Let me just start by saying welcome to the addiction fun!
Yup, I drank the racing "kool-aid" and I am 100% addicted.
My journey to being the running/race addict I am now has been a long windy path.
I hated running until January 2005 when I said "running looks like it burns a lot of calories in a short period of time." Yup, that is what got me to step on the treadmill and the rest is history.
I participated in my first real road race on March 20, 2005 - the Ras na Eireann USA 5k in Somerville, MA. My dad (the runner) ran every step of the way with me. I ran (nope) - completed (nope) - survived (yes) the race in 38:21 (12:21 min/mile pace).
Thankfully my dad (the seasoned vet) stayed with me during the race. Unfortunately for him, he had to be with me as I made - what I felt - were mistake after mistake - during the race. He considered them "rookie mistakes."
But, I felt bad as runners pushed past me or made some remarks.
I vowed from that point on to share the tips I've learned to have a fun, but most importantly SAFE first race.
This tips however are not only for first-timers. Many veteran racers could use a bit of a reminder as well. We are all human.
So let's get started:
1) Have fun! This is the ultimate goal. It may seem obvious, but in the social media age it seems EVERYONE is worried or thinking about pace. For the first race, I always tell people to take in the experience. Looking at Garmin (heck I didn't have a Garmin until I ran my second marathon) can take away from being "in the moment."
2) Save your race t-shirt for post-race. This is something that I have learned over time. Obviously if it is cold and there is a long-sleeved shirt and you need to wear it for warmth - go for it. From personal experience, I don't wear a race t-shirt until I have successfully completed the race. Why? Superstition. I feel as if I put the shirt on before the race I am possibly jinxing my finish.
Feel free to laugh at me. But, I am not alone in this line of thought.
From a racing standpoint, it is tough to wear untested gear the day of a race. I normally do multiple test runs in something before I deem it "race approved."
3) Line up in an appropriate location. When I arrived at my first 5k, I was all ready to push myself to the front. Why wouldn't I? I mean it's where the race begins. I learned quickly that was not the best choice. As I mentioned, I ran my first 5k in a 12:21 min/mile pace. I should NOT have put myself up with the 9 min/mile people.
Why? Because I got trampled. People were darting all around me as they tried to get into their running groove. Some folks were tripping over my feet as they tried to get around me. I was elbowed by runners trying to get around me. I even hit the ground.
How did that make me feel? Unsafe. I immediately wish I had seeded myself farther back. It was unsafe for the speedier runners, but more importantly for me. I was trying to get my bearings for my first race and it kind of took a little of the wind out of my sails.
So for safety reasons, make sure you line up in an appropriate location for your race game plan.
4) Don't just stop! If my shoelace came untied, I would just stop, bend over and tie it. BOOM! I had a person crash right into me. Well, that wasn't fun. It only took ONE of those instances before I realized that I needed to move to the side. If at any point you feel the need to stop (catch breathe, tie a shoe, adjust a piece of running gear), put your hand straight in the air, move all the way to the left or all the way to the right side. It will help to avoid any further collisions.
5) Make sure you aren't taking up the entire width of the course. It is great to participate in races with friends and family, but make sure your group isn't creating a wall across the course. This can cause some of your peers to trip or fall as they try to get around you. It is just like when you walk down the sidewalk and a group in front of you is basically forming a barricade and you have to use extra energy to navigate around them. Safer for all.
6) Look behind you - left and right - whenever you decide to pass a person in front of you. Be aware. This is my biggest tip. So many times I and others will just dodge to their right to get around the person in front of them without realizing there is someone right behind them that has now been tripped up or cut off.
7) Strollers and Dogs. If you are someone participating in a race with dogs and/or strollers are allowed - be careful. If you are the person with the dog/stroller, make sure you think through the decision to bring them to the race. Many race medical volunteers may not be equipped to handle unexpected injuries, etc. Know your pet/child. :)
8) Music. If you opt to listen to some inspirational tunes or even a book on tape, make sure you keep it to a volume where you can hear the participants around you.
9) Walk/Rest if you need to. Never think "I'm a failure" if I don't walk or run this entire race straight through. FALSE! Know your body. This is your first - of many - races. Don't push too hard that first one or you will never want to return. Use the water stops as a break.
10) Wear the medal. I wear all of my race Finisher's Medals - 5ks to marathons - for a full week after the event. Show that baby off! You earned it.
I make my friends do it too! :)
So if you are heading out soon for your first race, please know that all of my advice comes from experience. I love for others to learn from my mistakes.
But again the most important part is the post-race beer to have fun and be safe!!