Your first race is both exciting and terrifying at the same time:
- What if I have to walk; am I not a “real” runner?
- What if I come in last?
- What do I wear?
- How early do I have to get there?
- What if I need a pitstop?
- What do I eat?
- Where do I put the bib?
- What if I fall?
- What if I get lost?
- What is a starting mat?
- What is a corral?
Spoiler alert: there’s a really good chance that none of the above will happen. Even if it does, you might find that the experience was so fulfilling you want to race again — welcome to the club! Let’s take a look at some of your questions & fears:
What if I have to walk; am I not a “real” runner?
I have run a fair amount of races, and I almost always walk at some point. I am definitely a “real” runner. People get really hung up on not walking, but the truth is a short walking break can help you finish stronger.
What if I come in last?
Someone has to. Chances are you won’t, but if you do, you crossed the same finish line as everyone else and you should be very proud of yourself for having the courage to race.
What do I wear?
The same clothes you trained in. I highly recommend check out Skirt Sports here (yes, I’m an Ambassador). I also highly recommend that you don’t wear anything cotton. And dress for about 10-20 degrees cooler than the actual weather, because you’ll get warm quickly when you race. If it’s cold before the start, consider putting something over your top that you can take off and just leave by the side of the road before the start. Sometimes it will still be there when you finish, but you can’t count on that, which is why it’s referred to as a throwaway. Some races actually collect all the throwaways and donate them.
How early do I have to get there?
I like to get to a race at least an hour before the start. There’s parking to deal with, and you will almost certainly need to visit a bathroom (if you’re lucky, a portapotty if you’re not) — maybe multiple times.
What if I need a pitstop?
Most races have a portapotty at some of the aid stations along the route, but shorter races may not. Make sure to read the instructions closely so you know what will be available.
What do I eat?
Like what to wear, you should eat the same foods you ate before your runs while training. You did train, right?
Where do I put the bib?
Races provide you with safety pins. You pin the bib to either your top (in the front!), or some people like to pin it to their bottoms. I like to use a race belt so that I don’t have to put pinholes in my clothes.
What if I fall?
It happens, although for most of us it’s relatively rare. If you’re can’t go on, try to find a volunteer — at the very least get out of the way of other runners! Even if you do fall, chances are you can finish, so just pick yourself up and continue. If your gait (how you run) is altered (you’re limping), or you’re in pain, walk instead of running — you will only injure yourself further if you run with an altered gait.
What if I get lost?
It’s very unlikely that you’ll get lost, unless it’s a trail race. Definitely study the course if a map is provided (which also helps you to know where aid stations and portapotties might be located).
If you happen to get lost and you can’t figure out where to go — this is another reason to always run with a phone! I’ve never been lost in a road race so far, although I’ve wondered a time or two if I was. I have taken a wrong turn in trail races, but so far nothing overly dramatic.
What is a starting mat?
Under the start line there is usually (but not always) a rubber mat. That mat reads the chip (most likely on your bib these days) and that is how your start time is captured. Sometimes there are mats at midway points during the race, which would show you your “splits” (a segment of a race, for instance the 5k time, or midway, in a 10k).
There is also usually a mat under the Finish Line. In fact, there are often two. This records your finish time; the reason there are two is just in case one of the mats fails.
This is what happens in a chip timed race (which is most, but not all, races today). So if you start late, it doesn’t really matter, because your chip will be read when you start and finish.
What is a corral?
Some races are so big that they only release a certain amount of runners at a time, which helps to decrease runner congestion on the course.
If your race uses corrals, you will be assigned a corral. You can always move back to a slower corral, but if you want to move forward to a faster one, you usually have to put in a request. Some races really enforce corrals; many do not.
There’s also a possibility of a wave start. It’s basically the same thing as corrals, only there is a wait time between waves before the next wave is released. With corrals you just start moving forward as soon as the race starts, with the first corrals, which should have the faster runners, crossing the start line first
You’re going to do great
No matter how the race goes, as long as you finish, you did great. It’s a PR (which stands for Personal Record). You’ll learn a lot. Hopefully you’ll have some fun, but sometimes those first races are too stressful to really enjoy. It may not change your life — but it probably will, as I wrote about here.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions and fears about your first race. There is a lot more that goes into racing than meets the eye!
What was your first race?
What do you wish you’d known then?
What other first race questions do you have?
This week I am also joining up with the new Runners’ Roundup linkup.