Things You Shouldn't Do at the Starting Line of a 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. Whether you are running a one-miler, a marathon, or an even longer distance, make sure your race starts, and finishes, strong.

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. (And do pre-register if you can, even if the race accepts same-day registrations.) 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. They may have designated parking areas and shuttles. 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.

Although it might seem wise to do your warm-up at the last possible moment, you should avoid stretching or striding around in the race's start corrals, where you will be crowded in with a lot of fellow runners. Either warm-up before entering the corral or stick with something that doesn't take up any room.

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 toward the middle, and walkers at the back. Lining out in the right spot is not only proper race etiquette, but 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.

Another option for shorter races (which often don't have corrals or pace signs) is to do some research ahead of time. Look up last year's finish times and see where you would place at your current pace. Are you toward the front of the pack? The middle? The back? Then place yourself in that area at the starting line.

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 others or they trip over a water bottle or piece of clothing that someone discarded at the start.

If you have to throw something away, make sure you toss it off to the side, away from other runners. If you unintentionally drop something important as the race is starting, don't stop and pick it up, causing a traffic jam. Either leave it behind or go to the side of the road and wait for the crowd to thin.

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. Even if headphones are allowed (they often are not), keep them out of your ears at the starting line so you can hear announcements and other important info.

Don't Ignore Race Rules

Legs and feet of joggers, running a marathon
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Image Bank/Getty

Know before you go: Will you need to bring your gear in a clear bag? What are the rules on headphones, strollers, dogs, and backpacks? The rules are there to keep everyone safe. So don't show up at the starting line with a jogging stroller when they're not allowed on the course.

Don't Clog the Finish

Finish Line
Finish Line. Hero Images/Getty Images

Just as you did at the starting line, be courteous and aware of others at the finish line too. Although you'll probably want to celebrate when you cross that line, practice good race etiquette and keep moving through the finish line or in the chute. There will be runners coming in right behind you, so keep going until it's safe to come to a stop. This helps prevent congestion in the finish area.

Help yourself to post-race drinks and snacks, but remember they are for participants, not friends and family who came to cheer you on.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.