In Her Own Words: Dealing With Nerves

Lila Gaudrault a junior from Cape Elizabeth won the Class B State title in 2018, she's back to defend her title in 2019. This is her third blog post of the season.

Hi everyone!

First of all, I want to give a huge congratulations to everyone who competed at a number of invitationals this past week. The times at the Southern Maine Classic were especially impressive! This year, our team ran the Quabacook Relays at Morse High School, which is a bit of a tougher course, but serves as a great preparation for the hillier meets later this season (**cough cough Twinbrook**).

Speaking of hillier courses, I was recently looking over my team's racing schedule for the rest of the season. I am headed to Manchester this weekend, followed closely by Festivals, our home meet, conferences, regionals, states, and hopefully New Englands and beyond. Looking at the list was honestly pretty intimidating - 2 months of back-to-back hard weekly races. It got me questioning how I will ever manage to deal with the nerves that inevitably accompany each starting line. Don't you hate that feeling? Nerves are probably my least favorite part of running. In cross country, there are so many unknowns as you toe each line. Will you have an off day, or the best day of your life? Will you fall flat on your face 100 meters into the race, or get a massive side stitch, or have your shoe fall off? Will you get passed in the final stretch, or be the one with the kick? All of these unknowns (and many more) run through my head in not just the moments before the gun, but in the days and weeks leading up to the race. 

Last year, during my sophomore season of cross country, I realized something pretty important relating to pre race nerves: Anticipation is good; anxiety is bad. We so often hear about getting "nervous" before a race, but what does that really mean? I like to think about anticipation, on one end of the spectrum, as that excited adrenaline rush you get at the starting line when you know it's going to be tough, but at the same time, you are truly looking forward to the challenge ahead. On the other hand, anxiety before a race is characterized by being so terrified about letting yourself down that you can barely lift your legs. You dread the challenge ahead because you might fall short of your goals, and that can be a worse feeling than not starting the race at all. Learning to embrace anticipation and trying to curb anxiousness has helped me significantly in dealing with nerves. 

Obviously there are some catches to this mentality. For one thing, I often can't help being petrified before a race! When I care about a race and have prepared for it day in and day out, it's a horrible thought not to perform to expectations. Also, sometimes you can go into a race with the best mentality in the world, and still perform terribly. It's not foolproof to simply think positive. 

This spring, I had my heart set on qualifying for New Balance Nationals in the 5000m. Throughout the season, I ran a number of 5000m races, lowering my PR significantly, but still kept falling short of the qualifying standard. In early June, I entered one last meet to try and qualify. The previous week, I had run a huge PR, and was seconds away from the magic 18:10 that was needed. The evening of that final race was warm, with a light breeze: perfect conditions for running fast. I did my warmup and felt surprisingly calm and excited, exactly the sort of positive anticipation I described earlier. Everything was set up perfectly. When the gun went off, I tucked in behind some other runners, and ran a flawless first few laps, feeling strong and confident. But somewhere after the mile, something changed: I suddenly didn't feel so good. Then, I felt terrible. The second half of the race became a struggle just to finish. And when I finally did, my time was embarrassingly far from where I'd hoped. Moral of the story: All the preparation and positive mentalities in the world can't help you - all of the time.

Running is all about controlling the things we can. Because, let's face it, we can't control everything in this sport. We can't control the injuries that pop up at the most inconvenient times, or the spike that trips us at the start of the race, or the side stitches that occurs in the final mile. But we can control (to some degree) our mentalities before the race. Will it lead to a better performance? Not always. But can it? Yes. I've had plenty of races where I feel like my pre race mentality directly led to a better performance. It's not effective 100% of the time, but after all, our sport is all about finding that extra 1% advantage.

I'll leave you with this last piece of advice. I can't remember exactly where I heard it, but it goes something like this: In running, especially cross country, we never accomplish anything notable without getting a little nervous before. So instead of viewing nerves as something negative to deal with, think of them as the inevitable precursor to an achievement. Embrace the anticipation, because it means great things are just ahead!

Good luck to everyone in their upcoming races!


·         Lila


Book Recommendation: My book recommendation du jour is a true running classic: Running with the Buffalos, written by Chris Lear. The book is basically a day-by-day account of the University of Colorado men's cross country season in 1999. If you like reading detailed descriptions of training and the ins-and-outs of what makes a cross country team one of the best in the country, this book is for you!