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5 Common Fears of Competing in Your First Race

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Later this month I will celebrate sixth anniversary of toeing the starting line of my first 5K race. Amazingly after all these years and well over 120 races under my belt, I still remember the fear I was feeling that cold March morning lining up with other runners who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They stood behind the starting line jumping and doing some light upper body stretches as I just stood and watched, praying that I was ready to run 3.1 miles.

I spent well over eight weeks preparing for this event and yet I still felt I was not ready. I was secretly hoping the race would be canceled due to some weather event, which is not uncommon for Texas in spring, but that morning it was a nice sunny, crisp spring morning in downtown Dallas. As odd as it may seem, I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember what I was wearing and more importantly how I was feeling--I was so nervous I don't remember if I even slept the night before.

Fast forward to today and I must admit I still get nervous from time to time when I make my way to starting line. To hear the race announcer call the runners to their mark, it's as though you can feel the tension build amongst the runners with each step.

Below are some common fears many runners share when competing in their first race.

1. Afraid I will be the last one to cross the finish line

If you were to take a poll amongst runners, the number one fear most runners have is finishing last. It's as though we are convinced that we are not prepared enough to complete the task at hand. I like to tell my new runners that someone has to be first and someone also has to be last but the likelihood of you doing either is slim pickings. That being said, if you are participating in an event that allows walkers, which many short races allow, trust me, you have nothing to fear. You will do just fine.

And even if you were to finish last, one of my all-time favorite quotes from C. Boyd Hunter reads: "Last is just the slowest winner"

2. Afraid others will notice that I am new a new runner

This past January as I was waiting for the 10K race to start, I started chatting with a lady who mentioned to me that this was her first race ever. She was just a few years older than me and just from looking at her I had no clue. She was sporting a nice pair of capris running pants, a nice running jacket and  sweat band. She even had a Garmin Forerunner 405 strapped to her left wrist. From all outward appearances she looked just like any other runner waiting for the horn to blow. Had she not mentioned this fact to me, I would have had no idea. We talked about her race strategy and when we met up after the race she was proud to come and tell me her time. Just knowing that she took a risk in doing what so many people fear to do and that is race, was a shining moment for her.

Reality is, no one knows who is running their first race or their 50th one. As a whole, runners are one of the most supportive group of people you will ever meet and you will be welcomed into the fraternity of fellow runners regardless of your finishing time.

3. Afraid I will be pulled into another runner's pace

This has a ring of truth to it. As a new racer I recommend that my runners line up mid-pack. Being too close to the front of the group may having you starting out much faster than you had anticipated, therefore you will be blowing through your glycogen stores too early on so that you may find it difficult to complete the last mile or so.

Likewise, if you line up too close to the back of the pack, you risk being behind walkers which in turn may cause you to become quite frustrated with the pace, therefore you find yourself zig-zagging around the walkers wasting precious energy.

If you find you are running too fast early on in the race, move to the side so that the faster more seasoned runners can use the middle section to run their event.

Even if you have to slow your pace to a walk, you are still competing. I ran many of my half-marathons using a run/walk method and not once was I ever disqualified for doing so and not once did they keep me from the well-deserved medal when I crossed the finish line.

4. Afraid I have not done enough training

Trust me when I say this, but this is a fear I still deal with from time to time especially when I am racing a distance I have not competed in for a while. Just know that as long as you were consistent with your training, you should be just fine. Remember that the first time you ever complete a distance, it  will be your PR, or personal record, for that event, so that speaks volumes.

One of the most important lessons my running coach taught me years ago was toTRUST YOUR TRAINING! It's still a lesson I carry with me before every race. As long as I did the training, I must trust that my body can do the work.

5. Afraid my time is not what I expect it to be

As a new runner, your first goal is to finish and enjoy the moment. Remember regardless of your time, you will have a time to judge all other races by, just remember though, as Coach Lee once told me, "You are only as good as you are on that particular day, at that particular time, on that particular course, under those particular circumstances."

One of the saddest scenarios is when a runner is so disappointed with his/her finishing time that he/she almost shamefully refuse  to tell her family or friends. TRUST ME when I say this, but most non-runners have no clue what a 5K distance covers much less a half-marathon. And if they do, tell them to get in their car and drive the distance. They may have a whole different appreciation for your accomplishment.

