Dealing with First-Race Anxiety

No one starts out in a triathlon as a grizzled veteran. There's a first time for everyone. Top runners who have never tried multisport events are getting their feet wet just as you are. Who's to say that person isn't just as nervous as you are, perhaps more so if the athlete feels a lot of pressure to perform at a high level.

You may be edgy and anxious, but you don't have grand expectations or goals. Your aim is to finish feeling good about your accomplishment, after which you will consider further participation. If you feel any pressure, it's coming from within.

Dismiss fear of failure. If something goes wrong and you don't finish, it's not the end of the world, and you certainly won't be the first person to drop out of a race. Learn from your experience and come back stronger the next time.

Tricks and Treats

There are some tricks that could help you deal with your anxiety. First, you will feel more relaxed and confident about the coming challenge if you take the time to orient yourself to the layout of the transition area. Walk from where the swim will end to where your bicycle is racked.

Then go from there to the bicycle mount/dismount area, then back to the rack. Next walk to where you enter the course for the run. Do it again, looking for landmarks or other ways of helping you find your way in the heat of the competition.

Feeling confident about this aspect of the race will ease the tension and remove the feelings that your race is a series of accidents waiting to happen.

Can I mark the rack in some way so that I can find my bike more easily?

Yes. You can tie a balloon to the rack near your bicycle or use chalk to draw an arrow on the asphalt or concrete pointing to your spot.

Beyond Compare

Don't compare yourself to the other athletes at your race. They and their goals are not relevant to what you are doing, and as a first-timer you are not competing with them or anyone, even other first-timers. Some, perhaps most, of the competitors are probably more accomplished than you, but you're just starting out. You're not supposed to be an elite athlete at this point.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by everything, take a deep breath, do some stretches, then tell yourself that once the race starts all the nervousness will be gone. You will be surprised to find that it actually happens that way.

Above all, don't forget that you have just concluded three months of preparation for this race. You worked hard, you learned as you went along. You are ready. This is neither the time nor the place for doubts.

If you know any of the competitors, especially veterans who have competed in your race before, ask them for advice. You will be surprised at how helpful better athletes can be when someone shows interest in their sport. They'll tell you things to watch out for and give you encouragement. It will boost your confidence to know they are rooting for you.

Stay in the moment and focus on what you are doing in each phase of the race. While you're swimming, don't be thinking about how hard it's going to be to ride in the biting wind or run in the brutal heat. Before you know it, you'll be off course and looking around frantically for the buoy you overshot. Concentrate on your strokes and where you are in the water.

Adopt the same strategy for the cycling and running phases. If one of the sports didn't go as well as you had hoped it would, don't dwell on it. Fretting about a mistake while you were riding won't change what happened, but it could affect your run.

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