Dealing with Race Anxiety

By on July 29, 2013

As a first-time racer at a Spartan Sprint this summer, I was shocked when after only about 200 yards after the starting line suddenly I was short of breath; my limbs felt like they were filled with lead and tears streamed down my face as I struggled to take in just a gasp of air. Tyler, my racing – and life – partner was understandably freaked out. I had trained for months for this race. I knew I could run much, much further than this without any difficulty.

I later learned what I was experiencing was race anxiety. If you’ve felt similar during a race, don’t worry. It is a fairly common condition, and over the next few posts I will discuss how I overcame my anxiety and other treatments that exist.


First things first: I want to stress that I do not claim to have any kind of medical authority at all. I have merely had some personal scraps with situational anxiety, and that I have succeeded in conquering it. Also, many people have bouts of situational anxiety and it is important to understand that situational anxiety is not the same as general anxiety. You likely will not need to be medicated for race anxiety, but if you feel you need help please seek the advice of a medical or psychological professional.

From the research I’ve done, the symptoms of anxiety attacks include but are not limited to: nausea, dizziness, feeling lightheaded or faint, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, chest pain, trembling, choking feeling, feeling disconnected from surroundings, fear of dying, losing control, or losing mental stability, numbness or tingling, and hot or cold flashes. Tyler has a form of anxiety not at all tied to racing and he can vouch for many of these symptoms first-hand.


So if you’ve self-diagnosed that you have race anxiety, the next step is to try to discover what is at the root of your anxiety. For me, it was my fear that I am physically not good enough to compete at a Spartan level. From what I’ve read, many cases of race anxiety arise from a fear of inferiority, though there are many other things that could trigger it too. Whatever is the case for you, get to the heart of it and address that issue. It may be as easy as putting sticky notes on your mirror reminding yourself that you are a strong, driven person who will not let anxiety ruin what will be your victory. As with all forms of anxiety, just recognizing it and its source can do wonders.

Whatever is at the root of your anxiety, just remember that it will not defeat you. With time and training, you can overcome your race anxiety.

Check back next time for some tips on mental training, and enjoy the races!

About Ashley Cyr & Tyler Omichinski

My name is Ashley, and I am a graduate student in English at Queen’s University of Canada. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors hiking and playing in the dirt. Last year I decided that I wanted to run a half marathon in June. I began training and ended up hitting the 13 mile mark in January, so I aimed higher and signed up for a Spartan Race in June instead.

My name is Tyler, and I’m a third year law student at Queen’s University of Canada. I am also from Winnipeg but I grew up on a farm. I helped out with chores on the farm, played rugby, and was pretty active generally. As I entered my 20’s, I found myself slipping out of shape as I didn’t keep up my physical activity. When I learned about obstacle races, I decided the time for denial was over and I had to get back in shape and start racing.

Together we completed the Spartan Trifecta in our first year racing. We are running a Colour Run in Montreal this August and a Tough Mudder in Toronto this September. We currently live in Kingston, Ontario with our four cats (Princess Jazmin, Milt Stegall, Zevran and Krios) and our new puppy (Byron). When we’re not reading, writing, studying, training, or taking care of our little zoo, we try to save the world through environmental sustainability initiatives like urban gardening.