5 Tips for Your First Race

So you’ve been running.  And you finally decided to take a stab at racing.  Congratulations!!  You’re going to love it!! But as with all new things, it can be nerve-wracking to find yourself in a crowd of people who all look like they know what they’re doing when it’s your first go-round.  Don’t worry – there’s not much to know.  Whether it’s a 2 mile, a 5k, a 10k or more, here are a few tips for your first race that will ensure you look like one of the regulars.

1. Number on the front.

Your race bib serves as an identifying feature to let the world know that you’re a participant in the race.  In a big race, it may have your name on it so that anonymous fans can cheer for you, specifically YOU when they see you coming.  This way, when you’re coming in hot towards the finish line, the announcer can look up your number and spout off your name to the crowd as if you’re a celebrity.  And also because that’s just how it’s done.  It’s not like football.

Plus, have you ever tried to pin a bib on your back after you already put your shirt on?  It’s nearly impossible.

2. You don’t have to wear the race shirt.

I mean… you can.  But it’s going to be a lot harder for your screaming fans when you tell them to look for you – “I’ll be the one wearing the race t-shirt!”  Perfect.  Just like 20% of all the other runners in the race.

Yes, nearly all races give you a t-shirt.  But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to wear it.  The giving of a t-shirt is not an implication that you are supposed to immediately scrap your plans to wear your carefully selected favorite running shirt and don this new piece of apparel.  Use it as your clean shirt to change into after the race – to signify a job well-done and to identify yourself as a finisher of the race.  And because you’ll stink less than if you’re still wearing the shirt you raced in.

3. Don’t try something new on race day!

It’s the cardinal rule of racing, folks.  This is what we train for.  We are training, not just to get fitter, but also to find out if our shoes are giving us blisters, if those shorts are so short that we’re going to chafe after 6 miles, if milk was, in fact, a bad choice with that breakfast burrito beforehand.  Wear the things you’re comfortable wearing (see #2 above!), eat the foods you’re accustomed to eating at the times you normally eat.  Stick to routines so that your body can do what it’s practiced doing and you can focus all your energy on running a great race and not on trying to suffer through that blister from your brand new shoes until you limp across the finish line with a bloody sock.

4. Line up near your pace group.

When toeing the starting line, the proper etiquette is for runners to line up, fastest towards the front.  This is not to punish slow runners.  It’s to keep the race as safe and successful as possible for all the runners.  If you’re planning to go out at 6:00 min/mi pace, lining up near the back will leave you frustrated, and you’ll waste energy running side to side dodging slower runners in front of you.  So quit sandbagging and move to the front.  And if you’re planning to run a slower pace, then kindly line up behind the runners who plan to run faster.  If everyone follows this rule, then they won’t slow you down.  Most races offer convenient pacing signs in the starting corral so that you know where your pace group is situated.

Another benefit to lining up near people who share your pace is that you won’t be tempted to get swept away with the crowd and start out faster or slower than you intended – which can make for a bad experience later in the race.  Starting closer to the back isn’t a disadvantage if the race is being chip-timed, as most are.  The clock won’t start for you until you cross the starting line.

5. But don’t hold back too much!

There’s something special about race day.  You’ve done your training, and hopefully you’ve rested a little bit before the big day so your legs are fresh.  The atmosphere is electric with fit people milling about ready for action.  The music, the competition, the inspiration, the adrenaline… it’s the perfect combination of factors to help you achieve your best possible performance.  And that’s why you can expect to run a little bit faster on race day than you would on a normal training run.  If you’re running comfortably, but you look down at your Garmin and find that you’re a little ahead of your training pace, that’s great!  You should plan to run a little faster than your training pace.

And most importantly, if it feels good, then you’re doing something right!  Have fun!  That’s what most of us are here for anyways.  If you look around, you’ll notice that there are an awful lot of runners who aren’t there because they expect to win prize money.  They’re there because they enjoy this.  They’re addicted, like me, and you’re about to be too.

Good luck racers!!

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