubt or negative thoughts. Your success at mentally controlling all the negative energy can ultimately determine the outcome of your next race or training session for that matter. Below are techniques that I use to help tame the negative thoughts.

  • What is your goal? – One of the key ways to combat race anxiety and negativity is to know why you are standing on the starting line waiting for your wave to plunge into the water. Seems simple enough right? You would be surprise at how many people could not answer the question if asked. For many first timers the goal is simply to finish. In fact, I would suggest that should be the # 1 goal of every person competing in a triathlon. As a beginner your goal might just be to finish where an experience athlete might want to finish but also place well in their age group. Or it could just be to cross the finish line with a smile on your face. A good goal is one that is definitive and measurable. I would suggest writing your goals down for your next race.
  • What is the plan? – In real life, if we want to reach a goal we usually have a plan or path to achieve this goal. Think of things that you can do that will help you towards achieving the goal. If your goal is to cross the finish line with a smile on your face then think of things that need to occur to make this happen? Do you need to tell yourself a funny joke? Perhaps, you could picture the crowd cheering you on naked…now that would make anyone laugh…right? Whatever the plan is be creative.
  • Visualization – most things in life do not first happen unless you first visualize it at some point. It is kind of like a dream or a look into what the future will hold. And how does this relate to triathlons? Well, I find that in moments of tough and agonizing parts of the race or at the beginning before the race starts I visualize what it is going to feel like to cross that finish line and how proud my friends and family will be of me. I also imagine tough parts of the race and how I overcome and triumph over these obstacles. For me, visualization is the one thing that helps most of all.
  • Putting things in perspective – Many of you will let yourself get caught up in what your time is or how your friends are finishing. In your first triathlon, and really in probably your first few triathlons the only concern should be having fun and finishing. I always try to “take it all in”. It is a blessing that we are able to do all of three of these sports at a time. I love the buzz in the air on race morning, full of energy (mostly nervous energy but none the less energy), and full of new beginnings and great causes.

There are hundreds of ways to conquer negative thoughts and race anxiety but these are just a few that I use. I suggest looking up some more of your own. One quote that I read recently that I though was great was in the Winter issue of the Triathlon Life Magazine. It was an article written by Cheryl D. Hart titled Mental Training Wheels: “If negative thoughts or self-doubt begin to creep in during an event, here’s a suggestion: look closely into the faces of the spectators along the course. No matter how far back in the pack you are, you will see awe and admiration written in their eyes as you pass. Would you rather stand amongst them, in the safety of the sidelines?” Recommended Resources:



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