Helpful Tips for Running Your First Race

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Now that summer is mostly behind us and cooler temperatures are starting to drift in, the prime season for charity runs and walks begins. People of all abilities lace up their running/walking shoes and hit the pavement to raise money for many great charitable causes.

If you’re a first-time race participant, you’re bound to have questions. Below are a few tips from a veteran runner.

Carry ID

Always carry identification with you even if you are participating with a friend or family member. Many walkers prefer to carry their IDs in a fanny pack that is worn around the waist, while many runners prefer to wear the ever popular RoadID bracelet or shoe tag containing their name, emergency contacts, and other essential information such as drug allergies or pre-existing medical conditions. As a last resort you may write your emergency contact information on the back of your bib or if you carry a cell phone make sure you have an ICE (In Case of Emergency) entry in your cell phone book. EMS and other emergency personnel are now trained to look for that listing in cell phones.

What to Bring on Race Day

Below is a list of many items you may wish to put in your running bag, but feel free to add any additional items you may need before, during, or after your runs.

  • Your bib number (if picked up in advance)
  • Safety pins (4, for your bib)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat/Visor
  • Sunscreen--if not applied before leaving
  • Band-aids
  • Jacket
  • Dry change of clothing
  • Water
  • Hand sanitizer for use after the portable toilets
  • Post-run snack

You can return your bag to your car or leave it with family and friends who are not participating in the event.

Put on Your Bib

Pin your bib on the front of your shirt rather than on your back. This will make it easier for race officials to identify runners so they can call out their names as they cross the finish line. If your race is not a chip timed event (see below) this will also make it easier for you to tear off the tab at the bottom of your bib.

Clip on that Chip

Unless your bib has a timing device on the underside, many events provide a chip that you attach to your shoe via a zip tie (available at the race). Wearing a chip allows your race time to be recorded for placement within the race as well as allowing you to eligible for any awards.

Most events will not distribute the chip devices prior to race day so plan on arriving a few minutes early so that you have time to pick up your chip. Most races hold these chips at the registration table or within close proximity of the registration table. It is essential that you have your bib number on hand when picking up your chip since your chip number corresponds to your bib number.

The chips have a small transponder within the device that is activated when you cross the mat at the starting line. Remember to cross the mat or your starting time will not be recorded. When you come to the finish line you must cross the second set of mats to deactivate the chip in order to have your finishing time recorded.

Most events require the chip to be surrendered at the end of the race, so make sure the volunteers remove them before meeting up with family and friends. If you fail to return the chip, you may be billed for the replacement.

Dress for the Occasion

It is very important to not be overdressed or underdressed for your race. Most new runners will tend to overdress which most experts agree can be worse than being underdressed. The reason-as you begin your run, your core body temperature will begin to rise in addition to having to contend with the ambient temperature along with humidity levels, radiant heat off the running surface (many times pavement or asphalt) as well as direct sunlight on the skin. Many experts advise runners to dress as though it were 20 degrees warmer then the actual air temperature to make up for these conditions. For example if the temperature at race time is 60 degrees, dress as though the temperature is 80 degrees. You may need to wear your jacket prior to the race (from your race bag) if temperatures are cool, but be sure to remove it prior to lining up.

Before the Horn Blows

Runners should arrive at least one hour before their official start time. Doing so will allow time to park, register (if not done in advance), pick up your race packet, pick up your chip, allow time for warming-up, stretching, and hitting the portable toilets. Depending on the race location, race directors usually provide portable toilets for the runners. Just know that the closer it gets to race time, the longer the lines become, so give yourself plenty of time to take care of any bathroom breaks well in advance of the start time.

Warming up

Warming up is essential before every race. Not only does it get the blood flowing to the muscles, it also helps begin the mental preparation for your race. It is quite common, even for seasoned runners, to have a little anxiety prior to the race. Doing a nice warm-up allows you to shake loose some of the nerves.

I generally do a nice walk/jog 20-25 minutes prior to the start. Don’t feel the need to run hard…you want to save that for your race. One of the tricks I was taught is to run/walk the course starting at the finish line and going out approximately 400 meters (or 1/4th of a mile) before heading back to the start. The advantage to doing so allows you to see if there are any obstacles, such as hills, curves, etc. at the end. In addition, once you hit that point on the course during the actual race you know you are almost to the end.


Only after you have done a nice warm-up should you do some light stretching.

Let the Race Begin

Race anxiety, as mentioned earlier, is quite common. With that being said, having a little extra adrenaline works to a runner's advantage. If the event you are participating in allows for runners and walkers, you may want to line-up mid-pack. This will allow you not to get pulled into a faster runner's pace or have to dodge walkers participating in the event.

Start your pace much slower then you feel you should and then allow for a gradual pick up in pace as the race progresses. Once the field thins out, you can then choose a pace that you can comfortably hold for the remainder of the race. If you find yourself running too fast, slow your pace or add a nice walk until you are ready to pick up your pace again.

As far as where on the course you should run, many runners prefer the middle of the road since there is less sloping than one will find running along the curb. However, running close to the curb and cutting corners is not considered cheating since the International Amateur Athletic Federation-IAAF and the USA Track & Field sanctioned races are measured using the shortest route available for most runners.

Most events generally provide at least one, sometimes two water stations on a 5K (3.1 mile) course.

I believe the biggest anxiety for most new runners is the fear of being the last one across the finish line. Regardless of your finishing time or placement, know that you just did what many people never have the courage to do and that is run.

"Last is just the slowest winner."-C Hunter Boyd

Time to Cool Down and Refuel

Once you have crossed the finish line don't stop. It is very important do some light jogging/easy walking 10-15 minutes post race. This helps keep the blood from pooling in the lower extremities while helping the body remove the built up lactic acid within the muscles. And don't forget to do another round of light stretches.

Once your cool down is complete, you need to start re-hydrating. You may also want to change into some dry clothing. As your body's core temperature begins to drop, wearing damp, sweaty clothes can cause chills.

Drink plenty of water now and throughout the day. The best determination of your hydration level is by monitoring the color of your urine. The desired color is a pale, lemonade color...anything darker means you may be dehydrated and anything lighter means you may be over-hydrated and you need to drink a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade, both of which contain electrolytes to allow for proper sodium and potassium replacement.

You also need to make sure you get in a nice recovery snack as soon as possible after your race. Consuming a post-run snack containing carbs and protein will aid in muscle recovery as well as replenishing the glycogen stores within the body. Something as simple as a banana and peanut butter or low-fat chocolate milk will suffice.

Once you have refueled and re-hydrated you will want to get in some nice stretching. Be sure to stretch the hamstrings (back or thighs), the quadriceps (front of thighs) calves and upper body.

Be sure to enjoy the festivities that many events will have surrounding this day. Most people, once they get one race under their belt, are eager to do more or go for longer distances.

Need more motivation to run/walk in a race? Read Spark Your Way to a 5K.

Do you have any tips to offer first time racers?


Photo taken by my husband at my last 10K run--The McKinney Firefighter 5K-10K in McKinney, Texas

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