Have runs, will run: Tips for easing that race-day anxiety

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“Any runner who denies having fears, nerves, or some other kind of disposition is a bad athlete, or a liar.” – 1950s British Olympian Gordon Pirie

The bad news? Pre-race jitters are inevitable. The good news? It’s a normal part of the process. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran aiming for a new PR, or a rookie concerned about just getting to the finish line, nerves are natural and can add an element of excitement to your race.

But when pre-race fears become more than just nervous energy, it’s important to nip it in the bud before your performance is affected and it starts to take all the fun out of racing. Regardless of whether it’s a string of bad races, a layoff due to injury, or merely a lack of confidence in your level of fitness, here are a few tips to help keep you on track come race day.

Prepare properly

You may not appreciate the importance of setting out your race-day gear the night before the event until you make a critical mistake…and then you never forget.

A few years back, the gun went off at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco when I realized that I had, in a cloud of nervous forgetfulness, left my timing chip in the hotel room a mile or so away. Without any time to go back, I ended up running the race chip-less, finishing sans official time or record of my participation.

Lesson learned; now I lay out everything the night before and do a double-check before bedtime.

Practice visualization

Walk through every aspect of the race in your mind’s eye, from warming up at the starting line to navigating the course and crossing the finish line triumphantly. Expect a certain amount of discomfort or pain if you’re pushing your limits, but know that you’ve mentally rehearsed it and can handle anything that comes your way.

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When all else fails, imagine your worst-case scenario, and how you’d cope with it. Chances are the reality won’t be half as bad as what you can dream up.

Chew wisely

Race-day nerves can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so tread carefully when it comes to what you ingest in the hours before your event. Skipping a meal is not an option (especially for longer endurance events), so look for foods that are easy to digest and have a mix of nutrients, such as bananas, sports bars, oatmeal or even bagels and toast with peanut butter.

If you’re wary of how something will set, do a trial run during training to work out the kinks in a more controlled environment.

Line up correctly

There’s nothing more unnerving than realizing that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time on race morning.

Avoid angering the elites or getting stuck behind slower runners by lining up according to your closest predicted finishing time. This way you can start with people who are at a similar pace, which will help you relax and focus on your own performance.

Channel the tortoise

I’ve witnessed all too many nervous runners who shoot across the starting line like jackrabbits when the gun goes off, only to slow to a shuffle 200 yards later when their adrenaline wears off and oxygen debt sets in.

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Regardless of how good you feel, resist that temptation. Hold back a bit in the early stages to find your pace, and once you’ve relaxed into a rhythm, start pushing.

Run your own race

I’d argue that only a small part of the race is physical; the rest is mental. Fight the urge to compare yourself to those around you. Unless you’re a top-ranked elite athlete, there will always be someone faster than you. And on the flip side, there will always be someone slower than you.

So pick your route, stick to your plan and race against the most daunting competitor: Yourself.

Think happy thoughts

Above all, it’s important to focus on what you already have achieved, rather than what you might not. Whether it’s attempting a new distance, making it through a grueling training schedule or just having the guts to step up to the starting line, you’ve got something to celebrate.

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How do you deal with race-day anxiety? 

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How I work out…of a workout funk

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Fitness has always been a part of my life. Initially, yes, I had to force myself to find the enjoyment in it, but as I got into better shape it became a habit, which has now evolved into a full-blown lifestyle.

Most days, it’s not even a question; breaking a sweat is like scratching an itch. Hubby even jokes that I’m like a border collie and need to get out my extra energy with a good run.

Throw in a race with a training schedule, and I’m in my happy place with A) a game plan, B) a goal, and C) the satisfaction of being able to check something off the list each day.

But once in a while the pendulum slows, and it’s tough to maintain my usual momentum…whether it’s a case of the post-race let-downs, a schedule lull, workout burnout, life throwing a temporary curve ball — or  a combo of all of the above.

Like now, where I’m still processing my HITS Napa race and loosely training for my 50K at the end of the month, all while Hubby and I are preparing to mark some milestones and life changes together in the next few months.

Needless to say, the resolve with which I approached triathlon training has waned. So what to do when your usual outlet(s) for release become potential source(s) of stress?

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Yup, my new mantra came via mail recently from one of my best friends who wanted to give me a boost (thank you, Marisa!). And little did she know, it led to my return to the pool last week.

I knew I needed to get back on the proverbial horse after my race went poorly, but I’d been feeling cautious, tentative and — honestly — a bit deflated with regards to the water.

So for the first time in a little over a month, I took the plunge. My body wasn’t feeling it. My mind wasn’t into it. So I tricked both by taking a different approach.

Instead of a workout, I went “naked” (sans tech devices) to just try to enjoy splashing around for 1500 yards. Right away I could tell I’ve lost some fitness, but about 1000 yards in, I started to feel a glimmer of that mojo I’ve been missing.

No, I’m not signing up for that bucket-list half ironman anytime soon (I’ve got a lot of work to do first), but it did get me thinking about staying present, finding enjoyment in the process and celebrating incremental victories instead of focusing solely on the pursuit of a singular goal.

