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.


Go to Packet Pick-Up Early

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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.


Don't Overdress

Runner spraying himself with water in race

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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.


Choose Your Pre-Race Food Wisely

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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.

One to two hours beforehand, drink a large glass of water and have nothing else until the starting gun. This should provide you with ample hydration while reducing the risk of unexpected pit stops.


Pin Your Bib Correctly

Woman pinning on man's race bib

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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.


Line Up Properly

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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.


Prepare for Water Stops

Runners racing in marathon

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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.

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.

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 snatch the cup, be sure to say "thank you," and toss the empty cup into a receptacle when finished.


Finish With Flair (but Without the T-Shirt)

Finish Line
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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.

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.

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