Race Anxiety and Running Stress – You Shall Overcome

By Rick Morris

Did you ever find yourself with a severe case of the pre race jitters? How about those times when you dread the idea of your daily training run? Does the thought of your upcoming long training run make you fearful and apprehensive rather than motivated and excited.  These are just a few examples of the problems associated with race anxiety and running stress.

Wait a minute, isn’t running a stress reliever? Yes, running is a great stress and anxiety reducer; when the stress is unrelated to your running. But in some cases, running itself can be the cause of high anxiety and stress. Any athletic event that involves competition or high levels of physical and mental exertion can turn into a tug of war between your determination to win or meet your pre event goal and the inevitable fear of failure and discomfort.

Do you suffer from race anxiety or running stress? Here are some of the most common forms of running stress and my recommendations for defeating them.


I think we all suffer from this one once in a while. It’s normal to feel some pre race jitters. In fact, being just a bit nervous before a race is usually a good thing. It’s that “flight or fight” response that prepares you both physically and mentally for your upcoming competition. However, too much nervousness will have an adverse affect on your running and race performance.

Symptoms: Extreme nervousness or fear of failure before a race.

The Cure: There are a couple of causes of extreme racephobia – lack of confidence and a fear of the discomfort to come. The cure for both of those race problems are related to your training. Be sure that you are training correctly. You should be including race specific training runs in terms of both intensity and distance as well as over speed workouts and over distance long runs. Have confidence in your training and it will improve your race confidence. Another way to help you cure your racephobia is to face your fears directly. In other words, race a lot. Racing frequently will improve your confidence and also train you to deal with the normal pre race jitters.

Long Run Reluctance

Have you ever woken up on the morning of your planned long run and discovered that you are really dreading the upcoming workout? I know that I have. What’s up with that? Isn’t running always supposed to be fun? Of course it is, but every runner has those days when their motivation levels just aren’t up to par. Your long run reluctance could be that simple or it could be the more serious over reaching or over training syndrome.

Symptoms: Dreading your normally enjoyable long run.

The Cure: If your long run reluctance is simply a mental off day, the first step to overcoming long run reluctance is to lace up your shoes and walk out the door. Yep, it’s as simple as that. When your motivation is low the simple act of taking those first steps can be the cure. Also try some mental tricks. Imagine yourself smoothly flying along your road and trail with a smile on your face. Positive imagery can overcome those negative thoughts you woke up with.

What if your long run reluctance is caused by over reaching or over training? Have you been doing a lot of long and hard training recently? Are you in the final stages of training for a marathon or ultra marathon? If you are, your long run reluctance could be related to over training syndrome.

If you think that is the case you might be due for some rest and recovery. If the timing of your training will allow it, consider skipping your upcoming long run or at least cutting it short.  A few weeks off might just refresh you both mentally and physically so that you get back to enjoying your long runs.

Newbie Nervousness

Are you just learning to run? Do you feel intimidated when you run? Do feel embarrassed around other runners because you think you are too slow? These are all common signs of newbie nervousness.

Symptoms: A feeling of embarrassment, intimidation or inadequacy when running.

The Cure: The first step to cure newbie nervousness is to realize that no one is going to judge you when you run. Quite the contrary is true. You will be admired for having the guts to get out there and do something that is both physically and mentally difficult. Every runner out there started out just like you are and they still remember that.

The second step is to not give in to your nervousness. Face your fears and get out there to run. Consider joining a running club. Every running club will have runners of all abilities from beginners to accomplished athletes.

You will meet other new runners that share your feelings. Also try to enter some local races. Many newbie runners are highly intimidated by races. They think that all runners that enter races are highly experienced and very fast runners. That’s not the case. Every race will see runners and walkers of all levels.

Weather Willies

Looking out your window at the freezing temperatures, snow, rain or even hot weather can give you a first class case of the weather willies. Don’t fear the weather. With proper preparation you can run in nearly any conditions with the exception of very dangerous weather such as lightning, extreme heat, high wind or high pollutions levels.

Symptoms: Reluctance to run in the cold, snow, rain or heat.

The Cure: This one is really easy to cure. All you need is the proper gear. If the weather is cold and wet you should dress in layers. Start with a moisture wicking base layer. Follow that up with an insulating middle layer and a water resistant outer layer.

Put a warm lid on your head. You will be dry and snug as a bug in a rug. Is it hot out? No problem. Wear a light weight top made of wicking material, a hat, shorts and lots of sun screen. Be sure you hydrate adequately both before and during your run. Are conditions simply too hot or cold to run in? You can always hit the treadmill.

Speed Training Trauma

Those short but intense training runs at the track are usually enjoyable and exhilarating but there are times when they can be more mentally traumatic than exhilarating.

Symptoms: Fear of intense training runs.

The Cure: Running fast and challenging yourself is fun and motivational. Running fast until you puke and think you’re going to die isn’t. High intensity running is one of the best ways to improve both your fitness and your running performance but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. A good indicator of the efficiency of your interval training workout is how you feel after you’re done.

If you ran at the proper pace, with the proper distances and the proper recovery intervals, you should feel very tired but exhilarated. If you feel completely trashed and are wondering why you ever took up running you may have gone too hard or too long. That can lead to speed training trauma. Again, every runner will occasionally have those days that don’t go well but if you consistently suffer from speed training trauma you should probably think about adjusting your program down just a bit. It could bring the joy back into your speed training sessions.