After a lot of thought and consideration -- I have decided to retire One Foot in Reality and leave it as an Archive. I will still monitor it to keep the trolls at bay, but will not be posting here any longer.

If you are looking for my new posts, please go to www.haroldlshaw.com .

Thank you for all they years of following One Foot In Reality.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Race Anxiety - What it Actually Feels Like

After a lot of thought I have decided to move some of best of my old posts from Aging Runnah and A Runnah’s Story blogs, primarily the old reviews, maybe a few of the better posts and race reports that I have written over the years. I have a feeling that at some point, my WordPress.com blogs are simply going to go away and I want to still be able to go back and read some of the stuff I wrote.

If you are reading this blog post, that is why it is has been re-posted here.

Originally posted on: October 11, 2013

Photo by Sue Morris

Imagine that you have one of your major goal races coming up this weekend. It is an important race that you have trained hard to prepare for this race.

You have big dreams and goals for how you will do.

Then when the race comes around, you want to be somewhere else, to be honest anywhere else, but at that race.

That is how I feel for most of the races I go to, it does not matter how big or how small they are. It got better for a while, but it is starting to raising its ugly head again.

Where did it start?

I am pretty competitive, sometimes I am just too damn competitive.

In high school, I did not run or compete at the level, I could have or in some of the more important meets or “Regionals”, because I just could not do it. I couldn't go.

I was too scared of failure, to have my own visions of glory dashed against the rocks of reality. 

I would fake being sick, go somewhere else, create reasons not to go, fake injuries and all the other tricks to get out of doing something that scares the hell out of you, so you do not have to show others “how good” you really are.

Fast forward from 1975 to 1985. 

I started to get better as a runner, nothing great, but regularly breaking 6:00 minute miles for distances up to 10 miles. My times were continuing to get better and I even had a couple of delusions of grandeur.

However, as I improved, my personal expectations of what I should do at races and in training increased exponentially. It got to the point where I/we had some very unrealistic expectations and goals for my running, you know those delusions of grandeur and "if only I...".

When I failed to meet those goals during a race or even in training, I became miserable and was not fun to be around for days afterwards.

In other words, I became an asshat and my running, especially my racing was negatively affecting my personal and professional lives. Those unrealistic expectations destroyed my enjoyment of the sport I loved and increasingly caused me to dread going to races.

How I Felt back in the 80's

Here are some of the things I felt the weeks before most races on my schedule, especially ones that I wanted to do really well or was racing against a particular person that week:

  • All you can think about is how you are going to do in the race, from fantasizing about keeping up with the fast runners, to what your actual race strategy should or will be,
  • your work suffers,
  • you get moody and easily agitated – you snap at others, are cranky,
  • instead of sleeping you toss and turn for hours on end, which means you wake up bleary eyed and tired,
  • you start to eat more and more comfort foods.
  • you have stress headaches most of the week
  • the bottom-line is you feel like shit
  • you start to ask yourself if feeling this way is worth it

As race day gets closer, the stress only gets worse:
  • you start to question if you even want to go
  • you start looking for reasons not to go to the race
  • if one of those reason does come up, you use the excuse and will back out to save face, but then you feel even worse, “I could’ve done it”, I could’ve been great” or from Rocky “I could’ve been a contendah”.
  • you are eating crap food for emotional comfort – you know the stuff you never eat unless you are totally stressed out
  • you are physically sick and feel even more like shit