I remember I had just completed my first half-marathon when my car broke down and I had to have it towed from my home to the dealership in the next town over. My poor husband could not understand why I had tears thinking I was upset about my car. But that wasn't why I was crying. I looked over at him and sobbed, "I ran 3 miles farther than it took to tow my car from our house to the dealership. Thirteen miles is a long way!"

Fears are a part of racing, but it is what we do with those fears and how we channel them to our advantage that allow us to move from a novice runner to a seasoned runner, ready at any moment to toe the starting line. I tell my runners, you did your homework, now all you have to do is take the test. And this test is not a test for a grade, but a test in courage to do what so many people long to do, but are too afraid to try.


Are you preparing for your first race? If so, what fears do you have?

*The photo used in this blog was from my first race I ever competed in, The Borden Uptown in downtown Dallas, March 2006

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JUNEPA 8/26/2020
Another fear I didn't see mentioned.
Most races have a morning start and usually aren't in my home town, which means I have to drive to get to them. A 9am start usually means I should get to the start area by 8am, 8:30 at the latest. If it is a popular race, I will not be able to park close to the race start. I usually have to leave home at 6 am and that is after I have had my pre-race meal-fuel.
My fear is that I won't get to the race early enough.
I lose sleep the night before waking up and checking the clock.
I run one night race a year, I really enjoy not losing any sleep the night before that one, I have all day to get ready. Report
ROBBIEY 8/11/2020
Good Info, I tried it once. I did okay, but not for me Report
Great article! Thanks for sharing! Report
I'm afraid my running days are behind me. Report
Thanks Report
Never ran a race in my life Report
Thank you for the good article about overcoming your fears. Report
good article Report
My major fear was to be the last and I although I was third to the last in a 10K this past August, I have learned that there always someone that is slower than you. Report
Trust yourself. Great article. Report
Remember it is for you not anyone else Report
I used to race a lot a few years ago (can't these days because of a meniscus tear). I have been the last one in many, many times.

Here's the secret: the slowest runner is faster than everyone else on the planet who sat out the race.

Hence I was, on those days, faster than Usain Bolt. And you will be, too. Report
very informative! Report
It was really good for me to read this blog, I have never cared about time, for me it's all about if I finished and how far I went. But it was really encouraging for me to know that other people think too much about what other people think when they are running too. It's so dumb. I don't wonder about who that runner thinks she is when I see another runner, so why would she think that about me? Report
Thanks so much for posting this! I'm getting ready to run my first 5k in late September. I've been training since April, and I'm "ready" for the race physically, but I'm definitely starting to get nervous, and these are definitely some of my fears! Report
Thank you so much for writing this! Just this week I started the SparkPeople 8 week training program for a 5K. I have all of these fears, and it's great to have some ideas for how best to deal with them. Happy running! Report
My very first 5k is just a few days away and I have no idea why I am getting nervous about it since I am not concerned about my time just crossing the finish line it should not be a big deal. BUT the "crossing of the finish" line means more to me than just finishing the race, but the end of the old, overweight, me and crossing into the new lifestyle I have worked so hard to acheive ! Report
Sunday, I ran my first race ever, a 10k at my college. Ive kinda been training myself, and I went into the race not knowing what to expect. I knew no one there and I didn't have anyone there to support me (my friends had all been drinking the night before and there was NO way they were getting up at 8 am). It was actually an amazing experience because I feel like I learned a lot from it.

