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Running your first race? Tips to make the most of the experience

Whether your first race or your fiftieth, there are plenty of things you should and shouldn't do on race day. These are some of them.

running a race finish start

Running a race can be an intimidating experience. There are the logistics: where it starts; where it ends, the timing, the course, etc. There are plenty of people including runners, volunteers and spectators to contend with. There are rules to consider, both official and unwritten. Not to mention that you have to do something that is physically and mentally really hard.

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Especially for beginners, running a race can make one feel anxious, nervous and possibly even afraid. Pre-race nerves are experienced by almost every runner so know you are not alone. There is also tremendous value in acknowledging those nerves and reframing them as excitement and anticipation for what you are about to do.

Here we present some of the most common concerns runners–both new and experienced–report from their race experiences and offer a number of solutions and strategies to overcome them in order to make the most of your running and racing:

Before the race…

  • Getting a good night’s sleep the night before a race is useful but not essential. Rather, aim to get as much quality sleep as you can the entire week before your race.
  • Set an alarm and get up early so you don’t feel rushed on race morning.
  • Have your running stuff–gear, apparel, shoes, accessories–all laid out and ready to go. This includes pinning your bib to your shirt, singlet or jacket.
  • Follow a pre-run/race routine that you’ve used before and that works for you. Eat the same foods for breakfast. Wear gear you’ve tested before. Do the same stretches or warm-up. The best advice you can possibly take: Nothing new on race day!
  • Know exactly where you’re going and how you’ll get there as well as where you’ll park. Also, have an exit strategy in mind.

Once you arrive…

  • Aim to arrive early so you don’t feel rushed. This will also allow you to get a sense of the start (and finish) area before it gets busy. Become familiar with key locations such as the start and finish line, the registration/bib pick-up, bag check, the washrooms (usually porta-potties), first aid and medical services, etc.
  • Know the schedule and create a timeline. When does the race start and how long will it take you to line up/get into your corral?  Working backward, give yourself enough time to use the washroom (there are always lines), check your bag, warm-up properly and anything else you know you need to do.
  • If you’re not a fan of large crowds or feeling overwhelmed, remove yourself from the scene until you absolutely have too. Remain at your car, find a quiet coffee shop nearby or warm-up/stretch on a side street.
  • Consider using earphones before the race to listen to music, the radio, a podcast, whatever you prefer. This will help distract you from the commotion of the crowds.
  • Once you join the rest of the runners, try to focus on yourself, on how you’re feeling and use a variety of calming and meditative exercises to think about your upcoming run.
  • Line up according to ability. The faster you are, the closer you should be to the start line. In larger races with hundreds of participants, events often use corrals to separate runners based on their expected finish times. If you don’t know where you should be, look for pace bunnies or ask a fellow runner for guidance. For the safety of others, be sure to line up appropriately as not to obstruct faster runners.

Running your best race…

  • Hopefully you have some idea of how you plan to run your race. How long it will take; what pace you’ll run at; if/how often you’ll hydrate and/or consume fuel. Having a race plan is always a good idea and better still, have a backup plan in the event that weather/conditions are not ideal.
  • Most races have aid stations with water, electrolyte/energy drinks and possibly even fuel (bars or gels) along the course. Depending on the length of the race or whether you carry your own, plan to use these to stay hydrated and fuelled.
  • As mentioned, have a plan regarding how fast you plan to run. Know your desired pace and do your best to stick to it. Avoid going out too fast at the start–THE most common mistake made by ALL runners in a race–and if anything, aim to start slower than you need to and plan to pick up the pace as the race goes on.

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At/after the finish–Congratulations!

  • Once you cross the line, it’s important you keep moving forward to avoid obstructing those behind you.
  • Take a few minutes to collect yourself, catch your breath and try to take a moment to truly appreciate the moment.
  • You’ll likely be handed a finishers medal and ushered toward some refreshments. Try to drink and eat something to kick-start the recovery process.
  • If you’re not feeling well, seek out a race official or volunteer who can help you get some medical attention. Some races also offer post-race massage.
  • Once you’re starting to feel yourself again, proceed to pick up your bag, meet your friends and family and enjoy the entertainment or post-race festivities.