Finally - Race day 

  • You don’t sleep much the night before and more than likely the nights before that
  • you are sick, nauseous, your head aches and really don’t want to get out of bed - sometimes you don't
  • you are really looking for any reason (big or small) to not go to the race - sometimes you find one
  • you look at your hands, they are shaking, trembling
  • you are don’t want to get ready to go - sometimes you don't
  • you finally get out the door and go back in 3-4 times to get things that you think you forgot
  • you get in your vehicle, grip the steering wheel with a death grip and say “I can do this” - sometimes you don't
  • while driving to the race, you try to find a reason to turn around - sometimes you do
  • when you get there you sit in the car for 5-10 minutes getting your courage up to go to the registration table, get your number and swag - sometimes you just drive off.
  • go to the bathroom multiple times, thinking to yourself, I still have time to get out of here - sometimes you do.
  • isolate yourself from other runners - you just don't feel like socializing or talking more than you have to.
  • go find a bush and puke
  • think again, I still have time to get out of here, I don’t have to do this - sometimes you do

You line up at the start 10-15 minutes before the start of a small race (30-45 minutes of a bigger race); knowing that once you are at the start, you will not leave, except to go puke over at the side of the road.

The gun goes off
  • Everything is suddenly fine - You are running,
  • During the race, none of the crap you were thinking about bothers you, but you are tired, the stress of the previous week has destroyed your ability to run at your best and most of the time you miss your lofty expectations.

After the Race

  • After everything is over, because you do not usually meet your expectations for the race or the goals of others:
  • you start to beat yourself up on things that you could have done differently, better or dug deeper during the race.
  • you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the camaraderie of the post-race celebration because you usually don’t have anything to celebrate
  • you just feel as though you have let the world down and you need to get out of there
  • you just feel like shit for days after the race.

Did I experience all of those things at every race – no but I have experienced all of them and some others enough times to know them all very well.

Post 1986

Small wonder I stopped racing between 1986 and 2012. Racing had stopped being fun, became something that I dreaded doing and became such a negative part of my life.

Between when I stopped racing in 1986 and then started again in 2012. I have faked injuries or sickness, not gotten out of bed the day of the race – saying I felt too sick to run, turned around halfway to a race, or worse gotten there - then left before the race started, even though I was at the race site, had pinned my number on and had even gotten through the warm-ups.

Running in a race had just become such an overwhelming thing, that I couldn't bring myself to do, even though I really wanted to.

Race Anxiety

What I felt was/is called race anxiety; it is completely different from race-day jitters. To me and others who endure It, it is an overwhelming feeling that we cannot control.

Unfortunately, the only successful strategy that I found from 1986 to 2012, was not to run in races. That no racing strategy, well It worked to an extent, but I missed out on the parts of running that racing has besides the competition - the part that affected me so negatively.

I missed out on the camaraderie and friendships of other runners who shared many of the same interests that I have.

Back to racing

When I started racing again in January 2012, it was damned hard for me to do!

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2012 was to run in races. I finally decided to run the Central Maine Striders January Thaw race in 2012, but I basically did it the day before the race and didn't have that long build-up to contend with, you can read my race recap.

My photo after the January Thaw 4.5 Miler in January 2012

Unfortunately, not all of those negative feelings I had back in the 80's, when I am going to a race have magically disappeared. Most of them are still there each and every race that I have gone to over the past couple of years.

The only difference is that I have been able overcome them by reminding myself that going to races is something that I really want to and I just have to do it, especially if I wanted to run MCM and be around other runners. Those issue I had with the old delusions of grandeur are much more rooted in reality, instead of the clouds.

Getting older has helped that part of the problem more than a little -- that added maturity thing that seems to happen as we age, but every so often I have to kick myself in the ass and come back down off those clouds when I start thinking I am a better runner than I really am.

In May, when I injured my Achilles tendon, badly enough that I could not run for a while and eventually had to withdraw from the Marine Corps Marathon – my huge goal race was gone and I didn't have anything to replace it.

When that happened many of the feelings that I had been successfully combatting, burst out and beat me about the head and shoulders, like the flying monkeys did to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

I raced a few times at the end of July/start of August and was so disappointed with my times compared to where I had been back at the end of April. After the last race in Skowhegan, I did not race for almost 2 months, August 4th to September 27th; even though I had several opportunities and could have raced just about any weekend, I wanted.

