Race Day Tips for Running Your First 5K

The training is complete and the day of your first 5K race is finally here! It’s normal to feel a few pre-race jitters or wonder what exactly to expect on race day. To help you feel more confident as you make your way to the starting line, take a look at these pre-race and race day dos and don’ts for running your first 5K.


DON'T: Run too hard or too far before the race

Male runner crossing the finish line of a race
 Hero Images/Getty Images

Should you run the day before a 5K? There's really no right or wrong answer here. It's good to rest your running muscles in preparation for a race, so many runners like to relax and not run the day before. They say that they feel fresh and ready when they get to the starting line. But other runners (especially those with more nerves) swear by a very slow, 20-minute jog the day before a race, saying that it helps them loosen up.

Whatever you do, just make sure that you don't do a long or intense hard workout that may leave you feeling tired or sore the next day. Keep it short and easy. You're not going to get any fitter or faster in the week before your 5K, so don't try to cram for the final.


DON'T: Carbo-load the night before

Some people hear about runners eating lots of carbs before a big race and they think it applies before running any race. You really only need extra carbs if you're running a longer distance race such as a half or full marathon.

If you're running a 5K, you don't need to load up on carbs the day before the race. Just eat what you would normally eat the day before the race, but try to avoid foods fatty or greasy foods that might lead to gastrointestinal issues. Now is not the time to experiment with new foods or cuisines.


DO: Pick up your race packet early

If possible, pick up your race bib, timing chip (if the race is using them), and swag bag the day before the race. This way, you won't have to worry about rushing to get it on the morning of the race—and you're more likely to get your desired race T-shirt size.


DO: Get your race outfit ready

Check the weather so you know what to expect during the race and can dress accordingly for hot, cold, or rainy weather if necessary. A good rule of thumb: Dress as if the weather is 15 degrees warmer than it is. That's how much you'll warm up once you start running. If it's cold, you can always wear warmer clothes while you're waiting for the race to start. Many races offer a gear check where you can store your bag with extra clothes for before and after the race.

Lay everything out the night before, so that you're not scrambling and rushing around in the morning. The most important rule for what to wear during your 5K is, “nothing new on race day.” It’s not the time to try out brand new running shoes or a cute outfit. Plan to race in tried-and-true clothes you've run in before, so you don't have any unexpected discomfort or issues like chafing or blistering.

That also means you probably shouldn't wear the free race T-shirt you get when you pick up your race bib. The race T-shirts are usually made from cotton and can get heavy and uncomfortable when they're wet with sweat. In addition, some runners think that wearing the shirt before you've actually finished the race is bad luck.


DO: Get a good night’s sleep

It's normal to feel nervous before a race, even if it's not your first one. Stick to relaxing activities, such as reading a book or watching a movie, in the days leading up to your race. It's also important that you get plenty of sleep. Even if you know you'll have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it's still important that you get off your feet and hit the hay early.


DO: Eat breakfast

The morning of the race, you don't want to stuff yourself, but you also don't want to have a totally empty stomach. That said, choose your pre-race food wisely. We recommend eating a snack or light meal at least one hour prior to the start of the race. A full stomach can lead to cramping or side stitches during the race.

Choose something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Stay away from rich, fatty, or high-fiber foods, as they may cause stomach issues. Here are some of the best and worst pre-run foods to consider.


DO: Get to the race early

Give yourself plenty of time so you can find a good parking spot, pick up your bib number (if you haven’t already), check your bag, and use the bathroom (the lines may be long).

If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts before or during the race, try to focus only on your breathing and race like you don't care about the outcome. Remember, you are only competing against yourself, so enjoy the moment.


DO: Warm-up before the race

In a shorter race like a 5K, it's a good idea to do a warm-up, so you slowly raise your heart rate and get your muscles ready to go. About 15 minutes before the race start, do a slow jog for about 5-10 minutes, then walk briskly to the starting line.


DO: Pin your bib on your shirt

Be sure you put the race bib on the front of your shirt, using safety pins on all four corners to keep it in place. You can usually grab these right at the bib pick-up area. Wearing your bib on the front (not the back) of your shirt is considered good racing etiquette and lets race officials know you're part of the race.

If there are official race photographers on the course, they'll also use your bib number to identify your race photos. So make sure your number is clearly visible, especially at the finish line. If there's a B-Tag timing device on the back of your race bib, make sure it's not bent or covered with clothing or a running belt.


DO: Line up properly at the start

Don't line up near the front of the starting line. Faster, more seasoned runners don't like to weave around newbie (and likely slower) runners at the start of the race. Some races have corrals based on estimated pace or post pace signs. If not, ask runners nearby their anticipated pace. If it's faster than yours, move further back.

It will be easier to fall into your pace if you're around people that are the same speed as you. It may feel crowded at the start, but it will space out as the race gets started and you’ll be able to find your groove quickly.


DON'T: Go out too fast

It’s a classic racing mistake—even for seasoned runners. The excitement of the start can cause most runners to go out much faster than they anticipated. This speed may feel good early on, but could cost you later. Check in with your pace early on and stay in control.


DO: Use the water stops

Take advantage of the water stations on the course. They’re there for you! If you've never done it before, here are some tips on how to take water from a hydration stop. And don't forget to thank the volunteers for handing out water!


DO: Bring your support team

Invite your friends and family members to come cheer you on. Ask them to stand near the finish line to make it easier to push yourself at the end.


DO: Have fun!

Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve a really fast time for your first 5K race. Finishing the race and enjoying the experience are perfect goals for a first-timer. Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the thrill of crossing your first finish line!

A Word From Verywell

Congratulations on setting the goal of running your first 5K—and making it a reality! We hope these expert tips created a successful running journey from start to finish line. Soak up your accomplishment (and your new 5K personal record) and we’ll be here when you’re ready to take on the next race!

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: the role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performanceNutrients. 2014;6(5):1782–1808. Published 2014 Apr 29. doi:10.3390/nu6051782

  2. Muir B. Exercise related transient abdominal pain: a case report and review of the literatureJ Can Chiropr Assoc. 2009;53(4):251–260.

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