If anyone has any doubts about doing a race or it scares you, take the plunge! So what if you have to walk? Whether you are first or last (like me), everyone is there to support you no matter what. It felt amazing crossing the finish line, and it has actually inspired me to put on my own 5k/10k next semester with my business fraternity! Report
Great post!! I just signed up for my first 5k in the fall and I'm super nervous!! I'm so worried I won't be ready by the time it gets here!! I'll post back once it's over and let you know how it went!! Report
Great blog, Nancy. At the Spark conference in Cincinnati a few years back you anwered my question about how to start training as a runner when that little voice in your head tells you that you're too old to start running. Well, fear did keep me back, but today I participated in my first 5K walk/run. I did have to power walk through a lot of the race, but I finished in the middle of the group and I'm so happy I finally had the courage to sign up and give it a try. It feels great, and I can't wait to sign up for another 5K. I'm really happy to have an official time so I can keep racing against my personal record and I expect to improve with each 5K. To everyone who has thought about participating in a race but has left fear hold them back, I say do it. Like the blog says, if you sign up for a walk/run, you have little to worry about and when you're finished you'll have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Thanks for the great blog and all the others you've written to cheer us wanna-be runners on! Report
I have to say that I believe fear has kept me from even beginning the journey! I have a 5k in my community in October that I want to participate in, and it should be easy for me to have enough time to train between now and then (I've been completely sedentary!). The fear of failure (that I might quit, that I might get injured, etc.) has kept me from starting. :( Working on it, though! I'm journaling, I'm blogging, and I'm taking baby steps in the right direction. Time for some bigger strides! :) Report
This blog is so timely. I have my first 5k in two weeks and these were my exact fears. Now I know to just keep going. I will finish eventually and I have earned the right to be proud of myself. Thanks for sharing. Report
I ran my first ever 5K in December. My brother runs a LOT so I sent him all my "stupid" questions and he was so patient and answered them all! I was terrified but finished in under 41 minutes! I have to send in the forms for my next 5K--in May--but I'm worried that I haven't trained enough yet--this article helps me feel better about that! Report
good Report
I just did my 1st 5k walk in Feb. I got invited to go and was very nervous about it as, I have lead such a sedintary life other than starting to exercise in Oct. I was afraid of being last or someone thinking, why would someone that size be doing this race. I swallowed my concerns and started out in the middle of the pack with my friend that invited me. She kept my pace for me and to our suprise I did the 5k walk in 47 minutes. I was not 1st but I was not last either, so I was satified. We went to a fun place after for refreshments, draw prizes and prizes for the race. I was totally surprised when my name was called for coming in 2nd in my age group. So never be afraid, because probably 1/2 the people feel that way and now I would love to find another to do so I can better my time and I think I can actually do a walk/run. Report
this is confirmation for me, coach nancy. on a whim - i signed up for a 5k that is NEXT saturday (nine days away). i've been working out for almost a year, but have not officially "trained" in any way for a 5k. i'm quite excited about it and feel even better to know i'm not the only one who will be out there for the first time!! Report
I completed my first race ever last month, an 8k, and I have to agree, once I got into it and started talking to people, I felt I was with the most wonderful, friendly, understanding people. The people I talked to assured me that I would do great, to keep up the pace, just encouraged me the whole way. It was wonderful. I was so nervous before the race, but now I'm just looking forward to my next one! Report
My goals for my first runs was: NO DFL and NO DNF Report
"runners are one of the most supportive group of people you will ever meet"... so true! I recently joined a running club and because I run slow, I was afraid people would look at me wondering what I was doing there! This was all in my head! I received such a warm welcome and everyone is so supportive! I love it! I am training for my third 5k which will be in 3 weeks, then my first 10k in September. This article was great, thanks! Report
Knowing you're not the only person with these fears really helps! I'm running my 1st 10k in June & then a half-marathon in Sept. I'll definitely keep these in mind! Report
This makes me want to start training for a race, or at least a nice, long walk. Thank you for posting this!! Report
I just ran my first race a couple weeks ago in the freezing ran and the mud. I'm hooked now and am registered for my next race in 8 weeks. Report
I ran competitively in high school and college. Then in the Army, I ran because we had annual fitness tests to pass.

In competition of that sort, I did get butterflies, but knew I would never finish last unless I broke a foot or something else.

I had a very serious heart attack at 33 due to Agent Orange poisoning and figured my running days were over, especially with four bypasses done in open-heart surgery. My doc had different ideas.

For re-hab, I walked, a little farther each day until I got up to five miles. Then I did what I called "Indian running" (running 200 hundred yards, walking 200, etc.), gradually cutting down the rest walking distances and/or increasing the jogging distance. The members of my re-hab team were ALL serious runners, and they talked me into entering a local 5K, noting that I was doing more than that already.

The only person I was competing with was myself, and knowing that there were walkers and couples pushing baby strollers, knew I wouldn't finish last unless I had some major health issue - in which case, it would be something out of my control.

