XCO Race Starts - Start Line Routine
Written by Donna Dall
The week leading into a major race I tend to feel a little nervous. But for me, nerves are good! It means the race is important to me and I have something to achieve. But harnessing this nervous energy into a positive is important; otherwise being too anxious can undo your race.
Ian Robertson, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist in Dublin, Ireland, does a lot of public speaking around the world. And every time he gets a little nervous. Rather than letting himself get paralysed by anxiety, he uses that jolt of stress to improve his performance. “My own best public lectures have only been good because I have felt anxious just beforehand,” Robertson says.
His book, “The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and
Sharper,” explains how we can all benefit from experiencing moderate amounts of stress. The main trick is to tell yourself you’re excited when you are anxious. Your brain won’t know the difference. How does that work? The symptoms of stress and excitement, Robertson pointed out, are similar: pumping heart, sweating skin et cetera.
Here’s a practical example. If you have an important meeting coming up and you feel stress creeping up on you, don’t force yourself to calm down. Take three long and slow breaths, breathing in to the count of five and out to the count of five, Robertson suggests. Stand proud, smile confidently, lightly clench your right hand and say to yourself, “I feel excited!”
This technique is so effective because it teaches you that the symptoms of stress eventually pass. Plus, working through that stress can give you a sense of achievement.
So next time you are on the start line of a major mountain bike race follow this simple start-line routine:
• The 5 minutes to go call – At the start line I will close my eyes and take a minute to focus on what needs to be done. I take a few deep breaths and become present in that moment. I perform some box breathing (breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, breath out for a count of 5 and hold for a count of five, then repeat this a few times). The box breathing helps me to be relaxed and stay focussed.
• The 1 minute to go call – Look up and say in your head “I feel excited!!!!” It’s important to look up where you want to go and not at your front wheel or the person in front!
• The 15 seconds to go call – continue to look up but let go of ALL thoughts and think of nothing – listen for the gun – then go like the clappers!