Arciaga manages pre-race anxiety

Phoebe Vo, Staff Writer

Ryland Arciaga (12) discusses strategies with teammates at League Finals, Nov. 3. These pre-race talks help to calm the runners’ anxiety for the run.

The sun burned on Ryland Arciaga’s (12) skin as he stepped onto the starting line beside the other runners. His eyes focused on the long path ahead of him as he took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves.

Ever since Arciaga first joined the cross country team in his freshman year, he said he had experienced repeated bouts of stress before his races as well as in the days leading up to it. Even now, having stepped away from the sport for two years, Arciaga said he still feels the same anxiety.

“It’s always nerve-wracking stepping onto the line and having that pressure because you don’t want to let yourself down, but also your teammates,” he said. “It can sometimes get in your head.”

According to Arciaga, this race anxiety is a normal thing that athletes experience differently, and it can be a lot to deal with. For him, it manifested in his thoughts; he worried he would not perform the way he wanted.  Arciaga added that he feels additional pressure since he’s now a senior and a role model for the underclassmen, even though this is only his second year of cross country.

“I think it is advantageous to be there as a younger athlete because you can kind of learn the way through,” he said. “But being a senior and having to manage it can be a little more difficult, as I’m trying to set a good example for the underclassmen even though I’m still learning how to deal with that anxiety too.”

For all the tension and insecurity that race anxiety may bring, there is a good side to it, Arciaga has found. He said it can help reduce his adrenaline at times and help him find a equilibrium between stress and anxiety, so he is able to perform his best at meets. Arciaga does this by practicing self-care within the days and moments before the race.

“It’s just about getting into that right mental state,” he said. “My method is like the night before I’ll take an ice bath, or I’ll stretch out, roll out, and eat healthy because that makes me more mentally and physically prepared so I’m not worried that I’m not ready. When it comes down to racing, you just have to take a deep breath. It’s a long race so you have to know that it’s not going to feel the best and you just have to push through.”

During the race, Arciaga stays focused on his running in order to deal with his race anxiety and stress.

“I like to focus on my technique, my running form, and my racing strategy mostly,” Arciaga said. “That way, I am not too focused on the stress, or how other people think I should do, or how I think I should do.”

With these strategies, Arciaga is able to establish some sense of control over his nerves, which has allowed him to perform well at meets.
However, even if he doesn’t run as fast as he had hoped, Arciaga said he does not let one bad race get to him.

“The only thing that matters [is that] you went out there and you put in your best effort,” Arciaga said. “If you are disappointed, you just have to put in the work during practice and put in that training that is going to make you a better athlete.”

Arciaga further enjoys knowing he has control of his own running times by showing up to practices.

“Cross country and track [are] such great sports because it’s about the work you put in,” Arciaga said. “If you’re putting in the effort at practice and taking care of your body, you shouldn’t have to worry.”

Regardless, Arciaga said that even if you know you are putting in the right training, race anxiety can still stem from many places. Another source of his performance anxiety comes from comparing himself to his family members who have had notable achievements in the same sport.s

“I have had uncles who are professional athletes, my parents are both runners, and my sister is ranked nationally, so there is always this pressure of ‘everyone else in my family is doing so well, I should be doing the same’,” he said. “But it pushes me to do better, and I try not to focus on other people and compare as much as I focus on making it my own responsibility how I want to perform.”

Mostly, Arciaga said, by the encouragement of friends and family, has his race anxiety been relieved. Even if there might be a little friendly competition here and there, especially between him and his sister, Kailyn Arciaga (10), everyone helps to support others in their individual goals.

However, in the end, no matter how hard Arciaga has tried to remove it, there is still that race anxiety, and he has learned to accept that. “I don’t think it ever gets better, it’s always the same pressure, but I think you just [have to] deal with it and take it for what it is,” Arciaga said. “The best thing to do is to take a deep breath and embrace [the anxiety] as a part of the sport.”