There is a lot of advice out there for first time racers. Most common advice includes, “Don’t eat/wear/do anything new on race day.” I think there is a lot to cover when it comes to racing so here is my advice to first time racers!
Choose your corral carefully
This can be tricky for a first time racer, including a first time distance. If you choose a corral that is too fast, you will get in the way of those that are forced to weave around you. If you choose a corral that is too slow, you will be forced to spend a lot of time and energy weaving around others! I’ve found that many races will let you change your predicted finish time (which determines your corral) up to a month before the race. It has also been my experience that most races allow runners to start in a corral slower than the one they are registered for, but not in a faster corral. My advice would be to choose a corral based on your goal finish time. If you find during training you are running slower and may not make that goal, either line up to the left/right instead of the middle of your corral or drop back to a slower corral. Please do not choose a corral with a finish time that you know is not possible. You not only risk hurting yourself, but you’ll just be in the way! If there are no corrals at the race (many small 5Ks do not have these) then line yourself up accordingly. If you’re an interval runner, go towards the back of the pack. Your race time does not start until you cross over the start line so this will not effect your overall race time.
Get to the race early
This is always a suggestion by everyone, including race guidelines, but I feel this is important enough to repeat. Some races give a specific time you should be in your corral by and others do not. For the races that do not, I generally like to be in the vicinity of my corral 30 minutes before start time. This means I usually get to the race about an hour or earlier before start time to allow time for parking, warm up, and bathroom breaks. Once the corrals start to fill, they fill up quickly! Some don’t mind showing up minutes before race start, but I get a bit anxious before race time and prefer to get there earlier than later. Also, I find it extremely obnoxious when people show up to the corral minutes before the start and push their way to the front. Remember to factor in race-day traffic since often times for larger races like half or full marathons race officials have already blocked off roads. I’d also suggest looking into additional parking options that may be available other than just what is suggested in the race packet or race website since everyone will be trying to use that parking. Some races have better organized parking than others, so just be prepared and give yourself time!
Use the bathroom before the race
Even if you don’t feel like you have to go, use that port-a-potty! I suggest going before you leave the house/hotel and then I usually go when I first arrive and again right before I get into my corral. For longer races like a half or full, I suggest 1 anti-diarrhea and 1 Gas-X with breakfast 😉 This may even be good for a 10K if you’re prone to tummy issues while running. I have not had to stop during either of my half marathon’s to use the bathroom. I’ve found the port-a-potty’s to be fairly clean pre-race, but if you’re afraid of germs it may be worth it to pack some hand sanitizer with someone that can hang onto it after you’ve checked your stuff.
Take off your hat/visor during the National Anthem
I think the biggest reason this doesn’t happen is that most of us simply forget we have it on! Putting on my visor for a run is as much of a habit as putting on my shoes, socks, shorts, bra, and shirt. If you’re like me and are not an elite runner, you will have plenty of time to put it back on your head the exact way you want before it’s time to cross the start line.
Don’t stop suddenly at water stations.. and say thank you!
Water stations are tricky. It is pretty exciting to see that line of volunteers holding out water cups and instinct is to go to the first one you see, grab a cup, and slow to a walk to have a drink. Do this and it’s likely someone will either run into you or get very annoyed at you for getting in the way. I try to run past the first few volunteers where the crowds tend to gather and grab a cup towards the back. I usually jog, but if I need to walk to get a good drink I run a little with my cup away from the water station, stay to the side, and then slow to a walk. Creasing the cup will make it easier to drink from when you’re on the move. And don’t forget to thank the volunteer that handed you the drink/energy gel/ whatever! They may not be running, but the will be out there a lot longer than most of the runners.
Smile as you approach the finish line
This may happen naturally or it may not depending on how you’re feeling, but as you approach that cheering crowd and that fantastic finish line, SMILE! Not only are you so close to completing the race… there will be plenty of cameras to capture that moment. I have many less-than-pretty finish line photos so take it from me, smiling is a great idea.
Keep moving when you cross the finish line
First off, coming to a dead stop really isn’t good for your body when you’ve been running for a while. In longer races your legs could actually collapse from under you if you do this, so it’s best to keep your legs moving at a slow walk. Secondly, this backs up the finish line which is bad for so many reasons. There is generally water/food in the “finishers chute” – grab this quickly and keep moving. At my first half marathon there was quite a back up and I was forced to stop moving the moment I received my medal. I thought I was going to puke. I was immediately engulfed by a large crowd that was standing around and it began to back up to the point that people could not cross the finish line. The back up was due to people being lackluster about collecting their post-race food. Don’t be picky! One bagel, one piece of fruit, one drink, move on!
Plan a meet up spot with your family & adoring fans
This should be, for obvious reasons, away from the finish line. I have met up with my family behind bag check or at a previously chosen point at the finisher party. Most races give some sort of race area map and many seem to be adding “Family Reunion” spots. Don’t rely on cell phones because these often don’t work well at bigger races. Also be aware that while your family & fans may see you start, they may not see you cross the finish line, so give them a predicted length of time you think it will take you to get to the finish so they have an idea of what time to meet you.
Bring a change of clothes
This may not be completely necessary, but I generally get super cold when I finish running no matter what time of year so I suggest at least bringing a clean, dry shirt to change into especially after a particularly long and/or warm race. I like to pack my race shirt to change into! I’ve noticed that a lot of races seem to be cutting back on the distribution of myler blankets without any notification to racers in advance, so it’s good to plan ahead. If there is a chance of rain or it is already raining, an entire change of outfit/socks/shoes is good too. Again, this isn’t completely necessary especially if you’re just heading home or back to a hotel room after the race, but I love going to brunch after my races so it’s nice to be comfortable. You can check this in a bag at bag check or just leave it in your car. I’ll give a little insight to my race-day bag in a future post.
So there you have it, that is my advice to first-time racers! To my seasoned racer readers, what advice do you have for someone that is racing for the first time?