There is something magical about running your first race. Cross country running was my specialty and I can still visualize myself running up and down the hills as a child competing in school, on to high school, then college, and now strictly for fun. First-time events are truly special and can be memorable if you know what you’re doing. If you’re new to running or have been running for years and have decided to take the plunge and try your first 5 or 10km race, then these are some tips to help you settle those nerves and get you race ready.
Week Prior to the Race
Every runner experiences pre-race jitters or some type of performance anxiety and let me tell you, it doesn’t go away. Always expect the unexpected. If you’re running during the summer months and you’re not use to running in the heat, then it’s best to get in some training runs when the temperatures are high. If your race is scheduled for early spring, get use to running on days when the winds are high, temperatures are low, and even rain. If you’ve experienced running in all types of weather, then come race day, it will be one less thing to worry about.
Develop some pre-race rituals. I load up my ipod with some inspiring music and play it before I start my race. It helps to calm my nerves and I’m less anxious when I start a race. Some people develop a stretching routine, mediate, or do deep breathing. Create some ideas so as on race day, you will fell much calmer.
Don’t set high expectations for your race, especially your first race. I see many first time racers set unrealistic finish times which places an enormous amount of stress on the body. Go into the race with the mindset that it’s your first race, you want to finish it, and most of all, HAVE FUN!
Run the route
Even if you don’t have time to run the route, at least take a drive so you are mentally prepared for what’s ahead of you. If the run is close to where you live, set some time ahead the week before to run it. You will feel more relaxed on race day in terms of what to expect. If you are planning a destination race, then look up the race on-line as most races will have a map of the entire race. Arrange to at the race 1 day in advance so you can at least walk part of the race.
A Few Fays Before the Race
Don’t try anything new
What I mean by this, is don’t try any new runs, workouts, or food, or even new shoes. Keep your routine and follow your training schedule. You don’t want any unexpected surprises or even injuries from trying something new.
You most likely won’t get any sleep the night before the race due to nerves so ensure that the days leading up to the race, you get enough sleep. Everyone’s sleep requirements are different as factors such as stress can play a role in how much sleep a person needs so a few days up until the race, schedule in some extra sleep time especially if you really need it.
Eat clean! If it’s your first race, you are most likely running a 5 or 10km race. There is no need to carb load. If you run middle-long distances, then you would most likely increase your carbohydrate consumption. However, if you follow a whole food, plant base lifestyle, you never need to carb-load as the majority of your calories come from carbohydrates (whole grains, pastas, fruit, etc.)
It’s important to maintain your hydration levels a few days before a race to ensure that your body stays hydrated. Dehydration causes the heart rate to increase and limits the body’s ability to cool itself. Try to limit or omit alcohol use a few days prior to the race and be sure that you do not over-hydrate yourself. Learn to find your balance.
If you signed up for your race ahead of time, check on the race web site to see when you can pick up your race kit. Some races (the bigger ones) allow a few days before hand to pick up the race kit as to save time on race day and I highly recommend doing this. If you can only pick up your race kit on race day, they check the web site to see when pick-up ends. Also, check to see if your race offers baggage storage and pick-up. Not all races do this so you will need to arrange with a friend or family member to hold on to your belongings.
Ensure that you set your alarm ahead of time. If you are stressed that you might sleep through your alarm, use different alarms or arrange for a wakeup call from a friend or family member. Have your bag packed, your clothes laid out, your water bottles filled, and if you are taking any food, prepare it the night before. If you are driving to your race, find out the night before if there are any road closures just in case you need to find an alternative route.
You’re most likely not going to be able to sleep, so good to bed early and rise early. This will ensure that if you have forgotten anything, you won’t be
So the big day has arrived. If you are new to running and racing, it can be a little congestive depending on the size of the race so arrive early (1 ½ – 2 hours beforehand).
Eat what you would normally eat before a run. Don’t change what you eat, especially on race day. You don’t want a bad case of runners trots. If you are whole foods, plant base, then make sure that you bring food with you prior and for after the race. Most running races will not supply whole foods with the exception of fruit so you will have to pack your own (next week I will talking about nutrition for whole food, plant base athletes).
An effective warm-up should raise your core body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles. Try not to wait no longer than 10 minutes between your warm-up and your start time as you start to lose some of the benefits of your warm-up. Depending on the length of your race, try running for a few minutes, then doing some stretches for both the upper and lower body.
It’s hard not to race out of the gate. You get caught up in the moment and you can sense the energy all around you. However, this is your first race and it’s more important to finish without an injury. This is not the time to set new goals by starting fast and not being able to keep up with that pace. Stick with your pace and your goal plan.
Make it social
If it’s your first race, then tell people. I find some of my favourite races are the ones where the people are so social. You will find that runners who have been running for a long time offer up so much support to first-time racers and beginner runners. Besides, you might pick up a few great tips.
If you are running in a big race with a lot of support standing on the side of the road, then embrace people’s support and thank them and smile.
Enjoy the moment
It’s your first race so enjoy the moment and don’t get caught up in finishing in a certain time. You will always look back on this race as your starting point and you want to finish healthy with no injuries. The goal for any new racer is to finish and finish strong.
Once you make it to the finish line, you are going to want to stop but try not to. Your body needs to cool-down and get its heart rate down to resting rate as well as flush the lactic acid out of the body if there is any. If you have to stop, then at least keep walking for a few minutes if not more. Soon after you bring your heart rate down, then start your stretches.
Re-hydrate and grab some food. Try to keep the food as whole as possible (fruits, whole grains, vegetables, etc.) This will enable more effective recovery. If your stomach can’t handle food right after a race, then grab a smoothie with some fruit, greens, and seeds.
Recover and rest
If there are free massages being offered at the running event, then take advantage of it. Do some gently stretching and then plan to relax the rest of the day. Depending on how you feel, go for a short walk later in the day followed by some gentle stretching to keep the circulation flowing throughout the body. Take the following day off or even two as to allow your body to recover.
There will never be another first race so celebrate regardless of what your finishing time was. No one can ever take that last stride across the finish line away from you so cherish it. Depending on how I feel, I like to go to my favourite restaurant for dinner to celebrate the victory of finishing a race or carve out some time on my couch and watch some of my favourite movies. Whatever you decide, do something special for yourself.
Participating in your first race can be so much fun and rewarding. The most important thing is to live in the moment. Don’t let things like PR’s or worrying about not wearing the correct clothing put a damper on your day. These are things that you can choose to focus on if you wish to for further races. There are so many different races out there to choose from and regardless of the weather or how the day turns out, be proud of your accomplishment.
I’ve been a trail runner since I was in elementary school. I’ve endured foot injuries for the past 5 years that have put me out of racing but this year I made a come back. Those 5 years taught me patience as I went on a self-discovery journey of finding my true self during this time. As I approach the age of 46, I realize that setting times and running a certain amount of races has no impact on what truly makes me a runner. I run simply because there are no rules and I love it. When I get on the trails, it’s just me and my thoughts. It doesn’t get any better than that.
You’re now READY TO RUN! We would love to hear your comments if you are planning on running your first race.
Eat clean & live green!
Your Compassionate Coach