Taming Those Race Day Butterflies

Posted by Filed Under: Learn to Run, Running Tips

Everyone gets the race-day-butterflies, that nervous, flip-floppy feeling that keeps us bouncing up our toes and getting back in line for the porta-potty. A small dose of nerves gives us that excited edge that revs up the adrenaline on race day. But what to do when those race-day butterflies wage a full-scale assault?
Here are some tips to ease race-day anxiety.

Sleep It Off:

Race ‘veterans’ will tell you that sleep is hard to come by the night before a race. The more ‘important’ the race, the fewer the Zzzz’s you’ll catch.

One way to combat this is to make sure you are well-rested the week leading up to the race, with special focus on getting a good night’s sleep two nights before the event. If you find yourself tossing and turning the night before the event, try to relax and remind yourself that adrenaline will get you thru the day (and you can take a nap afterwards).


If you have never run in a race before, volunteer at one before your first big day. If you don’t have time to volunteer, then go be a spectator and cheer on some runners! Take note of how things work at the start/finish area.

Be a Scout—Be Prepared:

Pre-register for the race. This will eliminate the added stress of filling out forms and having cash handy. Just check-in, pick up your race bib and head to the start.

Put everything together the night before. Print out directions/maps to the race and make sure you have an extra copy of any race instructions that may have been on a web page or race application. Lay out your clothes the night before. Make sure you have what you need for breakfast. Leave nothing to chance. If you think ‘Oh, I’ll grab that in the morning’—stop and do it then. Plus, that’s one less thing to keep you awake.

If you tend to live more spontaneously when deciding to go to a race, pack a ‘Race Bag’ and keep it in your car. Make sure it has all the essentials that you like to have on race day, such as: gel/nutrition bars, band-aids, Body Glide, deodorant, dry socks, toilet paper/tissues, baby wipes, towel, dry change of clothes, flip flops, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, cash, etc.

Buddy System:

Make plans to travel to the race with a friend/family member so you have someone to chatter with and help navigate to the race.

If you are racing alone, take the time to make a race-day friend. A friendly question like “Have you ever run this race/this distance before?” will open up a whole conversation while you are waiting in line for registration, at the porta-potties, or at the start line.

Strategize and Visualize:

Set different goals for the race—your ‘dream’ goal, your ‘challenging-but-realistic’ goal and a ‘happy’ goal. It doesn’t have to be based on your finishing time. For example, your dream goal could be to run a 5K without any walk breaks. You decide! Then, think about that goal and visualize yourself achieving it. Imagine what it will it feel like to cross the finish line.

Last Minute Reality Check:

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not there to win the race; your livelihood does not depend on you crossing the finish line first. Relax. Soak up the good vibes, take in the scenery and smile.

Don’t let those butterflies keep you from racing!

About Dianna

Dianna, also known as the Running Chick with the Orange Hat (Running Chick for short) moved from being a periodic gym rat to a runner in January of 2003 during a botched New Year's resolution. Her newly rediscovered fondness for running quickly blossomed into a full-blown obsession. Within a year and a half, she went from suffering through two miles on the treadmill to running a marathon. Cotton was discarded for wicking fabrics and gel was no longer something she put in her hair. Since then, she has continued to challenge herself, first with achieving her Boston Qualifying time, then running a PR at Boston and doing an occasional sprint distance triathlon. Future endeavors include a trail marathon and longer distance triathlons. Dianna has been blogging about her running adventures since April 2004, even getting an article 'published' online at Runner's World as well as capturing the attention of a local news channel. She can discuss all things related to running, swimming, and biking, at great length, without ever getting bored. In her free time, she enjoys pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, with her husband and multi-racial canine in Connecticut, U.S.A.

  1. Dori on August 23rd at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the great tips, RC. I thought I knew them, but I learned something with setting the 3 goals–that they don’t have to be based on finishing time. I like that. We runners have a tendency to get too hung up on finishing time.

  2. Jeanne on August 23rd at 7:42 pm

    a good reminder, rc!

  3. RunnerGirl on August 24th at 10:11 am

    Nice article! Thank you for the tips, and congrats on this post! 🙂


  4. The Complete Running Network » Blog Archive » Five Tips for Running Your First Race on September 3rd at 7:55 pm

    […] It’s your first race. You’re mostly calm. You’ve done everything you can to tame those race-day butterflies. You arrived safely at the appropriate race location, and you even figured out where to pick up your bib number. Now what? […]

  5. Desert Race Forum on August 19th at 6:17 am

    Wow great post.. glad to find it…hope its work for me….