Six Tips for Running Your First Race

Previously, in my blog post titled, “How I Became a Runner,” I spoke briefly about training for my first race. The training is hard, no doubt. It takes a mental and physical stamina that must be developed.

It isn’t the training that keeps some people away from racing. Interestingly, I know several people who put in the miles every week, but won’t race because they fear embarrassment. They are afraid they aren’t advanced enough to compete. If fear is keeping you out of the race, let me tell you from firsthand experience, you won’t embarrass yourself.

Here are few observations I’ve collected over the 20 or so races I’ve run in the last few years:

  1. You will probably not be the last one to cross the finish line. If you read my previous article about becoming a runner, you already know I didn’t run my entire first race. I jumped in to the racing scene with both feet, so to speak, and started with a half marathon (13.1 miles). Once I figured out I wasn’t running all those miles, my goals became running over half and finishing in under three hours. I did both, but that also meant I did a lot of walking. There is no shame in walking, but here’s a tip: be sure to run the last .1 mile. You want your finish line photo to be of you running!
  2. Some races are better organized than others. I have run races that were so smooth and others that were, well, just not. One of the worst races was just earlier this year. The organizers did not have the course well marked and the course monitors were not helpful, so a huge group of us ran quite a bit out of the way. This error caused a few runners to be upset because we are always working toward our new personal record (PR) and running out of the way cost us minutes, not seconds. Most runners on the course are competing against his or her best time, not worrying about beating someone else.
  3. Be prepared to line up in waves or heats. Some races, the better organized races mentioned above, will have all runners line up according to their anticipated minutes per mile. I am often separated from my running buddy because of this. However, in recent races I determined it is almost better to start in a slower wave than you may run normally. During even the most organized races, there will be congestion and you don’t want to lose precious seconds because there are too many runners blocking your path.
  4. If you need to walk during the race, look before slowing down. One of my biggest pet peeves about running a race is when the person I am running behind suddenly decides to start walking. As I said before, there is no shame in walking, but there is a way to do it properly. Unless you have some sort of injury that causes you immediately need to walk or stop, always look around you and move over to the side before slowing. It is just common courtesy.
  5. Always thank the volunteers who give you water. In fact, I would recommend this as a great place to walk if you can do it without cutting anyone off. Years ago when I began running, I read an article about a world class runner who said he always walks through the water stations. He found that he actually ran the race faster when he did this, so it is a practice I adopted. It allows me just enough of a break to get back on the road and it provides me with an opportunity to show my appreciation to the volunteers.
  6. Smile for the camera! The finish line is not the only place you will see a camera. Photographers will likely be documenting the race as you run. Most of the time you will see them along the race route, so make an effort to smile for your photo. It may be painful, but trust me, you will wish you had once you scroll through the photos after the race. Often you are able to use these for free to share on social media and whatnot. Remember this is fun!

I’m not sure what is so great about waking up on the weekend at the crack of dawn to drive to an out of the way location so you can leave your heart and soul and sweat on the pavement, but it is. Once you run across the finish line with your hands and head held high, you will understand. It doesn’t matter at that moment if you walked none of it, some of it, or all of it because you did it! You finished!

I want to hear about your favorite race stories or tips. If you are planning to run your first race, let me know. Leave me a message in the comments to share your experience.

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