Categories: Motivation

Kate Grace’s no-fail trick for calming her pre-race nerves

November 16, 2017

Even Olympians are subject to a stomach full of butterflies on race day.

Whether you’ve spent 16 weeks training for a marathon or a lifetime leading up to your first 5K, it’s inevitable that in the last few weeks, days, and hours before your goal race, your nerves will start kicking into high gear.

For some, that means a stomach full of butterflies and an overactive mind. For others, pre-race nerves manifest in phantom injuries, lack of sleep, and incessant to-do-list making.

For Polar athlete and Olympian Kate Grace, who represented the USA in the 800m event in Rio in 2016, learning to quiet her brain was absolutely key in order to perform well on the track.

People don’t realize how important the mental aspect is – and how much you can undercut yourself if you don’t get it right.

“Any profession where you work for so long and have this one moment in which you can show it all off can come with a lot of stress,” Grace says. “People don’t realize how important the mental aspect is – and how much you can undercut yourself if you don’t get it right. It’s almost empowering to me, and it’s so impressive when people are able to consistently execute under great pressure. It’s a physical feat, but it’s also mental.”

So how does the California native actually conquer those mental feats? With a tactic called discomfort training that she learned from Dr. Marc Schoen.

“The idea is that you figure out when you start feeling normal signs of nervousness, and you realize that that’s your body reacting – but it doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” Grace says. “It can mean you’re excited! So one thing I do is think to myself, ‘This is an excitement thing, not a fear thing.’ I’m anticipating it.” Discomfort training doesn’t just come into play before a big race or game – it can work in any uncomfortable situation. “Maybe you’re in a really hot car, or you’re getting your blood drawn,” says Grace. “Anytime you start to feel uncomfortable, you can use this mental tactic to practice building a strong inner core where you feel calm and are still able to focus and make rational decisions even though there’s something uncomfortable happening.”

Beyond just telling herself to shift focus, Grace employs physical and mental cues to change perspective. “I take cues from music – I like the song ‘Clearest Blue’ by Chvrches – or I think of someone I love or something I’m grateful for, like my sister,” says Grace. “They remind me to go to that place where I’m calm and ready. I heard once that gratitude is the only emotion you can will yourself to feel. So by bringing in gratitude, you can push the feeling of fear out of your brain.”

And she doesn’t just wait for race day to get her brain in the game: “I’m constantly working on becoming a discomfort master,” she says. “I tell myself that everything I need to succeed is within me, and it’s here to stay.”

In the spotlight

Kate Grace

Kate Grace

Track and field athlete, 2016 Olympic Trials 800m Champion, 2016 Olympic 800m finalist and #1 ranked U.S. 800m runner by Track & Field News in 2016. Alumni of Yale University, Kate is only the second female graduate in history to represent the school in Track and Field at the Olympic Games. During her time at Yale, Grace set four school records, made it to the NCAA championships in the 800 and 1,500-meter races and earned NCAA All-American honors four times. Kate Grace was the lone American to advance to the women’s 800-meter final in the 2016 Rio Olympics.  A few weeks later she posted a season’s best 1:58.28 at the highly competitive Weltklasse Zürich Diamond League 800. Her mother, fitness icon Kathy Smith, instilled a love of athletics in Kate from an early age and has always been a positive influence and source of advice.