So you did it – you just signed up for your first race. Congratulations! Training for and completing your first race is one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding processes. There is nothing like trying something new and finishing it on a high.
But now that you’ve signed up, how do you prepare for your first race?
Training for your first race involves so much more than actually running. You’ll need to avoid to injuries, plan a mental strategy, incorporate recovery, learn time management, and adapt your training for your specific race.
Whether you’ve signed up to run a 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, or anything in between, the journey has only just begun. By the time race week arrives you’ll likely be full of nerves, excitement, questions and uncertainty – but it’ll all be worth it.
Here are 9 crucial times for your first race. Everything you need to know for running a race, getting ready, and arriving feeling confident on race day.
9 Tips to Prepare for Your First Race
Don’t skimp out on training.
While it’s tempting to assume that the energy on race day will be enough to push you through those miles, skimping out on training certainly won’t set you up for an enjoyable run.
If you’ve signed up for your very first race – congratulations! Now is the time to put in the hard work, venture outside your comfort zone, and really prepare for race day. While the crowds and atmosphere certainly give you an extra boost on the big day, they can’t help your body complete a distance it’s not prepared for.
Stay motivated during training and remind yourself why you chose this goal to begin with. Sure, it’s going to be hard. Many moments will feel downright uncomfortable. But how will you know what you’re capable of if you only give it half your effort? Take the time to train before your race to set yourself up for a successful, enjoyable race day.
Practice fueling and drinking ahead of time.
If you’re running a 5k or even 10k, you likely won’t need much fuel along the way. But if your first race is a half marathon or marathon – there’s no getting around the fact that you’ll need to fuel and hydrate on the run.
There is hardly anything more challenging that trying to gulp down water while maintaining your goal pace, especially if this is your first attempt. Practice your fuel strategy multiple times on long runs during training. Find a fuel source that works for your body and drink plenty of water along the way.
Take this same strategy with you to the race – even if that means bringing your own liquids because you practiced with something besides the green Gatorade they provide on race day.
Pick up your gear the day before.
The events that take place during your first race week are exciting, nerve wracking and stressful, all at the same time. There’s no need to add to the stress by rushing around on race morning trying to pick up your bib and find a place for that tshirt they just handed you.
Plan ahead so that you’re able to pick up your gear at the expo the day before. This might mean booking a hotel for the night, taking a day off work, or traveling early.
Making a plan to arrive early will help ease the stress and keep you as calm as possible before the big day.
Get all your things out the night before.
Unless you’re running a themed race, you’re probably going to have to wake up early on race day. Waking up earlier than you ever have before may leave you questioning your sanity when you chose to sign up for the race.
However, there are a few ways to lessen the pain of your early morning. Setting all of your gear and clothes out the night before is a great way to stay organized and minimize your time on race morning.
Set out all of your clothes – from your race outfit to hair accessories and socks. Gather your shoes, watch, headphones, running belt, fuel, bib and safety pins and place them all in a pile for easy access on race morning. Having everything in one place helps make sure you don’t forget anything in the chaos of race morning.
Assume that sleep will be tough.
Heading to bed knowing that you’ll be waking up before the sun means that you’ll feel more motivated than ever to get your best night’s sleep. But unfortunately, this hardly ever happens.
Between the nerves, excitement and uncertainties as you mentally prepare for your first race, you’ll likely find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night.
Accept the fact that you’ll probably not get the best sleep the night before your race, which will take some pressure off and help you relax when you find yourself wide awake at 2 am. The most important night of sleep before a race is actually two nights before, so make a point of hitting the hay early during race week and you’ll be all set for race day – even if you missed a few z’s the night before.
Plan your parking ahead of time.
No matter how thoroughly you’ve trained, the logistics of race morning can bring a surprising amount of stress. Parking can be a nightmare, especially at bigger races, and before you know it you’ve walked an extra mile before the race even begins.
Check the parking map ahead of time to create a game plan for race morning. Make sure to look at the time parking lots open and close, their distance to and from the start, and whether or not you’ll be able to leave the parking lot immediately after you finish (there are often road closures while the race is going on).
When planning your morning, remember that early is better than being on time. Allow yourself plenty of time to park, walk to the start and get situated before the gun goes off. That extra half hour may feel like a pain at first, but once the nerves settle in, you’ll likely be happy to have some extra time.
Bring throwaway clothes to the start.
Even summer races can feel chilly at the start! Lining up in the corrals before the sun comes up often means that temperatures at the starting line are cooler than they’ll be throughout the race – especially during fall and spring races.
Find an old pair of sweatpants, a ratty sweatshirt or stained blanket to bring with you to keep you warm while you wait around to start. Head to a thrift shop to buy a cheap pullover if you can’t find any that you’d be willing to toss.
Once it gets close to the start of the race, you’ll be able to toss of your throwaway clothes – many races usually have designated bins for these clothes or gather them up and donate them to charity. These throwaway clothes will keep you warm while you stand around and be easy to get rid of once you start moving and things warm up.
Line up well behind your pace group.
When you’ve been training at a specific pace or have a lofty goal in mind, it’s tempting to line up just a bit ahead of your goal pace to ensure you don’t fall behind.
However, lining up ahead of the pace for which you’ve trained usually means that people will be passing you left and right at the start of the race. You’ll be lined up with a group of runners that plan to run faster than you, which can feel awfully intimidating before your first race.
Make a point to line up well behind your pacer. If there are no designated paces in your starting corral, aim to line up near the back of the corral. It’ll be much easier to be the one passing other runners when things get going than to find yourself holding others up as you cross the start.
Don’t go out too fast.
There is hardly anything that compares to the excitement on race day, whether it’s your first race or your fiftieth. But especially if it’s your first race, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and start out much faster than you had planned.
Make a point to hold yourself back in the beginning, running slightly slower than your goal pace. It will be tough not to get caught up in the excitement, but starting out too fast usually means that you’ll pay for it by struggling near the end.
Once you’ve gotten into a groove and are a few miles into the race, you’ll be able to pick up the pace and really give it your all without having burned yourself out in the beginning.
Look up when you run by cameras.
When things start to get tough, it’s easy to relax your posture and look down in despair. But these moments are certainly not the ones you want to remember once the race is over!
Every race, whether it’s a 5k or marathon, will have its challenging moments. Pay attention to the crowds, your environments, and especially: the cameras! There’s nothing worse than finishing a race with that runners high, only to get home and discover that you look miserable in every single picture.
Look at those cameras when you pass them and smile, no matter how you’re actually feeling. Having a good race photo will only add to your pride and accomplishment once the race is over.
Nothing will compare to the moment you cross the finish line. Whether you’ve trained for months or years, the endorphin rush after finishing your first race is something you will remember forever.
Be smart, focus on your goals, and enjoy every moment along the way.
More tips to prepare for your first race:
- 8 Race Day Tips for Running Your Best Race
- Taper Before a Race: Everything You Need to Know
- Pre-Race Countdown: What to Do the Week Before a Race
- 9 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Running