I started the run towards the side and about half-way back to let the "runners" and the rabbits get cleared out of the way. About halfway through the run, and on-track for the time I was shooting for, the competitive juices kicked in and I upped my pace.

I finished with a time of a little over 16 minutes and was totally shocked - I'd been shooting for 20 minutes, thinking I might, maybe, hit 19.

12 years later, after a 2nd heart attack and 5 bypasses, I had again worked myself back up jog for 5 Miles. Unfortunately, a fall (caused by a jackass who drove onto the shoulder and forced me into a ditch) fractured (cracked) a couple of vertebrae and partially compressed three disks. The disks have since deteriorated (the vertebrae healed just fine) and I now have spinal stenosis along with arthritis in the area of the injury. If I jog more than 3 steps I have to re-start doing spinal re-hab again because of the pain.

I agree with the quote about being the last finisher, but I'd add my 2 cents. Just because you couldn't finish the first run you enter is no excuse for quitting. Go back to training with the single goal of improving yourself - YOU are the only one that matters. If you could only run 2K, next time run 2.5K and walk the rest.

Just being able to walk 5 Miles without stopping will improve both your time and the distance you can run. Increasing your walking distance and jogging distance will allow you to do the 5K, and you won't finish anywhere near last. You'll be able to do a 10K before you know it! Report
Loved this article and have had all of the same fears written. My new fear is running after not running for a long time. I have a 5K coming up in a few weeks and I'm so afraid that I'm not ready! Trying to let go of that fear... Report
I've done dozens of races and always start out too fast - always. I even KNOW I'm doing it and seem powerless to do anything about it. The only time this doesn't happen is when I take my dog along, actually no we still start out too fast we just have to take a pit stop along the way that does my time in. Report
You hit the nail on the head - I have all these fears. I am a treadmill runner, and worry that hitting the road will be a whole new experience for me. Maybe I will give it a try though with all these god tips. Thanks. Report
Great article, Nancy. I had all those fears and more (what will people think of this fat old lady trying to run??), but they were completely unfounded. Runners as a general group have turned out to be some of the nicest, most supportive people you could ever meet; makes me proud to be one now! Report
Great advise (as usual) add one idea - volunteer at a race PRIOR to your first running race! That way you get a pretty good idea about what to expect! Report
I'm in my first 5K training program right now. When I go to the training meet-ups and we have to do something I haven't done before (last night it was run two miles with a walk break in-between the two), I am terrified. I feel like I'm going to panic. My first 5K is around the end of May, so hopefully I'll work through it mentally by then. Report
Coach Nancy you are on a roll with these blogs. Another gem! I can identify with many of your fears. Personally I think I'd be a much more contented runner if I approached every race with the same goal as the first one -- just finish! Report
This was very timely for me - I just signed up for my first 5K. I will be doing it one day before I turn 50 - so I will be meeting a goal! I have all those fears and then some, but I'm committed now! I will keep in mind "last is the slowest winner". My new mantra is "at least I'm doing it"! Report
I am trying to train for a 5k and I am afraid of being the fattest walkers!! Report
I put the "Last is the slowest winner" on my shirt for my first half marathon and when I wear it, I always get supportive comments during the event. Report
great article. I am training for my first race---a 10K in May. I have a lot of these same fears and I'm glad to see that these feelings are not uncommon. Report
I have never been in a race, since I don't want to spend the money on the fee. But, I'm sure others enjoy it. Report
This was such a great article, and I wish I had read it before my first race in November! I thought every single thing you mentioned, multiple times. My first race was a Turkey Trot, my family was in town and they knew about it, but I forbade them to come because I was so embarrassed and thought I would be horrible. I did not run the fastest, or the slowest, but I had no idea that I would feel as good as I did upon completing it! Report
I did the 5k race in my town in November of 2011. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to keep myself from collapsing. But, in the end, I did pretty good for my age group. By the way, I enjoyed reading your well-written article. ;) Report
Thank you for this post. I'm glad to know that I'm not alone. I plan on walk/running my 5K because I know that I'm just not yet ready to run the full thing. But I do feel very out of my element. It's good to know that I'm not the only out there with these fears! Report
Great blog, Nancy! You really did touch on many of the things I've worried about. I'll definitely let you know when I finally get that first 5k in. Thanks! Report