Dealing with Race Anxiety Part 2

By on August 2, 2013

In our last article we talked about how to identify a case of race anxiety and get to the core of the problem. Today we’ll walk through some of the psychological training that Tyler and I found useful in getting over our own anxieties.

For both of us, one the most effective pieces of training was exposure therapy. Exposure therapy came in a variety of forms – some of which actually turned out to be pretty fun!

In our training regimen for the weeks up to the Spartan Beast we included “do something scary” every third day. For me, this included getting a tattoo. I am terrified of needles and, in my own words, “I don’t do pain.” Despite my fear I went and got one anyway (I don’t endorse getting a tattoo “just because,” but if you already have something in mind, like I did, and you want to get over your fears, it’s a great way to do so!)

mudder tattoo

Being able to think back to voluntarily sitting in a chair and being repeatedly stabbed with a needle made me feel like I could handle anything. By facing something I was afraid of and leaving my proverbial comfort zone I taught myself how to deal with being afraid and uncomfortable. This kind of tangential exposure teaches you how to deal with stress generally and is useful when you can’t directly expose yourself to race conditions.

That’s another way to really get yourself ready: simulate exactly what you’re afraid of. Tyler is scared of deep water that he can’t see the bottom of, so after work every day for a week we walked to the docks downtown and jumped into Lake Ontario. Even just treading water and jumping in and out got him used to the feeling of being in open water and the sudden temperature drop that often accompanies it.

Lake Jump

Now Tyler swears by this, though I’m a little more skeptical – all those motivational quotes, videos, etc you can find on the internet can be helpful when you’re in the moment. A friend of ours, for example, has a couple of her favorite quotes in a couple of locations around her apartment. Some people watch their favorite pump-up movie before doing something scary. Exposing your brain to these messages can be key when you’re in the moment; thinking that you can do this instead of thinking that you can’t is much less stressful and can help you push through.

Inspirational Quote

Another thing that helped me deal with my anxiety was learning to meditate. Meditation can come in many different forms and it’s important that you find a meditative practice that works for you. It may be yoga, lying quietly in a dark room, or just taking some time to be mindful every day. Being able to reach a level of inner peace helps maintain mental stability in times of stress.

Connected to meditation is breathing exercises. Again, there are lots of different things you can try for breathing exercises and you need to find what’s right for you. I found that square breathing and circular breathing were both good for me. With my background in Bikram yoga I also found that the Pranayama (standing deep breathing) was particularly helpful. It also has the added benefit of increased lung capacity and improved neck flexibility. Both meditation and breathing exercises help teach your mind and body how to be more mindful. The end result? When you start getting anxious during a race the tools you develop meditating and doing breathing exercises can help you remain in control and having fun.

Let us know if these tips helped you out or if you have more advice!

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.