“You gotta get mad… really pissed off, and harness that energy into your racing to beat the competition.”
This is the advice I was given before race day as a High School racer. With advice like this, it is not hard to understand why, I was a huge headcase before races. The headphones would go in and I would try to focus on beating the competition, try to “get mad” that they were going to beat me.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this was not an effective way for me to control the pre-race jitters. A few years later, someone recommended that I laugh as much as possible the Friday before a big weekend. Sure enough, that positive energy transcended the night and carried me through one of the best 5K’s I’d had up to that point.
Last week, while crunching numbers at my desk, I was reminded of how important it is to be happy the night before a big race. Sophie Scott was quietly presenting her TED talk in the background on my computer, discussing laughter. In her talk, Why We Laugh, Scott refers to a group of studies by Dr. Robert Levenson. These studies* find that married couples who manage stress though laughter (or other positive emotions) are more capable of getting though difficult or stressful times and are happier within their relationships.
Sophie Scott: Why We Laugh
A relationship with Nordic Skiing is no different. Racing and training place an immense amount of stress on a person, especially during the racing season. The racers that are able to best control and balance this stress are the ones that will achieve personal bests. Having experienced both extreme happiness and anger/fright before important races, I have found that the results in Dr. Levenson’s study holds true for racing too. High volumes of laughter the night before a race has directly correlated to a high amount of mental clarity the next morning.
I know laughter isn’t the magic ticket for everyone, but it’s fun to see that there is research behind the personal experiences myself and teammates have had. So whether you end up pulling out the deck of Cards Against Humanity, playing Charades, spending the evening listening to your coach dramatize “racing in the good ol’ days” or doing whatever else makes your face hurt from smiling; take some time to clear your head and forget about the stresses that tomorrow will bring. Laugh lots and surround yourself with happy people.
This sport is supposed to be fun! Remember: Happiness is paramount.
*One of the research papers referenced in the TED talk