No matter the distance, running your first race can be a nerve-wracking experience. I had no idea what to expect when I ran my first race – a 5K in the middle of winter. I’d been running for a couple of years, but had never considered getting involved in races, until I just signed up on a whim after seeing a flyer in my gym.
Many years and many, many races later and it’s pretty clear I’m hooked on racing! 😉 This installment in my running tips series is all about preparing for your first race. Here are all the tips I wish I had known back then!
Registering and Bib Pickup
Most races these days have online registration, even the smaller races. Generally, the earlier you register for a race, the less expensive the entry fee will be. Once you’re registered, the next step will be picking up your bib number and any goodies you receive for entering (most likely a t-shirt, but you might get a goodie bag if you’ve signed up for a bigger race). Usually the pickup happens a few days before the race. If you can do the pickup in advance, I highly recommend it, since you’ll have everything you need the morning of the race and won’t have to calculate extra time to collect your bib before the start.
If, however, you don’t have a choice but to pickup the morning of your race, check the race website to find out what time pickup ends. It usually closes about 30 minutes before the start of the race, so you want to make sure you make it within their window. Also, check whether the race you’re entering offers a baggage option. Smaller races may not have this available, in which case you’ll have to organize a friend or family member to hang onto your race shirt and anything else you might get for registering while you run.
Run the race route ahead of time
If you’ve signed up for a destination race, this might not be a possibility, but if it’s somewhere close to where you live, it’s a great idea to run at least part of the course so you feel more familiar on race day. That first 5K I ran was a very, very small event and I hadn’t actually even looked at the course map prior to getting there for the start! There were a couple of moments where I was running alone, wondering if I was still on the right course! (It was a loop, so I was being crazy, but the thought did still cross my mind).
For a destination race, if you can’t run on part of the course ahead of time, you can at least check the race website, which will usually tell you important details about the course, like where the hills, water stations and porta-potties are located.
The night before
There are a few things you can do the night before a race to make sure the morning goes super smoothly. First off, get your racing gear all laid out. You can pin your bib to your shirt ahead of time. For the most part, your timing chip is part of your bib these days, but if you have a physical, separate chip, you can lace it into your sneakers the night before, too. This way, you can roll out of bed and get dressed without searching frantically for your socks, or your right shoe.
While you’re at it, plan out your schedule for the morning. If you’re taking public transport to the race, go online and check schedules and any weekend changes. Make sure you’re leaving enough time to drop your stuff at the baggage area, use the bathroom, warm up, get into your corral etc before the start time. If you’re driving, check traffic reports as soon as you wake up to avoid delays.
Don’t change anything about your pre-run routine
This is true of both your morning routine and the night before. It’s never a good idea to try a new food the night before a race, or decide you should have an omelette for breakfast if you usually eat toast before running. The last thing you want is to be praying for the Porta-potty while you’re running. With the inevitable nerves of your first race, your stomach may be prone to acting up, so don’t make it worse!
Likewise, don’t break out a brand new outfit or shoes for your first race. Try running in your race clothes and shoes a few times at least, to make sure they are comfortable and don’t rub or chafe you.
Support on the course
Make a plan with your cheering section (i.e. any family and friends you’ve convinced to get up early to watch you race) so you know where to look for them on the course. Let them know roughly what time they can expect to see you, so they’re on the lookout. Especially in bigger races, it’s surprisingly easy to miss seeing your loved ones among the spectators.
While you’re at it, plan when and where you’ll meet up with them after you finish. The area around the finish line is usually a zoo, so it’s a good idea to pick a spot away from there to meet. This is especially important if you’re not carrying a phone, or if you aren’t using the baggage option and are relying on someone to meet you with your things.
Finally – have fun!
It’s your first race, so enjoy it! No matter what your distance, or your time goal, remember you will still be running a PR! 😉 Make sure your bib is visible if there are race photographers on the course, too.
It’s normal to have nerves before a race. Most races I’ve done I have been super nervous leading up to the race and not slept well the night before. It happens to everyone, so don’t panic! The nerves will probably go away only when you start running.
What was your first race?
What tip would you give a first-time racer?