-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Triathlon — Overcoming the “I’m Scared to Death” Syndrome

running-advice-bugLast weekend I was walking into a transition at a local race and I overheard a common exchange. One athlete asked the other how she was feeling and the other answered her back, “I’m scared to death!” So many times I have heard this expressed — and often in exactly those words. I can almost feel the pounding heart and the sweaty skin.

courage-is-being-scared-to-deathThese words “I’m scared to death” have real power. Of course, when we say them we’re not actually scared “to death.” It’s not as if Jaws is about to surface beneath us and bite our legs off or Jason is going to jump out from behind a tree with an ax and end our races with a mortal blow. (Although these days with the Zombie runs and other themed races, it could happen!) But the power of these words tells a lot about what’s going on in the mind.

“Scared to death” is an expression of fear. If you look it up in the dictionary the definition is “extremely scared.” The word “scared” itself means, “thrown into or being in a state of fear, fright, or panic.” The question is not whether we are actually scared before a race — as many people actually are — but rather do we really want to be in a “state of panic or fright” before a race? The answer, of course, is no.

What we want to be is control of our emotions, thinking clearly, and ready to do what we have trained to do. Achieving a clear head is not so easy when we’re seeing spots with fright.

So how do we turn that fear into something positive? The answer is to understand that the source of this fear is anxiety of what’s to come — put another way, it’s a fear of the unknown. What the brain is doing is puzzling over what’s coming and what to do “if” something particular happens. ‘What if I fall . . .forget my shoes. . .throw up. . .can’t find the course. . . end up last?’ The way that we get around this is to start by catching ourselves having these feelings and identify them for what they are.

From there we can move into more positive territory by tapping into the anxiousness we are feeling and understanding that this means we are in a state of readiness and arousal for what’s to come. If we can tap into this anxiety and instead turn it into “excitement” (there’s a term we like!) then we can start to focus. Excited thoughts sound like this, “I’m ready. . .I’m stoked . . .I’m going to crush this. . . Let’s do this thing!” Now that’s something that we can deal with!

The next time you feel yourself getting anxious or jittery, start by turning those feelings into excitement. Once you’ve turned to negative feelings of anxiety into the positive feelings of excitement, you’ll be able to focus, execute, and ENJOY!

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


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