Your First Race Questions Answered


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.

This race outfit is truly tried & tested having worn it for my hot 18 mile 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?

Notice the variety of ways to wear a bib, including on your leg

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? 


Linking up with Zenaida Arroyo and Kim @ Kookyrunner

This week I am also joining up with the new Runners’ Roundup linkup.


27 thoughts on “Your First Race Questions Answered

  1. Good advice!
    I would also add: if it’s your first race, don’t stand in the front of the starting line. I have seen new runners (easy to detect by wearing their bibs on the back) overconfidently standing in the front row, only to be mowed down by the faster runners and getting in the way of everybody.
    Oh, and I fully agree: races can be life-changing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My first was a local 5k. I hadn’t trained but had already run one mile so I thought I could do it. And I did. Ran the whole thing and was hooked from that day on.

    I didn’t know much but I was part of a running class so I did know a little.

    The biggest thing us to remember is to stick with it. Even if it goes poorly and even if you follow all the advice, it still may, you need to do another.

    Another is that racing is not about your finish time. Do it to have fun.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had done some 5ks when I was in the Air Force but it was long before days of gear, gu, and Garmin watches lol. I actually ran that half with less than 8 weeks of training and I mapped my course by driving the course with my car hahaha. I had a timex Ironman watch to watch my pace. I decided to train for it (had less than 8 weeks to train), because I was going through some very hard times in my life. It truly saved my life in many ways.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t it amazing all these things we now take for granted? I remember getting up earlier than usual, and trying to listen to motivational music and being so cautious what I ate or drank. Those early 5K’s really seemed like a marathon at the time LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Back at my first road race in 1980 (an 8K), I did not have to ask, “What is a starting mat.” LOL I’m sure I had plenty of questions, but it’s been way too long for me to remember the specifics. I do remember waking up early to make pancakes for my pre-race breakfast. I’d love to still have that resilient stomach/GI tract of my youth! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, there are still races out there without a starting mat. 🙂 But I do prefer a chip timed race!

      I used to do pancakes a lot before races too. Just because I love pancakes. I can still eat them, but my waistline doesn’t always like them.

      I had some extraordinary ones when we were in Vegas! mmmmm, pancakes . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What was your first race? The Oz Run (a small local 5k)

    What do you wish you’d known then? Not start off too fast.

    What other first race questions do you have? None now that I have run a few.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only run 2 halfs that were downright cold, and one was my first. Things have changed since then. Actually, that second one I was way underdressed because it wasn’t supposed to be that cold.

      It’s so personal. I did write the blog post about how I dressed for a cold, rainy run recently — and why. I think the why was more important, because I know people who would have worn shorts on that run, LOL!


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