Pre-race jitters - fight or flight!
Last week I had the privilege to be at home for Thanksgiving for the first time in THIRTEEN YEARS! Since middle school, my parents would pack us kids into our minivan and travel west to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival that happens over Thanksgiving week. We would ski as a family, check out the Grizzly and Wolf Center, see an IMAX movie and enjoy the peaceful nature of skiing through the woods with thousands of other skiers! My parents continued this tradition even as us kids left home for college and were unable to make the trip with them, but this year they decided not to go. Instead, they are celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday in British Columbia, Canada for a week of skiing and watching my first races!
Being home for Thanksgiving was a great way for me to see lots of friends and family, visit a few high school team practices and prepare for the racing season. It was also a perfect opportunity for my sister, Marit, and I to plan a surprise birthday party for my dad! 30 years ago, my mom threw him a surprise party and I am told it was quite the evening… She repeated this again for his 40th birthday and my dad started to notice the trend. While he appreciated the love and thoughtfulness behind these parties, I think they were also a lot to recover from ;) My dad made my mom promise to never again throw him a surprise party, however, Marit and I never agreed to this!
We wanted to keep the evening fairly relaxed as we knew everyone was coming off a busy Thanksgiving week. The suspense was building for us all day, I was in charge of getting him to the brewery where the party was at and I was feeling the pressure. I decided to treat this like a ski race and told myself to stay calm, act like everything is totally normal, and tell myself that I can only control the factors that I can control, the rest is fate. The evening was a huge success and I think my dad really enjoyed the party we threw him. It was great to see so many people come out to celebrate!
Throughout this week though, I’ve been dealing with some pretty crazy pre-race jitters. My first races of the season are this weekend and will be at the Supertour in Canmore, B.C. This time of year is tough for me as I haven’t done any races yet, but I’m sick and tired of just training and doing workouts. My training volume decreases as I prepare for the season and with it, I think to myself, “am I even doing enough?” or on the flip side, “am I doing too much?” It’s hard to know at this point without races to test myself or get a feel for where I’m at. I just have to trust the process. I wouldn’t say I’m usually someone who gets super nervous about ski races. That being said, most of my life there wasn’t much riding on my races or results. I have some pretty big goals for this season and beyond and a lot of that does ride on how I do in the first few races of the season. Without good results in the next few weeks, I won’t be able to qualify to race on the World Cup later in the season and that’s pretty much everything I’ve been working toward. So, this year I’m feeling a bit more nervous about all of it.
Last week I was talking to my future brother-in-law, Nick, (yay!) about some of my nerves going into the season. As a marathon runner looking to qualify for the Olympic Trials, Nick understands the mental stress behind racing. He is also a psychologist and had some pretty insightful things to say. Nick explained to me that the emotions fear and excitement are caused by the same hormones in your body. Cortisol and adrenaline are both in affect and it’s up to your brain to determine whether you perceive these hormonal signals as fear or excitement. In addition, there is sympathetic nervous system arousal which causes the “fight or flight” mode. Nick used an example of being on a roller coaster. Half of the people on the roller coaster are thinking about how fun it is to go up and down and all around and perceive the experience as excitement. Meanwhile, the other half of the people on the roller coaster are thinking about how the cart could go flying off the track at any second and everyone could plummet to their deaths. These people are obviously taking the cortisol and adrenaline and turning them into fear.
Nick then explained to me that if you take the anchor, which in this case is the image of riding on a roller coaster, and you picture it going well, then you can switch the way your brain perceives the cortisol and adrenaline. For example, if the people fearing the roller coaster were to imagine themselves ahead of time on the ride and say out loud, “I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m excited!” Then, they can actually change the feeling of fear into excitement. He claims I can do the same thing for my racing!
I’m not saying that I’m afraid to race, or that I am not excited about the season. But I think my body is taking on both of these emotions right now and it’s causing a little bit of craziness inside my brain. So, I decided to take Nick’s advice and have been picturing myself in my first race this weekend. I’ve been imagining myself skiing really hard up and over the top of the hill and have been saying OUT LOUD, “I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m excited!” The first time I did this and actually said these words out loud, I got this tingly feeling all over my body! Nick told me that I can build this image each time I think about it by adding more details. My parents are on the side of the hill cheering, I’m catching the girl in front of me, my fingers are really cold, but I ignore that feeling and keep on going… all of a sudden my sympathetic nervous system is ready to switch from flight mode and into fight mode!
I’m not sure how I will race this coming weekend, but I do know that no matter what happens it is not the end of the world or the end of my season. There is ALWAYS more to come, and I know that I’ve enjoyed the process in getting here. I already feel way more excited than nervous or fearful about my races and I can’t wait to get to Canmore to charge into the season!
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Professional skier, traveling the world, exploring the culture, racing my heart out.