How to turn anxiety into adrenaline on race day

I think I need to declare this my summer to work on mental toughness.

It’s been clear to me in my past 3 (!!) races that I have some work to do in this area.  In a local 5k, the NJ Half and the Newport 10k, I struggled in the final mile, and then managed to pull out a fast finish somehow.

The struggle feels very physical in the moment, but then it turns out my body does have more to give when I see the finish line, and I’m realizing how mental that piece is for me.

I shared a few weeks ago some of my favorite mental toughness takeaways from a few books and podcasts I’ve listened to.

Recently, I added another one to the mix.  I highly recommend the podcast Tina Muir did with Bhrett McCabe.  As she says, there is so much gold in there!

I took lots of notes and will probably need to go back and listen to it a few more times before it all sinks in, but this was one of my favorite quotes:

Adrenaline and anxiety feel the exact same in the body.  The only difference is in how we interpret it.


When we interpret it as fear, it becomes anxiety.  When we interpret it as excitement, it’s adrenaline.  – Bhrett McCabe


Powerful, right? I know I often line up on the race line with a little (or a lot) of anxiety.  The thought that the only difference is in how we interpret it gives me a lot of hope.  I don’t have to force myself to feel differently- I can feel what I feel and tell myself how excited I am to have the chance to race!

Smiling, staying positive about how much fun it is to race and removing pace expectations can go a long way to make a more enjoyable racing experience.  I’m working on that.

The next step is to better embrace the discomfort in that last mile and stick it out, rather than fading and giving up!

What is your weak spot in a race?

Are you nervous or excited at the start? Have you considered the relationship between anxiety and adrenaline before?

9 thoughts on “How to turn anxiety into adrenaline on race day

  1. I absolutely struggle with this and, when the first thing you have to do is swim, anxiety takes on a whole different meaning! I’ve jumped into the water more then a few times and had to really think about slowing my breathing and not hyperventilating!! I’m getting better but you’re right – it takes dedicated work! I will have to listen to that podcast since I love what he’s saying about “interpreting” anxiety. That will go a long way in my brain!
    Allie recently posted..How to Get Your Training Mojo Back in 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  2. I read once somewhere that having anxiety before an event shows how much you care about the outcome. Of course, I’ve had some pretty debilitating anxiety–read yesterday’s post–and that has affected me and the outcome of a race. I work harder on mental toughness than I do on physical training. It’s a skill that has served me well, in light of some of the adversity I’ve had the past year or 2.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted..12 Things I Learned From My Worst RaceMy Profile

  3. This is so true! I’m pretty good about channeling the pre-race nerves. It’s the wanna-quit crash I have to focus on talking myself through.
    Coco recently posted..Yay For RainMy Profile

  4. “When we interpret it as fear, it becomes anxiety. When we interpret it as excitement, it’s adrenaline”…love this! So true. I remember being told once that we control those negative voices in our head and therefore we can just as easily turn those into positive ones. It sounds easy but we all know it’s not and it takes practice but it does work 🙂

  5. Hi, Laura!

    I absolutely love the quotes that you shared! Thank you!

    I have always been a worry-freak and it often extends to my races.

    A lot of times, we tend to focus on the physical preparation. We can push ourselves to train as hard as our bodies can tolerate but we often forget the mental aspect of it all.

    Yes, we need to work on mental toughness. Just like physical exercise, it will take time before we get to re-wire our brain to interpret it as excitement instead of fear all the time.

    Even in other aspects of life, this is a great outlook too!
    kateworksout recently posted..Best Ellipticals Under $500 in 2017My Profile

  6. This is great – I struggle with the anxiety (excitement?!) too. I did much better during my last race because I was SO excited to see the new-to-me trails on the course, that helped a ton. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Anxiety is a real force to be reckoned with but I absolutely think if you can channel it for good, it becomes a positive thing. I get both negative anxiety and excitement anxiety. I find that if I meditate, it not only helps me gain better perspective but it also helps me channel it in a more productive way.

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