What Not to Do at the Starting Line of a Marathon or Other Race

When you've trained for a race, you may be thinking more about the finish line than the start, but being smart and prepared at the start is an important part of a successful race.

Here are some tips to make sure your race gets off to a good start.


Don't Show Up at the Last Minute

Runners stretching before race
Photo by Gary John Norman

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the race start, especially if you need to pick up your race packet there. You'll also need to give yourself time to use the bathroom, check your bag, and find your corral (if the race has them).

Road closures for the race may affect your route and travel time to the start, so make sure you check the race's website to find out how they recommend getting to the start. You may also want to talk to other runners who have done the race in previous years (or read reviews on websites) to find out how early they recommend getting to the start.


Don't Wait to Use the Bathroom

portable toilets outside
Robert Tinker/First Light/Getty Images

If the porta-potty lines are long (and they usually are, at big races), get in line before you need to really go. Most likely, by the time you get to the front of the line, you'll need to go.

Don't assume you'll be able to jump in line and go a few minutes before the race. Another tip: Bring your own toilet paper or tissues because the porta-potties sometimes run low on supplies.


Don't Skip Your Warm-Up

marathon runner doing stretch warm-up
Hero Images/Getty Images

A​ pre-race warm-up is especially important when racing in colder weather and for shorter races, like a 5K. (For longer races, your first mile or two essentially serves as your warm-up.)

Doing an easy jog or marching in place for a few minutes will dilate your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. A warm-up also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. It slowly raises your heart rate, minimizing stress on your heart when you start your run.


Don't Forget Your Throwaway Clothes

marathon runners preparing for race
 Hero Images/Getty Images

For marathons and other big races, you usually have to get to your corrals early, which means you've already checked your race bag with your extra layers. You don't want to be shivering at the start because you'll waste a lot of energy trying to keep your body warm.

If you know you're going to be waiting at the starting line for a while, wear an old long sleeve shirt over your race outfit for extra warmth. Rather than tying it around your waist and adding extra bulk, you can throw it away at a water stop once you're warmed up. Some big races even allow runners to throw away extra clothes at the start because they collect the clothes and donate them to a local charity.

Many runners like to wear a garbage bag while they're waiting at the start. A garbage bag can be one of your most important (and least expensive) starting line items. They especially come in handy if it's rainy or windy at the start.

You can wear it instead of throwaway clothes, or on top of your throwaway clothes, if it's very cold. You can make a dress out of a big trash bag by cutting armholes and a neck hole. You can wear it to stay dry while you're waiting in the starting area. Once you get moving and start warming up, you can take it off and throw it away.


Don't Line Up in the Wrong Spot

marathon crowd
Harry How/Getty Images

Faster runners should line up towards the front of the starting line, slower runners, and walkers at the back. Lining out in the right spot is not only proper race etiquette, it will also prevent you from starting out the race too fast.

Some races, especially big half marathons and marathons, have corrals based on estimated pace. Your race bib should indicate which corral you've been assigned to. If the race doesn't have corrals, look for pace signs that indicate the pace per mile. If you don't see any signs, ask runners nearby about their anticipated pace; if it's faster than yours, move further back.

Most races use ​timing chips, so don't worry about the minutes it takes to cross the starting line -- they won't count in your final time.


Don't Get Anxious

anxious female runner with hands above head
Michael Blann/Getty Images

You'll most likely be nervous at the start, so do what you can to relax.

If you have to wait for a long time before the start, find a quiet area away from the crowds to avoid feeling anxious. Some runners like to listen to relaxing music to keep them calm, while others have loud, fast-paced songs to get them pumped for the race.

You may also find that doing some light stretching, reading, or meditating will help you feel more relaxed.


Don't Zone Out

Runners in the NYC Marathon
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The start can be very crowded and chaotic, so be careful. Some runners fall as they try to maneuver around runners or they trip over a water bottle or piece of clothing that someone discarded at the start.

When you line up at a race start, make sure that you don't get distracted by the excitement of the race. Pay close attention to other runners, and watch out for discarded items.

If you have to throw something away, make sure you toss it off to the side, away from other runners.

Was this page helpful?