For many, running is a way to cope with anxiety – a way to release endorphins and help you overcome those negative doubts and thoughts that might affect you on a day-to-day basis. But what happens when running causes you to have those moments of panic or self-doubt or when the thought of a certain run fills you with dread? How do you deal with those feelings and continue to enjoy this popular pastime? We take a look at the various forms of running anxiety and how you can overcome some of these feelings. 

Note – this is not a medical advice blog and we aren’t trained professionals. We cannot determine what constitutes ‘anxiety’ in the medical sense. We are referring to the feelings of panic and nerves when it comes to running. 

Do you ever get running anxiety or fear of running in certain situations? Does the thought of running with a group fill you with panic that you will be too slow or that you might get out of the door for an easy run and discover your legs won’t work? Do you spend all day worrying that you have to get a certain amount of miles in later and really don’t know how you will do it? Running anxiety is more common than you think and even affects the speedy die-hard runners out there. 

Running anxiety affects many 

You could be a seasoned pro that has run regularly for years covering all sorts of distances and terrains, or you may be brand new to running and freaking out about whether you are fast enough, strong enough, or whether you are wearing the right gear or the right shoes. We all get running anxiety from time to time. Even now, I am having one of those wobbles where I don’t want to get up and go out of the door for some sort of fear of nothing in particular. I am telling myself I will go tomorrow! 

Racing nerves are common 

Running nerves, or running anxiety, happens to us all in some form or other. Some of us only get it ahead of races when we are worried whether we are good enough to achieve the PB we so desperately want, or whether we have trained enough. The biggie is the marathon taper anxiety when you worry that tapering for 3 weeks will mean you don’t have the miles in your legs on the day or you haven’t done enough of the right training. 

Group running anxiety 

Then there’s the new runner group nerves. Again, this can affect the runner who considers themself to be the slowest of the group or the person that doesn’t feel like they have the pace in their legs today. The thought of running with a group leaves you feeling cold – that you are going to hold everyone up, that they will be frustrated at your pace. Trust us, we have been there. If you are running with the right group however this will absolutely not be an issue. Many groups actually have a policy of running at the pace of the slowest runner. On social runs, it’s generally not about pace but instead about chatting, enjoying the scenery, and having a bit of fun instead of running alone. 

You can help yourself by running with a group that you feel comfortable with. For example, in our club we have 6 groups all based on speed. I run in group ‘3’ or ‘4’ depending on how I feel and the speed I want to run at. I wouldn’t dream of running with Group 1 – I would be left in their dust after 30 seconds. I could quite happily run at group 6’s pace, however. Runners, unless they have a specific training aim in mind, are more than happy to run slower. My other half is 2 mins a mile faster than me over all distances but thinks nothing of slowing down to run at my pace – he uses these as his easy runs (I generally end up speeding up to my tempo pace but that’s about me and not him.

Coping with anxiety during running

This can happen to anyone whether out for a casual run or during a race. It has certainly happened to me and many of my fellow runners. I have even known one friend to stop halfway convinced there was something medically very wrong with their heart as it was beating so fast. A super-fast heart rate that seems to be beating out of your chest, shortness of breath, panic attacks – these can all happen when running. *

Here are some tips to try and deal with anxious moments or panic during a run/race:

  • Try positive thinking before and during the run 
  • Breathe – I have known people who seem to hold their breath – not good when you need that oxygen pumping 
  • Give yourself some mental affirmations abOut how strong you are and how much you have trained 
  • Slow down and take the pressure off – if you are anxious at a certain speed and cannot maintain – easter the pressure and reduce the pace. You don’t need to let go of it completely – just enough to compose yourself and bring it back
  • Smile! I have used this technique so many times when feeling the strain – smiling may just help you to overcome those nerves and fear. 
  • Don’t overthink it  – the more you focus on the negative, the worse it can become 
  • Use distraction techniques. My favourite is counting my steps. Another one – count to ten and start again – it is only ten – you can get to ten then you will get there again and again. Before you know it, that funny five minutes is over. 
  • Run with company – this can distract you from the issues and help you

*We aren’t medical experts and can’t say that there isn’t a medical reason behind any of the symptoms such as a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath. If in doubt, seek medical advice.

Don’t let the fear stop you 

Sometimes running anxiety or moments of doubt can come from nowhere, sneaking up on you without warning. Other times it can be a new running thing that subsides once you have done a few runs. Occasionally it could be hormonal, or just because you aren’t feeling 100 percent. Don’t let it stop you from running. Find coping mechanisms – run with friends, run slower, shorter runs. If racing feels you with dread, have a break and just do casual runs. If running at a certain pace or over a certain distance triggers it then slow it down or shorten it. Do what you need to do to enjoy the pursuit. Talk to fellow runners about how you feel – chances are they have had similar experiences. Don’t stop running! An avoidance of running will only reinforce the fear making it harder, if not impossible, to run again. Remember – running is supposed to be a hobby, something that releases endorphins and makes you feel better.