How to handle pre-race jitters

Unable to sleep before a race, and worrying it might affect your performance? Don't fret, and read on to find out how one runner manages pre-race jitters and not letting the lack of sleep a day before races bother him!

It was the night before my marathon at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2013 – the end of year running event that Singaporeans tend not to miss out on. Having been through a great training block where I have completed the majority of my long runs and comings out injury free, I set a target that seemed impossible when I first started out running – a sub 4 hours’ marathon.
I tossed and turned in my bed without sleeping a wink, worrying if I would be able to sustain the pace like I did during training, and whether my old ITB injury would flare up. An hour before my alarm clock was scheduled to go off, I finally dozed – but not without worries.

As I woke up and went through my usual morning routine, a huge question mark can be literally seen hovering over my head – can I achieve what I set out to do? 
Toeing the start line at 4.30AM with the 3 hours and 45 minutes pacers from Running Department, I relayed my fears to Baldwin – whom I got to know through training with the pacers every Saturday leading up to the race, at East Coast Park. In response, he said: “The sleep the night before doesn’t matter, follow us, maintain your pace, believe in your training and you’ll get there.”
With that, the starting horn went off, as each kilometer felt like a fleeting moment. Crossing the finish line a little faster than 3 hours 39 minutes later, I looked back at the night before, and wondered why did I even worry in the first place.

Being able to listen to someone better than you give you the belief & confidence when things don’t seem to go too well.

But, you may not know me, or even Baldwin (how can you not?!), therefore, my story might not give you that boost of confidence should you not sleep well.
That’s why, I have gone ahead to include some science and research to show it is proven that the sleep before a race doesn’t matter!

In a review by 2 outstanding researchers at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, they sifted through various studies about the impact of sleep and performance.

They found out that while mental cognition suffered, physiological markers like heart rate and breathing were stable – even after days of poor sleep.

In another study, Dutch researchers got 10 men to do an all-out 20 minute cycling time trial. While the control group could sleep, the other group came back to the lab at 11PM the same day, and was not allowed to sleep until finishing the next time trial at 1PM the next day.

Physiologically, both groups covered almost the same distance at 7.68KM and 7.62KM (Control) respectively. Other markers like heart rate was also identical. However, it was important to note that the group that had no sleep estimated their efforts way below their actual output, whereas the group with sleep came close to it.
This study shows that the brain and neural systems are sluggish and tired from lack of sleep even though your body feels pumped up to go full throttle – explaining why we doubt ourselves before a race when we don’t sleep well. 
Below is a guideline on what I personally find works well when you don’t manage to sleep, and are probably reading this the night before your race!

Review past training logs and believe in your training 

Look at your log on Strava, or any personal logbook that you possess, glance over the workouts you felt down and out but managed to complete, the long runs you felt you can run forever and the taper you had leading up to the race. By doing so, you bolster your confidence by reminding yourself that you have already went through hell and worked your ass off for it (if you didn’t, then you have every right to worry!). Think of it this way, “Race day isn’t the most challenging part, it’s the reward for the months of hard work while you were training”.

Set different but all positive goals  

Setting a goal is good, but you might be setting yourself up for world of negative emotions if you fail to achieve it. To counteract this, have different goals set to achieve on race day, depending on your body condition, and uncontrollable race conditions like the weather and possibly getting directed onto the wrong course by the marshal. For example, I tend to like having Goals A, B and C, with A being awesome, B being excellent, and C being good – all correlated to timings that I feel I can achieve with the training I have done. This gives you a confidence booster when you are unable to sleep thinking about your goals, because you would then know that the marathon is unpredictable and anything can happen on race day – and that you have already prepared POSITIVELY for all cases.


Utilize the research done, and if need be, ride on this one story I have shared, coupled with experiences and other stories from your peers and/or family, so as to stay positive even though you might not be able to sleep.


Are you an experienced runner, or just love to write on topics related to running?

Tell us below or through our contact form. We love to hear how you can contribute!

Also, have you registered as a member on LIV3LY yet?

Don’t know what’re the benefits? Fret not. Find out here

Chang Teck
Chang Teck

Your average lifestyle and leisure runner seeking to learn and grow from every experience - good or bad.

facebook Share on Google+ twitter