Coach Suzie Cooney, calm as a (sea) cucumber in the big blue abyss. Photo: Erik Aeder

Coach Suzie Cooney, calm as a (sea) cucumber in just about any condition. Photo: Erik Aeder

Pro Tips | How To Manage Pre-Race Anxiety

Suzie Cooney is the go-to personal trainer for standup paddlers on the hotbed of Maui. She's also a professional SUP athlete, spokesperson, SUP coach, event director and racer. Her book “How to Increase Your Standup Paddling Performance”  (available at is a complete guide for taking your paddling to the next level, both mentally and physically. In this excerpt from the book, Cooney gives us the break down on how to keep calm and carry on come race day. "Don't worry yourself right out of the race," Cooney says. "It's best to embrace it and stare at it in the face because you need a little anxiety to keep you on your toes.”

Prepare. A few things you can do are quite simple: a few days before the race, make a list of things you'll need for race day. Get everything laid out and ready. That would also include notes on your strategy and game plan. Make sure you know where you're going, what time the pre-race meeting is, where to go for registration, etc.

Breathe. Next, learn how to control your breathing with deep breath exercises, preferably done in a quiet and calm area. Even if you're in your car, at least that space is private. The idea is to get yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes, then nose-breathe in and out for a count of four on the inhale, and an equal count of four on the exhale. You can also get a meditation app on your smartphone.

Develop a routine. Having a pre-race ritual or routine is a great way to calm the nerves. Think about race day as just another day of training. You do this everyday and this is simply one of those days. You prepare your breakfast, go over your checklist, maybe sit for a while and quietly visualize the day ahead and do some light stretching.

Stretch. Simple and gentle stretching can help calm your mind and relax your nervous system. Focus on each muscle group one at a time as you lengthen it. I'd suggest doing this an hour or two before your event. This could also be a part of your routine.

Think positive. Letting any negative thoughts creep in can cause you to spiral down quickly and break down your confidence. Tell yourself, "I'm a paddling machine. You can do this. This is going to be a great day. It's all about having fun."

Expect the unexpected. Not everything will go as planned so you need to have a plan and the mental fortitude to get through. Being resilient to adversity, chaos and high levels of stress go hand-in-hand with managing anxiety. Shift your thinking to "I can do this," rather than, "Can I do this?"

Stay healthy. There have been times that I've gotten myself so worked up for an event I could almost feel my body getting sick. Then I'd get more stressed and worried. Take care of your body and guard it with lots of sleep, no alcohol and minimal internal and external stress. This will help come race day.

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