So, in the meantime? Just like the shirt says, I’m going to keep calm, put one stroke, pedal and foot in front of the other…and embrace the journey.

How do you bounce back from a tough race or work out of a workout funk?

Almost-Wordless Wednesday: Point Bonita Lighthouse

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Instead of a getaway for the long MLK weekend, Hubby and I opted to ‘staycation,’ but wanted to break with routine and spend a quiet afternoon outside of the city.

The destination: Point Bonita Lighthouse, the third lighthouse on the West Coast (completed in 1855!), which Hubby found while exploring Marin via bike.

The tunnel halfway to the lighthouse is open only during visiting hours on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., so we timed our visit accordingly and were rewarded with some of these incredible sights.

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What are your favorite staycation spots?

Set sail this summer to reap mind and body benefits

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While many of us consider sailing more of a hobby than a sport (that is, unless, you’re an America’s Cup contender!), its health benefits warrant a second look at this activity as an ideal way to supplement your fitness regimen while maintaining a sense of adventure this summer.

Being out on the water has a profound effect on both mind and body, and below are just a few of the potential positive side effects should you venture on your own voyage this season.

Muscle Strength & Endurance

Many sailing movements require great arm strength (constantly pulling and hoisting the sails in order to direct the boat or yacht), which helps to strengthen muscles of the back, shoulders and thighs.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Did you know that oxygen uptake during sailing can be even greater than when you play tennis or baseball? The more intense the activity, the better, which also reduces your risk of obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

Sense of Well-Being

Salty sea air is supposedly charged with ions that aid in oxygen absorption, which can help balance your levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by the body that is associated with mood.

Stress Reduction

The rhythmic movement of the boat combined with the sounds of lapping water and wind in the sails can influence brainwave patterns, providing a soothing environment that promotes a sense of relaxation.

Balance & Agility

Maneuver quickly around a rocking boat, and you’ll soon discover that a solid set of reflexes, center of balance and hand-eye coordination are a necessity, especially when tacking and gibing.

Focus & Concentration

With a singular goal of staying safe (i.e. not sinking) the crew’s ability to focus increases exponentially, which is an especially important skill for today’s chronic multi-taskers to maintain.

Communication Skills

Both verbal and non-verbal communication is critical to the captain and crew being able to act as a cohesive unit to navigate, tack, or otherwise manipulate the boat through various scenarios.

Collaborative Environment

Finally, sailing fosters great cooperation and teamwork because each person on board has the potential to make an important contribution toward keeping the vessel afloat and running smoothly in the correct direction.

“Learning to sail is just the beginning,” according to the American Sailing Association, the leading authority on sailing instruction and sailing schools in the U.S. (check out their list of sailing schools, by state, for a location near you).

The organization’s certified professionals are capable of teaching all levels of abilities, so there’s no excuse not to set sail – safely and with confidence – this summer!

Healing our hearts and minds in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon

A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. (Credit: Getty Images)

A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. (Credit: Getty Images)

After being glued to the TV, transfixed by social network updates and in a perpetual state of prayer for the safety of Boston residents and law enforcement last week, many of us are feeling emotionally drained in the wake of the marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt.

Such tragedies and shocking news events are not only beyond stressful for those involved, but they can also impact those of us who are observing from afar. Plus, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we’re bombarded with emotionally-charged images and graphic descriptions in today’s 24/7 news cycle.

I sat down with media psychiatrist and bestselling author Dr. Carole Lieberman to discuss the emotional impact of last week’s gruesome events – and how we can begin to move forward from here.

Kinetic Fix: There seems to be an uptick in these horrendous acts in our society; would you hazard a guess as to why?

Dr. Carole Lieberman: The world definitely seems to be spinning out of control with more violence than ever. There are many reasons for this, including desperate people wanting their 15 minutes of fame, copy cat crimes, a bad economy that’s dragging on for too long, violent media (especially violent video games), children being raised in single parent homes, and increased stress in general.

What kinds of feelings are normal after an event such as the Boston bombings?

People will feel anxiety, depression, insomnia, a desire to stuff themselves with comfort food, and so on.

The psychological impact of the Boston Marathon terror attack is to trigger the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that is still laying dormant in us from 9/11. The similarities between the Boston attack and 9/11 trigger our memories. These similarities include there being two bomb blasts in mid-city with buildings crashing on top of people and people running in a panic on an otherwise beautiful sunny day. On top of this, the ricin letters are triggering our memories of the anthrax letters that followed soon after 9/11.

At what point should we consider seeking help from a doctor?

If your symptoms last more than two weeks, or if it is interfering significantly with functioning well in work and family settings, you should consider seeing a mental health professional for psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication.

What are some steps we can take to alleviate our feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, etc.?

There are many things you can do to alleviate these symptoms, such as spending more time with your family and friends, going to religious services, volunteering to help people who are less fortunate and spending time in nature.

Finally, what would your recommendation be to those of us who may feel as though we are losing our faith in humanity?

It’s easy to lose one’s faith in humanity after reading one violent headline after another and feeling like the world is filled with evil people. The antidote to this is surrounding yourself with people who have a lot of humanity, such as people involved in your church or those who are volunteering to help the less fortunate.