Race Day Tips for Your First Race

What to Expect From Arrival to the Finish Line

After spending weeks and months training for your first race, the last thing you need is any stress to detract from the excitement of the day.

To ensure your race day goes smoothly, here are a few handy tips that can help from the moment you register right through to the crossing of the finish line.

1

Go to Packet Pick-Up Early

Business people arriving and receiving identification card at conference registration table

Caiaimage/Martin Barrau/Getty Images

Get off on the right foot by picking up your race packet early, ideally the day before the race. When you do, you'll be given your race bib, goody bag, and printed pre-race schedule. Some races will also provide runners with a timing chip to accurately clock their "net time" from start to finish.

Early registration will also ensure that you get your correct T-shirt size before stocks run out.

If you aren't provided a route map in the race packet, ask a volunteer for one or download a copy from the race website. This will come in handy when planning for water stops.

2

Don't Overdress

Runner spraying himself with water in race

Robert Daly/Getty Images

Overdressing has tripped up many a first-time runner. As a rule of thumb, dress as if the weather is 15 degrees warmer than it actually is. That's how much you'll heat up once you've hit your stride. So if the weather report says that it's going to be a comfy 75 F, pretend that you're in Florida where it's a balmy 90 F.

If it's cold outside, wear a few extra layers of clothing that you can strip off as the starting time nears. Many races will offer a gear check counter where you can store your gym bag until after the race.

If hot temperatures are forecast, spend a few extra dollars to buy running gear made of cooler, moisture-wicking fabrics. Alternately, opt for looser-fitting clothes along with the appropriate sunscreen and sunglasses.

And while you're at it, take the time to time to trim your toenails. Doing so will save you a lot of discomfort (and a case of black toenail) if one happens to be too long.

3

Choose Your Pre-Race Food Wisely

Sesame Bagel with Peanut Butter on a cutting board with knife

 pabradyphoto/iStock/Getty Images

It is best to have a high-carbohydrate breakfast four hours before a race to ensure you have enough stored energy in the form of glycogen. Think pancakes, waffles, or a nice bagel with peanut butter.

But avoid overeating or indulging in rich, fatty, or high-fiber foods. While you may assume this will provide you with extra energy, all it will likely do is cause stomach upset or a case of the runner's trots.

If you must have coffee in the morning, limit yourself to no more than one regular cup. Anything more may promote urination.

Sip a large glass of water before the race. Some people find it best to hydrate an hour or two before the race, while others run better if they hydrate 15 to 30 minutes before the starting gun. This should provide you with ample hydration while reducing the risk of unexpected pit stops.

4

Pin Your Bib Correctly

Woman pinning on man's race bib

Gary John Norman/Getty Images

Don't make the rookie mistake of pinning your race bib on the back of your shirt. Pin it to the front with a safety pin on each corner. This will help officials know that you are a part of the race. If photographs are being taken, they will usually be listed on the website by bib number, allowing you to locate yours quickly.

If there is a timing chip on the back of your race bib, make sure that it is not bent or covered with clothing or a running belt.

Be sure to arrive early so that you will not only get a great parking spot but can speak with a volunteer if there's a problem with your bib or timing chip.

5

Line Up Properly

Marathon runners ready, preparing smart watches at starting line on urban street

Hero Images/Getty Images

Runner's etiquette dictates that novice runners allow faster, seasoned competitors their place at the front of the starting line. As much as you may want to be in the center of the action, standing too near to the front can interfere with active competitors and cause frustration.

Some races will organize runners in corrals based on their estimated or posted pace time.

If unsure, ask runners around you about their anticipated pace. If it's faster than yours, do yourself and others a favor by positioning yourself further to the back.

By the time the race is fully underway, you'll experience the excitement of the run whatever your position.

6

Prepare for Water Stops

Runners racing in marathon

Cultura/Frank and Helena /Getty Images

One of the reasons for getting a map at registration is to anticipate the location of the water stops. Doing so reduces the anxiety of wondering when you'll next be able to hydrate.

