Entering your first race can be exciting and daunting at the same time. I went in the deep end and my first ever race was also my first ever half marathon. It wasn’t even my idea at first and a bit of a ‘dare you’ (thanks Dad).
With race day slowly approaching there are some things you can do beforehand to make the race experience as smooth as possible and there are some things you should bring too.
- Don’t try anything new on race day
No new gear, no changes to your usual diet, basically nothing you tried and tested before. You want to minimise the chance of getting blisters and chafing or even unwanted bowel movement mid-race.
- Figure out a good breakfast that works for you and the time you need to be sure you won’t need a loo. This is a rather personal choice but opt for some low releasing carbs or protein. I usually have some musli or porridge as I don’t like a too heavy and fatty breakfast.
- Hydrate. Not only during the race but start before the race as well, especially in summer. It can be quite some time from when you get to an event until you eventually race so make sure you’ll start hydrating then. I need a coffee in the morning to get going at all but will stick to water or a sports drink afterwards. Don’t overdo it either. Be sensible.
- Bring safety pins. Yes, at most races they will provide them but make sure you just cary some spare ones (I only have four with me). You never know….
- Lay out all your race gear the day before. Doing it this way you’re more likely not to forget anything. Start with the important paperwork if it was sent out to you (BIB etc), your running gear (check the weather forecast!), any accessories you might need (sport watch, sun glasses, hat etc) and any nutrition you want to bring yourself. Remember to pack some clothes for after the race too. You might want to get out of those sweaty clothes or muddy shoes.
- On your own? Figure out what to do with keys, money etc in the weeks leading up to the race. Some events will provide a bag drop off but not all of those are supervised so you might not want to (and will be advised not to) leave any valuables in your bag. I am using a waist belt with pockets but whatever you decide on, try it before several times and on longer distance runs too, so it doesn’t move, bounce or chafe you.
- Check the weather forecast. Obviously. Choose your gear accordingly. Don’t forget suncream, sunglasses and a hat if it promises to be a hot sunny day. And don’t dress for the first mile. Cool morning? Trust me, you will get warm. So if you want to wear an extra layer to start with, make sure you can take it off easily without having to interrupt your run. If it’s raining, either get one of those cheap ponchos or use a bin bag and cut some holes into it to wear as one pre-race. This way you won’t get soaked while waiting for the start and you can just discard it when you get going.
- Practice to drink while running and how to use sports gel. Especially the later one is something I should have done. The amount of times and minutes I have struggled to get these things open with my sweaty hands…. Drinking while running, especially from cups, can take some getting used too as well. If you can find out what brand will be available at the water stations, try this particular one before the race.
- Get a good nights sleep and hold back on alcohol the night before. Excitement might get in your way when it comes to sleep but at least go to bed early enough and rest. I think the alcohol doesn’t need explaining, that’s obvious isn’t it.
- Don’t be shy about your first race! You should be proud, so go on, tell everybody and ask them to come along and support you. Nothing better than a loud cheer and encouragement when you want to give it that extra push just before the finish line.
This list could go on for a bit and I might update it at a later time. Most of these tips could be applied for both road and trail races. However, the nature of trail races might require different gear etc what I will address in a separate post.