Overcome jitters ahead of your first triathlon of the season with the help of psychologist Dr Victor Thompson

Triathlon Training: Banish Pre-Race NervesFeeling nervous before your first triathlon is normal. Even seasoned competitors get anxious before their first race of the year, at key events or even every event they do! There are two main reasons for experiencing pre-race nerves:

  1. It’s important to you. It may be that the three sports in one format will be a big challenge for you, it’s your first open-water swim, you have a goal time you are aiming for, or a person you want to beat.
  2. The outcome is uncertain. A lot can happen in the course of a triathlon and because we are intelligent animals we’re good at imagining nightmare “what if?” situations. These add fuel to our anxiety, giving us more scenarios to think through. The nerves and sensations we experience are a consequence of stress hormones– the main contributor being adrenaline – which get released into our bloodstream. These fight or flight hormones have prepared humans for thousands of years to respond quickly to threats. This response can help us perform better on race day. Try to remember this when you are feeling stressed and different to usual.

These tips should help you too: 

Think about why 

Why you have chosen to do the race? Is it for fun, camaraderie with your friends, to beat friends, a challenge, or something else? Keep this in mind when you prepare.

Prepare physically and practically

Consider what will cause you to worry on race day. Do your best in training to practise these elements. So if you’re worried about completing the distance in the swim, then go out there and do it. If it’s running after being on the bike, practise it. If it’s swimming, cycling or running at a certain pace, practise it. If it’s something to do with your kit – for example swimming in a wetsuit – then, yes, you’ve guessed it, practise it before race day. As the big day approaches, remind yourself of all this relevant practice, which will help you feel more confident.

Play films in your mind

Practise imagining what you will do on race morning once you arrive at the race site: how you will warm up, swim, transition, bike, transition, run and feel at the finish after giving it your best. Imagine how you will manage each element of the event. If you notice that you have gaps in your film (for example, how many laps are there of the bike course?) seek out this information before the starter’s pistol fires.

Expect to feel nervous

When it comes to race day, you may have slept poorly the night before, may need to visit the loo more than normal and struggle to eat and drink normally. This is all quite common and has little or no impact on performance for most athletes.

Focus on you

Forget about what others are doing and focus on you: why are you racing, what are your goals for the day? The other competitors are people just like you, simply focused and going after their goals of challenging themselves. Don’t let yourself become intimidated or distracted by them.

– Dr Victor Thompson is a London-based clinical sports psychologist who works with amateurs and elites. He competes in triathlons, including Age-Group World Championships. sportspsychologist.co.uk

Make it work for you: three tricks to nix nerves:


Think about what you want from the event. Ensure your goal is achievable. Write it down and remind yourself of it.


Do daily imagery practise. Sit in a quiet place and imagine arriving at the race, how you’ll feel, what you ‘ll do, how you’ll perform.


Our minds chatter all day, but keep the self-talk helpful: on how you’re ready and how satisfied you’ll feel at the end.