It does feel as though Instagram can sometimes just be a highlight reel of people's lives. The smiley faces, amazing places, awesome achievements blah blah blah... Which can really give people false representations of life... I think it's really important that we share both the good and the bad - the real life.
So here you go... I've always thought that running is my weakest triathlon discipline, so I have tried so hard to improve over the last couple of years and as a result, subconsciously, put immense pressure on myself to do better.
A couple of Fridays ago I was attempting to record a time for the Spa Striders virtual winter series (an amazing imitative to get people back running and give the club members something to focus on over what is going to be a pretty challenging winter) - this race being the Warwick Parkrun route which I have done numerous times. I set off on my own and within minutes I was suffering from dizziness, stomach pains, a tight chest and I just couldn't run... at all. This happened to me a few weeks previous too when I was attempting to do a fitness test (essentially just benchmarking my current level), and I really couldn't understand what was wrong - why couldn't I run the paces I normally can during training? It really got to me. After chatting it through with coach Tim, we came to the conclusion that it could be a form of performance anxiety that seems to be triggered when I have a goal in mind, like an individual running time trial, rather than everyday training runs. I'm generally a super chilled out person, never normally suffer with stress or anxiety in non sporting life, so this did come as a surprise.
I still don't fully know how to properly manage mine yet, but having done a bit of reading I have found few tips that I am going to try.
Performance anxiety in sports, sometimes referred to as "choking," is described as a decrease in athletic performance due to too much-perceived stress. Perceived stress often increases in athletes on game day because they have an audience and they have extremely high expectations of their success. This type of stress is often based on the way the athletes interpret the situation. It is rarely the external situation that causes stress, but rather the way the athlete's self-talk describes the situation that creates feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear.
The following are hopefully some ways to reduce performance anxiety:
1. Deep breathing
If we're anxious, our breathing becomes shallow. Breathing deeply from our belly has a calming effect and it can also prevent side stitches. Work on belly breathing during your training runs and, by race day, you’ll do it without even having to think about it.
2. Reframing negative thoughts - using positive affirmations
When we think or talk about our racing and training, we can make shifts in our language that will emphasise how we want to feel in the moment. Shifting our thoughts from specific time goals, speeds or paces.
Rather than telling yourself that you’re so nervous and afraid, keep repeating, “I’m so excited!” If someone asks you how you’re feeling about your upcoming race, just say, “I’m excited!” And tell yourself, “I feel good preparing myself for this challenge.”
Just calling your pre-race anxiety and its physical sensations something positive can completely reframe your anxiety and make you see it as an enhancing, motivating force rather than a debilitating one. Your “excitement” will make you feel sharp, pumped, and ready to take on your race.
3. Focusing on the process and not the end outcome - control the controllable
When we focus on end goals, we are doing an activity simply as a means to an end. Our behaviours are motivated by achieving a particular outcome, and research suggests you are more likely to experience anxiety. We can only control our actions, not the outcome. Goals are good to have, but when goals become emphasised over the process of achieving these goals it could lead to anxiety.
However, by emphasising the process we are more likely to revel in the activity that helps us to propel to our goals, and we are more likely to be motivated by an enjoyment of the process - having an ability to stay focussed in the present moment, and enjoying the process.
Stay present in the moment and avoid thinking too far into the event or thinking about the finish. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts or negative self-talk, stop and focus only on your breathing. Focusing on your breathing rhythm will automatically pull you back into the present.
4. Racing like you don't care about the outcome
If you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts and find that you suddenly expect the worst it will be impossible to perform at your peak. If you begin to race like you don't care about the outcome, you may relax and enjoy the event for what it is - another day in your life. Not the most important thing in your life - taking away the pressure.
5. Protective Framing - visualisation
When we have an experience of anxiety, but the perceived danger is overcome, we can create what is called a 'protective frame' i.e. next time, your reflection on this positive experience could prevent you from being anxious about it. Therefore it is really important to build upon these positive experiences, reminding ourselves of moments we have overcome barriers despite how small they may seem - they all build up.
Visualisation can also fortify and build confidence too - visualising how we want to feel during a race or activity, and then the outcome of a successful performance - believe in yourself and your abilities. Before your race or activity, begin visualizing yourself starting, racing, and finishing. Envision your race plan and how you’ll want to feel. Think positively about your training and tell yourself that you’ll feel confident and ready. If you keep using these visualization techniques, that positive mind-set will become second nature on race day.
Talk to your body before the event. Tell your body how it will feel and how you will deal with those feelings. You will begin to believe in yourself. You know you can do it. See it, feel it and believe it!
Ultimately, I think what I am trying to say is that everyone struggles from time to time. It's not all rainbows and sunshine. Just some people are probably doing a good job in covering it up. So don't put pressure on yourself and try to enjoy what you do 💖
An everyday girl with a love of competition (and nut butter)