pressureThe days leading up to any big race can be tough.

Not only are you feeling antsy from running less due to the taper and nervous about your goal, you’re also dealing with a lot of pre-race pressure.

Pressures from a number of sources. A few that affect me the most are:

  • Pressure from myself to PR or run a new (longer) distance
  • Pressure not to let down friends, family, or even blog readers who have supported me throughout training
  • Pressure from the race to meet certain cut-offs or qualifying times

With just 2 days left before the Massanutten Mountain 100, I’m feeling the pressure.

Why I Feel Guilty For What I’m About to Do

I know I’m not alone with this one, because I’ve heard it from almost every endurance runner I speak to. Especially those who have run long ultramarathons.

I feel guilty for putting my family and friends through a 100 mile ultra.

The guilt starts with the training, which requires time nearly every single day. On the weekends, it could mean going out for a 6 or 7 hour run on any given Saturday.

My wife has been incredibly supportive through the whole process, but I’m sure it complicates things when I’m not around. And I’m sure many of my friends wish I didn’t have to turn down happy hour or look like I was about to fall asleep at the bar on Saturday night after just one drink.

That’s just the training.

Running an ultramarathon often means relying on a crew to support you throughout the race. For this weekend’s run, I’ve asked my family to help out, which will require them to follow me around for roughly 30 hours, staying awake through the night, eating on the go, and having to navigate both my needs and the directions to each stop.

On top of that, my friend David will be pacing me (running along with me) for the last 40 miles. He’s flying in from Colorado just to help me out.

I know I’ll be tired. I’m sure I’ll be cranky. And I can only imagine how boring it will be for the crew at times.

And I feel guilty they’ll be out there all weekend just for me.

Which makes me feel a lot of pressure.

Pressure to preform for them, and to make the time, energy, and money they are putting into this race worth their while. Pressure not to let anyone down.

Including myself.

3 Ways to Deal With the Pressure

Spending these last few days worrying about that pressure isn’t what I should be doing before a big race.

It keeps me up at night and prevents me from thinking about the more important pre-race preparations.

In general, the pressure we experience before a big race (like the ones I’m feeling right now), are nothing but created thoughts that serve no good.

So let’s address them and move on.

Below I’ve listed out 3 ways I’ve dealt with pre-race pressures in the past, and techniques I’m actively trying to use now.

1) Remind yourself why you signed up in the first place.

Really this should be done multiple times throughout your training. Check-in on why you signed up in the first place, and go back to that inspiration and motivation.

When the reason is to set a PR or go a longer distance, don’t view the pressure of a potential failure as a problem, but instead use it as a motivator. Start picturing yourself succeeding and reaching that goal. Get excited about what it will feel like when you do.

Flip that pressure and use it to your advantage.

Whatever reason you had to sign up for the race, focus on that moving forward.

2) Trust your training.

I talk about this a lot, because it’s often a major contributor to the pre-race jitters.

Could I have trained harder? What if I didn’t do enough speed work? Did that skipped long run ruin my chances of success?

These are the types of questions I always find myself focusing on leading up to a race. This time, with the pressure that comes with running nearly twice as long as I ever have before, is no exception.

I have to trust that my training will give me strength to go the distance, and regain the confidence I had that got me to sign up in the first place.

Pressures take over when we are no longer confident. The hard work of training is done, now is the time to be confident in our abilities gained through training.

3) Understand that just trying is a win to your loved ones.

While talking with my pacer David about the guilt I’m feeling, he told me about how he had a similar experience when he ran the Leadville 100 last year.

David felt terrible that his family was following him around all night, and that he was just rushing past them at aid stations to keep moving.

But then he told me that what he realized while out there was that his family didn’t view it that way. They were just excited to be a part of the experience. To see him succeeding and giving it his all.

David’s family wasn’t concerned about him spending a few extra minutes at each aid station, but were instead just happy that he was out there in the first place.

It’s easy to lose sight of that. I know that I am right now.

But the truth about the pressure we feel not to let others down is that it’s all made up. Your friends and family don’t care if you fail. They’re just happy you’re out there giving it your all.

Now Take a Breathe and Go Run

Now comes the hard part. At least for me.

We could spend our last days before a big race buckling to the pressure. Or we could breathe deep, relax, and enjoy ourselves.

I’ve been training for this race for months, and I want to enjoy this time.

Pretty soon it’s going to be all over, and none of that energy spent worrying will matter one way or the other.

So I’m going to take a breathe. And get ready to go run.

Photo Credit

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

Support Rock Creek Runner by shopping at:


4 thoughts on “Pre-Race Pressures: 3 Simple Coping Techniques

  1. This is just what I needed to read today – thank you for this! I’ve been feeling anxious about a measly half marathon this weekend and your post made me realize why — it’s the first race my parents will be at and there is a part of me that doesn’t want to disappoint them, even though they are clearly not putting pressure on me.

    Good luck on your ultra – you are very inspiring!

  2. It sounds like your mind is in the right place. And that is such an important factor in a race! Good luck this weekend! I can’t wait to read about it.

Leave a Reply