The capacity to hold it at threshold without panicking is vital for a good performance, but blinded by the lust some tend to blow up prematurely. The feeling of excitement starts with butterflies in the stomach, then the sweating, heavy breathing and racing heart all kick in . These jitters are natural, but even for the most practiced, if these fears become uncontrolled they can cause performance anxiety. Apprehension, tension and nervousness in both the mind and body. Competitive stress can be positive, and an important part of preparation. Conversely negative thoughts can cause pressure and anxiety, having a negative effect that is transferred from the central nervous system to the musculoskeletal system to the detriment of running performance.
The head is the home of analysis, logic and thought. It’s where things are reasoned, lists of “pros” and “cons” are made and it establishes the rationale to stay safe and within your comfort zone. The heart is the where our intuition lives, our “true identity”. The signals of the heart can guide our choices provided we don’t let the doubts, fears, and anxieties from our head paralyze our decision-making. The heart sends more information to the brain than vice versa (McCraty, Atkinson and Bradley, 2004a). It plays an extraordinary role in our lives far beyond just pumping blood. There are 40,000 sensory neurons relaying information to the brain from the cardiac muscle, these neurons and their signals sent to the brain can affect our emotional experiences. So the heart and brain working together play a critical role in controlling our anxiety when running or racing. Just like in life it’s a negotiation between the head and the heart (McCraty, Atkinson and Bradley, 2004b).
This fear and self-doubt of the mind can manifest physically in runners. When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. It can be pacified by following a routine. Poor performance is often blamed on a failure to follow ceremony or the wrong choice of gear, rather than personal responsibility. But all these strange, small and seemingly inconsequential beliefs can actually be linked to improved performance in athletes because they may afford them a sense of control over events(Schippers & Van Lange, 2006). Elite athletes are more superstitious than amateurs. The greater the skill and task-difficulty of a sport the more superstitious the participants tend to be (Dömötör et al., 2016) A 1986 experiment which investigated the effect rituals carried out before taking a free throw during a basketball game showed that “Rituals” work because the person believes in them and expects a positive outcome as a result of following their ceremonial routine (Lobmeyer & Wasserman, 1986).
Even with the most practiced routine anxiety has a way of creeping in and bringing negative thoughts. As peculiar as it may seem a smile can disarm the worst of nerves and defuse any tension that builds in athletes. Many top runners, including marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, strategically use periodic smiling during runs to relax and cope with the discomfort. Runners who smile use less oxygen, run more economically and find the pace easier than those who frown (Brick, McElhinney and Metcalfe, 2018). Smiling is associated with happiness and enjoyment, states that encourage us to relax. It’s a trick that especially useful for runners who need to conserve as much energy as possible over the course of a long-distance run. Even when the miles become gruelling and the aches and pains set in, laugh, say hello to fellow runners, grin at supporters and cameras on the side-lines. Remembering that the stress and nerves mean you care, you’re engaged and invested but just mange them with a smile.