While you may not need to hydrate as often during a 5K, a 10K is long enough that all runners, no matter how fast you are, need to take in some water during the race. Take advantage of the water stations on the course.

If you've hydrated properly in advance of the race, you should be able to take in enough water to keep going without having to look for the nearest porta-potty.

Water Station Tips

  • If you see a water stop approaching, don't go to the first set of tables where all of the congestion is likely to be. Instead, head for the next set, veering to the right table if you're right-handed and the left table if you're left-handed. In this way, you can snatch a cup easily without breaking your stride.
  • If volunteers are handing out cups of water, look the volunteer in the eye so that he or she knows you're coming. As you grab the cup, be sure to say "thank you," and toss the empty cup into a receptacle when finished.
7

Pace Yourself

Avoid starting too fast, particularly if your first race is anything longer than a 5K. It's tempting to start out at a fast pace, especially if you're used to running short-distance races. But you'll pay for it later in the race if you push it too much in the beginning.

Focus on running the first mile of the race at a deliberately slower pace. Then keep a comfortable pace as the race goes on to ensure that you have enough left to finish. Don't be tempted to try to keep pace with the fast runners on the course.

A handy rule of thumb is to run the first 10 percent of the race at a slower than normal pace.

8

During the Race

Race day isn't the time to experiment with new things, whether it's your running routine, your hydration habits, or your diet. Tackle a race the same way you'd deal with a regular run. 

Some more tips that can help you during your run:

  • If you feel like you're getting tired, dial back your speed and try a slower pace for a while. Take it easy and focus on finishing strong.
  • Use mental strategies to deal with any discomfort or boredom, especially during those middle miles. Try distracting yourself by looking at the sights along the course, other runners, and spectators.
  • Focus on getting to the next mile marker, not the finish line – the race will feel more manageable if you break it down into smaller pieces.
  • It also helps to have a mantra or short phrase that you keep repeating to stay focused and strong.
9

Prevent Chafing and Blisters

You may have not had a problem with chafing or foot blisters when you ran shorter races, but it may be an issue when you're running longer during a 10K. Make sure you take steps to avoid chafing, such as using BodyGlide or Vaseline on trouble spots (nipples for men, bra-line for women) and wearing technical fabric (not cotton) running clothes. To avoid foot blisters, wear synthetic blend (again, not cotton) socks.

Make sure your running shoes fit properly. You should be wearing running shoes that are at least a half-size bigger than your street shoe size. Never wear brand new shoes on the day of a race.

10

Finish With Flair (but not the T-Shirt)

Finish Line
Hero Images/Getty Images

Don't pressure yourself to achieve a really fast time for your first race. Finishing is an achievement unto itself and one worth celebrating. If anything, consider it part of an initiation into a larger order of enthusiasts.

As you get closer to the finish line, there's no holding back—if you feel good, go for it. Keep pumping your arms and looking up. Try to focus on runners in front of you and see if you can pass them before the finish line. If you know there's a photographer at the finish, make sure you smile for your finishing photo.

Post-Race Rituals

Being part of a group means learning their habits and rituals. Chief among these a long-held superstition that you should never wear your race T-shirt until after the race. For reasons no one can ever quite explain, doing so is considered bad luck. (If you do so, the stares and smirks you'll receive will certainly make you feel unlucky.)

The more you relax and enjoy the spirit of the race, the more likely you will be to come back for more.

11

Know Your Post-Race Plans

It's easy to be so focused on the finish line that you forget to make plans for after the race, like how you are getting home or where you will meet up with friends and family.

The last thing you want to do after a race—especially a marathon—is to scramble around looking for your family. While your plan may simply be to text or call each other after the race, its best to make concrete plans in case a phone battery loses power or the ring or alerts can't be heard over the crowd.

Making post-race plans in advance can help you avoid the chaos after the finish line.

Was this page helpful?