Advice for Your First Race

Before My First Race — What I Wish I'd Known

Most runners will experience two types of races during their racing careers. For the first type, you’ll wake up energized and ready to go; you’ll feel confident and excited to put your hard work to the test. For the second type, you will think, "I am not ready. How am I going to do this?" While the second type happens to the best of us, here are some strategies that help me feel good on race day.

1. Follow a training plan

Follow an organized training plan that progresses gradually and incorporates short- and long-distance training runs over 12 to 20 weeks (depending on the race). The schedule should include the following:

  • A long run each week, gradually increasing distance over time
  • Speed training and pace workouts
  • Cross-training options
  • Rest days

Sleep! This is one of the most neglected tools used during training. Getting the right amount of quality sleep will help repair and energize your body for peak performance.

2. Find the right nutrition for you

Don’t try something new the day before, or day of the race.

  • Practice drinking water or a sports drink before, or during your workout
  • Experiment with pre-workout meals and eating while you run as part of your training

3. Clothing and shoes

  • Don’t wear brand new clothing or shoes on race day
  • Double knot your shoelaces
  • Find the right socks that help to avoid blisters
  • Test your running apparel on long runs
  • Dress for comfort
  • Dress for the weather with specific heat or cold gear
  • Take one step at a time
  • Meet and talk to other runners at the start, during and at the finish
  • Look at the fans and signs along the course

4. During the race

  • Line up in the middle of the pack. The fastest and most seasoned runners are up front. Being too close to the front of the pack may cause you to start at a pace that is too fast for you and have a less positive experience your first race.
  • Use the water stops
  • Don’t stop at the first table of water stops for drinks — they’re always the most congested
  • Don’t gulp your water — pinch the cup on one side to form a V

5. Have a recovery plan

  • Stretch after the race
  • Refuel within 30 minutes with protein, carbs and fat
  • Have bandages handy
  • Schedule a massage or acupuncture to relieve built-up lactic acid and sore muscles
  • Schedule rest days after your race

6. And finally, stay positive and have fun!

  • Believe in yourself
  • Remember all the hard work you put into your training
  • Don’t be intimidated
  • Meet new people
  • Say thank you to the volunteers
  • Run from your heart

As you lace up your shoes for your first starting line, try to enjoy the moment. You've trained, worked hard and already reached milestones in your training. Your first race does not have to be pretty. Just put one foot in front of the other until you cross the finish line. And remember, this will be your first PR (personal record), so don’t forget to smile!

Two women preparing to race

Mann, D, Training for the Big Run, WebMD, October 18, 2006,

Doheny, K, Sofa to 5k: Training Program for a 5k Run, WebMD, May 2, 2013,

Matt McMillen, M, How to Start Running, WebMD, June 19, 2013,

The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your doctor for appropriate health advice and guidance, including prior to starting a new diet or exercise program.