Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Mental Training

Don’t Psych Yourself Out On Race Day

Battle race day woes with performance psychology.

Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All Access
$1.33 / week *

  • A $500 value with everything in the Print + Digital Plan plus 25+ benefits including:
  • Member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Outside, SKI, Backpacker, Clean Eating, and more
  • Today’s Plan training platform with customized programs
  • Gaia GPS Premium with hundreds of maps and global trail recommendations, a $39.99 value
  • Professional race photos from FinisherPix
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+
Trail Runner Magazine

Print + Digital
Special Price
$0.46 / week *

  • Annual subscription to Trail Runner magazine
  • Access to all member-exclusive content on
  • Ad-free access to
Join Trail Runner

*Outside memberships are billed annually. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

How do I keep from psyching myself out on race day? —Laura, Durham, North Carolina

This is an amazing question to start with—acknowledging performance anxiety is the first step to gaining control over it. To understand how to overcome race-day (and race-week) nerves, it’s key to zoom out and look at performance psychology.

A 2017 article in the Journal of Sports Medicine took a deep dive into sport-related anxiety and provides a theoretical basis for understanding race-day nerves. First, realize that it’s normal. That article quotes hockey star Sydney Crosby as saying, “I don’t think you’re human if you don’t get nervous.” Breaking stigma in your own brain is an essential goal at the outset.

RELATED: Here’s How To Build Mental Toughness

The next step is grouping it together with mental health more generally. A little bit of nerves could actually improve performance; a lot of anxiety could be debilitating, and not just in sport performance. Just like with other facets of mental health, talking to a mental health professional could be helpful for many athletes.

Short of mental-health treatment, after recognizing the issue, the next step is to gain power over it. There are tons of methods in psychology that vary by the person, but one great option is to practice positive psychology. A 2011 article in the World Journal of Sport Sciences even called for a new field based on positive psychology in sport performance.

RELATED: Running Isn’t Therapy

The end goal of that practice can vary. For athletes I coach, including top professionals, the goal is to reach a point of unconditional self-acceptance and love (often including working with a mental-health professional). An athlete might write down, “I am enough, no matter what,” then follow that up with affirmations or mantras he or she can use in training and racing.

On top of that, it can help some athletes to think about what they are actually fearful of. Often, it’s “failure” or “pain” or “humiliation.” Through positive psychology, it’s possible to flip the narrative. Failure can be a friend that adds richness to life, pain a teacher that helps you grow, humiliation a manifestation of a lack of unconditional self-acceptance. The end goal is to gain power over self-judgment, understanding it’s OK to care, but not to define your self-worth based on races … or anything else. Because, after all, you are perfect the way you are.

RELATED: Mental Health Used to Be Taboo in Sports. These Researchers Are Changing That.