Every runner remembers their first race. And not just the race itself but everything that surrounds it: signing-up despite the nerves, the confirmation email infiltrating your inbox, the euphoria of getting a place followed by the sudden realisation that you’re running a race, and then all the training that goes into it. Whether it’s a 5K, half-marathon or a full-on 26.2-miler, signing up for your first race is as exciting as it is daunting. But, trust us: nothing beats that feeling of crossing the line and collecting your medal.
That said, there’s a lot of unknowns you need to anticipate and prepare for. A lot. From thigh chafe to rubbed-raw nipples, clipping your toenails to trialling your gear, that first race is a pretty steep learning curve for every newbie. But planning ahead, learn how to expect the unexpected and you’ll find yourself on the road to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, an unforgettable memory and, who knows, maybe even a personal best.
And to help you, we’ve rounded up some of our best racing tips to make sure you’re ready for everything when that starting gun fires. Let’s go:
Train With An Aim
This might sound obvious, but we’re not just talking about running. We’re talking about being the most prepared runner you can physically (and mentally) be. Translation: sign up to a personalised running plan that gives you access to science-based programming, live feedback, holistic support and coaches feedback (which is exactly what we offer… what a coincidence).
Win The Water Station Game
There’s a couple of things to know about the water station. First up, avoid the panic and mayhem that usually surrounds the first few volunteers by running past this lot and going to the volunteers at the far end. Secondly, get to the opposite side of the course as soon as you’ve grabbed some water. Trust us: running on the inside will mean having cups of water thrown at you.
Bring Your Own Energy Gels
Some of the bigger races and events will have energy gels stations dotted along the course, which is great, unless you’re so engrossed in your race that you keep missing them. That’s when you’ll wish you’d brought your own, especially toward the end of the race when you’re desperate for an extra boost of sugar and caffeine.
Slow Down On The Veggies
A couple of days before your race, start cutting down on the amount of veggies you eat so that you’re not running the risk of needing to go, like right now. And on that note, it’s worth carrying your own toilet paper because a) the stuff they put in Portaloos is not pleasant and b) they almost-always run out.
Clip Your Toenails
Of all the things you wished you’d known before your race, this one might just be up at the top of the list because the last thing you want is bloody toes causing you a bunch of foot-pain, while also ruining your lucky socks. So, yeah, make sure you trim your toenails before the big day.
Get To Grips With Your Gear
Always do a trial run in whatever gear you plan to wear come race day. After all, you don’t want to be running your first race to then find out your shirt has no breathability, your shorts don’t fit and the straw on your hydration pack doesn’t actually reach your mouth. Always try your stuff first.
Protect Your Nipples
Gentleman, nipples are sensitive. Sometimes they can even bleed during a race. Don’t let that happen. Instead, slap some plasters on them and live a life without regrets.
Load Up On Lube
On the note of sensitive skin, chafing is a real thing, especially crotch chafing. So make sure you protect your skin with a decent dollop of lube before the officials yell “GO!”.
Chat To Your Competition
There’s a reason this is so important. Firstly, it’s good to be kind. You don’t know why the people around you are running, what cause they may be supporting or what is going on in their lives, so show them some support by being the nicest you can. And secondly, chatting to people at the starting line will help you relax, keep any anxious energy at bay and help you feel less alone.
Prep Your Playlist Like A Pro
Plugging into a playlist is a great way to keep your motivation high and energy-levels piquing. But as a little tip, try and organise your playlist so that your favourite running songs come on later in your race, when you need that hype to push on. What’s more, you probably won’t hear them at the start due to the loud crowds and your starting line nerves. Just remember to unplug toward the end of the race because hearing that crowd cheer you on is one heck of a motivator.
Smile For The Cameras
Smile. Throw up some peace signs. Flex your biceps. Do a dab. Pretend you’re Usain Bolt. Jump in the air. Whatever’s your go-to pose, go all in on it so that you leave with a seriously epic race shot (and not a series of photos where the pain is obvious and your eyes are either closed or shooting daggers at the photographer).
Beware The Adrenaline Trap
Adrenaline is great. But get too carried away on its high and you might find yourself starting the race at an unsustainable pace, which will probably come back to haunt you down the line.
Stash Some Cash
Anything can happen during a race, including an injury. So pop £30 in your sports bra, compression sleeves, running tights or pocket so that you can grab a taxi, just in case you do pick up a niggle of some kind.
Take The Next Day Off Work
Recovering from your first long-distance race can be more hardcore than you first realised. Your body will ache, your sleep will be disturbed and limping to and from the office (while feeling like a zombie) will be the polar opposite of fun. Avoid this by taking the following day off and enjoy a nice lazy pyjama day full of all the right nutrition, recovery steps, some gentle stretching and a whole lot of Netflix.
Thanks for reading our guide on how to prepare for your first race. For more running insights, inspirations, stories and techniques, follow us on Instagram and Facebook -- or simply check out our personalised running plans at Runna.