My race anxiety issues had clawed its way out from behind the wall I had built for it and was starting to take control again.

I kept talking and write the good talk, attempting to move forward and not let it seem that anything was wrong to anyone, especially myself.

Getting Ready for the Big Race

So as I got ready to run the Rise ‘N Shine 5K on September 27th, based on last year's experience I had set some pretty high goals for myself.

My original goals for the 5K:
  • I wanted to defend my age group win
  • I wanted to race this race, not just run it
  • I wanted to break 20:00 for this race
  • There were certain runners, that I fantasized keeping up with

Some of the obstacles were:
  • The pain I would have to embrace to race it
  • The damn hill at a bad place in the run. No the hill is not really that bad, but where it is in the race messes with your head

My Achilles injury

In reality I didn't have any doubts that my Achilles injury was going to make it so that I knew that couldn’t/wouldn’t achieve most, if any of the above things.

My realistic and public goals for the race were
  • Don’t be stupid and re-injure my Achilles
  • A Goal – Sub 22:00
  • B Goal – Sub 23:00

Reality had given me other goals, but my expectations did not change in my head. I just could not get the person inside of me accept less than what my original goals were, even though I knew they were not realistic.

So in the weeks leading up to this race, I started to experience many of the race anxiety symptoms that caused me to stop racing back in 1986. I noticed myself retreating into my shell and I found myself looking for reasons to not go run the Rise ‘N Shine 5K, even though I really wanted to go – crazy huh!

The worst part was that even though I attempted to put my Rise 'N Shine 5k race in positive perspective, I was still frustrated and beat myself up over the results. I found myself falling back into the way I felt after races back in the 80's and I do not want to go there again.

My Own Worst Enemy

I have finally figured out that I am my own worst enemy when comes to racing. I put too much artificial pressure on myself to meet very lofty for me goals, many of which are or were unrealistic and then when I do not meet those goals, life sucks and my expectations become a very stressful part of my life.

What am I Doing now to overcome it?
  • Writing about it - publicly. If I air out my dirty little secret, my race anxiety has less power over me
  • Be honest with myself and how I am feeling
  • Continue participating in my local running community and online.
  • Keep signing up and going to races
  • Focus more on the enjoyment and social aspects, versus the competitive aspect of running in a race. I am never going to be a contendah.
  • Keep writing at A Runnah’s Story, after all you cannot write a running focused blog, without talking about races you have run in - well I could, but only writing about my training runs is going to get pretty damn boring.
  • I need to find a huge goal race again, so that I have an over-riding reason to keep practicing and going to races, so I just do not bail and stop racing again.
  • Eventually find a running coach to help me with my training/racing.

Writing this post was one of the hardest posts that I have ever written, it exposes a side of me that is not very flattering and shows weaknesses about myself that I have kept private for many years. After all, the way I was raised I am supposed to be able to overcome stuff like this, instead of running away and hiding from it - which is what I did from 1986 to 2012 and sadly began to fall back into again recently.

Is my race anxiety something that will ever go away completely – probably not. I am smart enough to know that this is one of those demons that I will continue to battle to some extent, as long as I run and compete in races.

The reality is that after writing this post I am more confident that overcoming my race anxiety issues is something that I can do a better job of in the future, especially since it is now a public beast, not just something whirling around inside of my head, without any outlet or place to go.

The secret I believe for me to be successful in this battle is this:

I really do enjoy the company of other runners, and I dislike running by myself all the time.

I think it is kind of funny - I am pretty much a huge introvert and the primary part of the solution to this race anxiety issue for me is that I want to be around other runners. Strange how things work sometimes, when you stop and take a good look at something that is bothering you and what the actual solution seems to be.

I don't think I am completely alone in how I feel about racing, the anxiety I have felt and still feel. I wonder how many of you experience some or all the feelings I have described above and what you do to overcome those feelings?

What do you think about race anxiety?

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