So you’ve decided to run a race — congrats! Paying the registration fee is the first and probably easiest step. Now it’s time to get out the calendar and start plotting the next couple of months leading up to the big day. While figuring out training, gear and nutrition can seem overwhelming, there’s nothing to sweat — so long as you’re prepared.
Follow these tips to ensure your race day experience goes off without a hitch.
1. Start simple. If you are new to the racing game, your first race should be short and manageable (think: a 5K or 10K), says Olympic medalist in the 10,000 meters Lynn Jennings. “Being a new runner means getting used to a training load, so picking shorter distance races gives you the satisfaction of completing a race without having to train for months,” she explains.
2. Stay close to home. Keeping it local cuts down on the stress of travel and all the other unknown variables like where to eat and whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep. First-timers should also consider opting for a smaller race, which means more personal touches such as less crowded roads and easy packet pick up, Jennings says. “You get easier logistics and no big expos to negotiate.”
3. Find a plan. Before hitting the pavement, you’ll need a plan of attack for getting yourself in race-ready shape. “Do some talking with friends who are [more experienced] runners so that you understand the basics of a training plan,” says Jennings. “New runners should be conservative with miles, mix up hard and soft surfaces, and take enough rest so that small aches and pains don’t get larger.”
4. Add some speed. A good training strategy will also incorporate some faster running, Jennings says. “A credible plan will include all of these elements as well as how to progress as you gain fitness and experience,” Jennings points out. “Beware of plans that promise results. Training effectively is an individual thing — one size fits all is not a good approach.”
5. Find your glass slipper. While it may be tempting to buy out your local running store, there’s no need to break the bank. Good shoes are the most essential place to start. “You should have at least two pairs of running shoes that are just right for you,” Jennings advises. “Don’t pick a pair because a friend has them.” Instead, head to a specialty shop that can assess your foot type, running form and other important factors in choosing the optimal shoe for you. A neutral runner training for a 5K will need a very different shoe than an over-pronator training for their first half-marathon.
6. Gear up. Modern technical wear is another must-have, and can be found on the cheap at local big-box retailers as well as at your local running store. Clothing that is running specific, such as shorts, capris, singlets and other wicking tops will make the going more comfortable. Good running socks are also essential, says Jennings.
7. Log your miles. While GPS watches are not a necessity, many runners find comfort in tracking their miles and speed with a wearable tech companion. There are also plenty of run-specific apps to make the job easier. Or, if you prefer to keep it old school, you can always opt for a basic sports watch, or plain old pen and paper.
Race Day Tips
As race day draws nearer, there is plenty you can do to cut down on the unknowns and increase your chances of competing at your best. Keep these tips in mind in the weeks leading up to hitting the starting line.
8. Study up. Getting to know all the necessary race-day details will take the element of surprise out of the equation. “A runner should expect to always find information relating to the date, location, start time and course route on the race’s website,” says Brad Murach, race director of the Columbia, Maryland-based Metric Running Festival. It’s also customary for races to send out a more formal guide one week to 10 days out from race day. “The guide includes information on the location, parking, packet pickup, bag drops, premiums, course information and event rules,” says Murach. “
9. Learn when and where to drink up. In addition to nailing down your hydration plan during training runs, it’s important to know you can replicate that on race day. It’s customary for races to list water stop locations, as well as the type of nutrition that will be offered on the course. “I’d encourage all runners to regularly check the website of events because it is usually updated as detailed are solidified,” Murach says.
10. Go with what you know. Entering race week, it’s crucial to make proper nutrition a priority. “Stick with foods and routines that work for you,” Jennings advises. “This is not the time to introduce new foods!” (No one wants to have stomach troubles when it comes time to toe the line.) Taking on a longer distance? Read these tips on how to carb load right.
11. Rest up. Now is also the time to get plenty of sleep, and gently cut back on your running volume to get your legs ready for racing, Jennings says. Race nerves may make shut-eye hard to come by the night before, so try to stockpile sleep in the days preceding it.
12. Lay it out. The night before the big day, organize your clothes, shoes and anything else you will need in the race. “If you want it on race day or think you might want it, don’t rely on the race organizers to have it for you,” Jennings says. “Be prepared.” Charge your phone, watch and any other gadgets you’ll be relying on, have your bib and safety pins ready to go, and pack your bag the night before (if bag check is an option).
13. Leave early. Come race day, allow yourself plenty of time to get to the venue so that you aren’t left rushing. To calm your nerves, it can be as simple as taking a deep breath and telling yourself you are ready for whatever comes your way. “Stay where your feet are mentally,” Jennings says. “A race is an opportunity to see what happens on that day. Every single runner learns something from every single race.”
Regardless of how nervous or frazzled you might get, remember the race staff is there to help and give you a well-planned event, Murach says. And no matter what, “Coming to the race informed, rested and ready will give runners the best experience possible.”