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How Do I Conquer Nerves in Races and Events?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
– Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year
Q: Over the past year I have been competing in mtb enduros in Spain and the UK and now doing quite well. I have problems at the start of the race. How can I drive out and keep up with everyone else? How do I conquer nerves? – Lisa-jane

A: First, visualize the start of the race a few days before the race. While sitting quietly away from distractions go through a mental “movie” of how the beginning of the race will play out. Visualize the start line, see yourself waiting there with other cyclists. But instead of feeling nervous and with a racing heart, see yourself closing your eyes taking a series of deep long breaths to bring your heart rate down.

Once you have calmed yourself, picture yourself taking off at the start. Choose a short sentence that will help you stay relatively calm, but alert to the starting gun. Something as simple as “strong, steady start” will work. Keep repeating this sentence and actually see yourself beginning the race and taking the best line in the group—positioning yourself in the middle to front of the pack.

Continue to see yourself moving through your gears, and moving up through the group. At this point choose perhaps one or two words to help propel you to the front of the pack. Again, something simple like “power through” or “power pace”.  Find a few words that sum up how you are feeling while riding, that keep you connected to your bike. Feel what it’s like as you pedal and continue to stay close to the front of the pack.

Do this visualization every day leading up to the race. On the day of the race, take some time to close your eyes and go through the same visualization cues you have practiced in the days leading up to the event. This will help bring your heart rate down, steady your nerves, and allow you to have a strong, bold start.

Just like training the body to race, the more you train your mind, the more comfortable you will feel at the start of each race. Remember, you have done all the preparation needed, now it’s execution time!

Race smart, and race well.

These techniques can be adopted by recreational cyclists as well. You don’t need to be competitive to adopt the technique of visualization. If you have a hard ride ahead of you, or you are doing a charity event and you aren’t used to riding in big groups, take some time before the ride or event to sit quietly and go through the same process. Start by taking a few deep breaths to quiet your mind and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Then picture what it is you are going to be doing. If it’s an event with a lot of people, visualize everyone standing around. See them smiling and chatting as they prepare to start the ride. Choose a simple sentence to repeat to yourself as you visualize the start. Something as easy as “great day, fun ride”, or “beautiful day, riding strong”. Find a phase that works for you, and repeat it slowly as you picture the start of the event.

Get out there, don’t let your nerves prevent you from enjoying the experience of a ride or event. Each time you participate, the familiarity will help you overcome your nerves.

Enjoy your ride.
If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected] Diane Stibbard Ask a Pro

As a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s new e-program, Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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