When I first started racing, my biggest worry was being a newbie. I didn’t want to bother the other runners. I didn’t want to break those rules that all the other runners know. I just wanted to be able to go out and run my best race and not be the reason that someone else didn’t run their best race.
So I read a lot of books on the subject. That’s what we geeks do. I have many, many books on running. I like books. Of course, you can also get your info from blogs. Running blogs weren’t quite as prolific when I started running (which is probably a good thing, or I would have spent all my time reading and no time running).
Here are my big tips for people getting ready for their first races. Some of these things are obvious. Some might not be.
Rule #1 – Nothing new on race day.
Now this is actually a rule I have broken before, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time race or a race where you’re really hoping to PR. What does “nothing new” mean? Just that. No clothes you haven’t run in before. No new shoes. Don’t eat anything different, either on race day or the night before. The last thing you want is an upset tummy or to suddenly find that your new shirt chafes horribly. Personally, I take this so far as to carry my own fuel (Gu is my personal choice) on half marathon courses and not take the gels offered. (Actually, I tend to take the gel offered and pocket it to try out on a training run. I like free things.) Some runners hate carrying anything while running and would direct you away from this tip. I just find it best to go with what I know.
I even carry my own water on race courses. Now, I don’t carry enough to fuel me through an entire half marathon. I have a little waist pack that holds two bottles (either 8oz or 10oz, depending on which bottles I choose) and I wear that through the race. I like being able to drink whenever I want. I still take water at water stops and fill up my bottles, especially on a hot day. But this is just me – it’s definitely not for everyone.
Rule #2 – Line up where you belong.
In big races, when you sign up, you’re asked to provide an estimated finishing time. This is used to figure out which starting corral you belong in. The goal is to have the faster runners start first so that they’re not tripping over the slower runners (like me). Don’t worry – if the race is chip timed, like most races are, then even though you don’t start until a few minutes (or more!) after the gun goes off, your official time doesn’t start til you cross that start line.
Other races don’t have assigned corrals. Sometimes there are signs indicating where you should line up. Other times, it’s a free for all. Just be smart about it. If you’re a slower runner, stay to the back. You can always pass people.
And it’s not just that you will get in someone else’s way. If you start out with a group of runners significantly faster than you, you risk starting out too fast and burning out before the end of the race. Which leads us to…
Rule #3 – Don’t start out too fast
I joke that my personal race motto is “Start out slow, then ease up.” But in general, you should try to start out slow. In reality, you probably won’t be that slow, but it will feel slow because of all of the race adrenaline pumping through your body. One term that you will hear in the running world is “negative splits.” What that generally means is that you want to run the second half of the race faster than the first. It’s not easy to do as a new runner, but it’s just something to keep in mind.
And worst case scenario, you end up walking a bit at the end, so what? Finish as strong as you can, celebrate the finish and use it as a learning experience.
Rule #4 – Stay Aware of the Runners Around You
I am a Galloway convert. I run/walk – I never run straight through a race. Lately I’ve been using a 1:1 pattern – run 1 minute, walk 1 minute. I’m very careful to stay out of the other runners’ way. For me, that means staying to the right side of the road and throwing my arm up in the air and shouting “Walking!” when I’m ready to take a walk break. And of course, making sure I’m not right in front of someone when I walk. As the race thins out, this becomes less of an issue – otherwise I can see it getting annoying.
Rule #5 – Have fun!
Running is something that we do for fun. Sometimes we have to be reminded of this when we don’t want to go on a training run or when the alarm goes off at 2am for a race. But it is fun. Just remember to smile for the cameras and be proud of your accomplishment. You did something that so many people never even attempt. Way to go, you!
I’m sure as soon as I hit “Publish” more ideas will come to mind. What are your best tips for newbies?