Your First Race
If you were not a big track and field star in high school or college, running your first race can be very intimidating. Many recreational runners assume that people who run in races are much faster than they are. For the most part, they are much faster but in modern races there are frequently runners of all abilities. That is, the people who win the race will be mind bogglingly fast—(they may be Olympians, or professional runners) the people to finish last will be beginners and the occasional one-legged runner, or 105 year old runner—all kinds of people run and mile times in public races can range from 4 minute miles to 15 and 16 minute miles (slower than walking pace for most) So, don’t stress out. For your first race set the goal of “finishing” don’t worry about your time, a first race is a “success” if you cross the finish line in one piece—
Racing is extremely rewarding. It gives you something to work for when you run you daily runs. You can set time goals. Or you can aim to finish in a certain percentile. For example, you might aim to finish in the “top half” or “top third” a percentile goal gives you a big inventive to push hard, dig deep and pull past the other runners during the race, since the more people you pass the higher you’ll rank.
Finding a Race
Pick up Runner’s World magazine or go to their web site. There is also an online running club called “Kick” at these places you can find race listings in your area. You’ll want your first race to be a “success” so plan on running a distance you know you can complete. For example, if you run 2 miles 3 times a week a 5K might be good for you. Don’t sign up for a race that is longer than 7 miles if you have never run that far before. After about 6 miles of running something happens to runners and it becomes a much harder sport! If you are very slow it’s a good idea to call the race director (phone numbers will appear with the listings) and ask how much time is allowed for the race. That way you can tell if the finish line will still be open when you get to the end.
You should try to pre-register for your race. It can be hard to get signed up the morning of the race and also you’ll be much less likely to follow through with running it. When you pre-pay you know that you must be there to run or your money will be wasted. Some races will mail you your number and “chip” others will expect you to pick them up on the day of the race.
The Day Before the Race
The day before the race you should drink lots of water all day and if the race is longer than 7 miles consider eating a little more. You don’t need to eat a lot more. A good rule of thumb is about 70 calories per a mile. To be honest, though, if this is your first race don’t mess with anything longer than 7 miles unless you run that distance all the time on your own—if you do then you already know you need to eat more.
The water, however, is important no matter how far you are running.
The other important pre-race thing is knowing where the starting line is and where you pick up your number. I know this seems obvious, but often these are in two different places. Races are mostly early in the morning, finding the start is very hard when you are sleepy and confused. Plan ahead! Also, lay out your breakfast and running clothes so you can find them. It’s very easy to get lost before a race! Be ready!
The last important pre race thing is sleep. You need to go to bed and get enough sleep. For most people that’s 7-9 hours. Don’t party or drink before your race—go to bed early and have sweet dreams. It makes a big difference.
The Day of the Race
Since you planned ahead you should have no trouble getting to the start and eating a little something. If you wake up 4 hours before the race you can drink some water first thing then “go” just before you run. This is ideal, but no one likes to wake up that early! So maybe just drink a little water. Since you don’t want to drink a whole lot the morning of the race you can see why it’s important that you drank a whole lot the night before!
Once at the starting line you will get a packet. Most of the time it has these item in it:
- a chip
- twist tie
- a number
- some safety pins
- a baggage tag
Not all races use chips. The chip is used to record your time. You use the twist tie to pin it to the top of your Running shoes. When you run over the starting line your start time is recorded—and when you finish your finish time is taken. This will be used to create your net time. The net time is what matters when you want to see how well you did—but the winners of the race (for the most part) are determined by the official time. This is the time from the time the horn blows (or gun was shot) until the runner crosses the finish line. Your official time will always be longer than you net time, since you must wait for your turn to cross the starting line (more about that later)
With chips it’s important to remember that your foot must hit the mat or your time will not be recorded. You’ll see many runners taking extra care to do this and you should too!
Your number must be visible and on your body during the race. Don’t pin it on a coat if you think you might take the coat off.
Your baggage ties lets you leave a bag at the starting line so you don’t have to run with it. If it looks like rain it’s a good idea to have a garbage bag in you bag so you can tie your stuff up. You should also have a DRY shirt in your bag if there is rain. You will need it when the race ends! (or you’ll just be cold and very sad if you don’t pack that shirt)
The coupons are used to get your race tee-shirt and maybe other goodies for the runners. It’s good to come early so that you can get a tee shirt in the right size: that is if you are really in to getting a bunch of tee shirts…
Running The Race
Now that you have you baggage stowed and you chip and number on you are ready to go. At the starting line there may be big numbers like “5 6 7 8 9 10” that number is the time it takes you to run a mile. It is NOT COOL to go and stand by the 5 if you really run 9 minute miles. Stand by the correct number and you will be more popular and well liked by the other runners. If you run slower than 10 minute miles just stand by the ten. Most people tend to stand up further than they should. This is because they are self-conscious about how slow they really are—but don’t worry you will show them when you pass them all! Ha ha ha ha ha! (poor bastards)
When the time comes to run a horn will blow or they will fire a blank. Unless you are standing by the 5 don’t start running. Just stand there. It might be a while before you go. It’s good to wait since if you try to run through the crowd you’ll just get trapped. This is your first race so you are not going to win. You goal is to have a good time and finish. If you did most of the stuff I wrote about here your first race will be a success!