Rule #1: Relax!
The best advice for first-time racers is to relax and enjoy yourself. Racing is meant to be a stimulating, memorable experience. You will enjoy the experience more if you keep things in perspective and use common sense. Even if something goes wrong in your first race—like getting stomach cramps or having your shoelaces come untied—it’s not the end of the world. You’ll live to run and race again.
Here are 8 race day running tips for rookies from John Stanton, founder of the Running Room:
1. Your Goal: Your goal is simply to finish. Your first race is for the experience, not for the competition. Be sure to finish smiling and wanting to race again.
2. Eating and Drinking: On race day, don’t eat or drink anything out of the ordinary. For last meal, taken at least three hours before the race start, you might want to eat less than normal, since nervousness could upset your digestive system. In warm weather, drink 500 mL of water one hour before the start, and continue drinking every 10 minutes during the race.
3. Strategy: Planning your race strategy in advance will build your confidence. Break the course into small sections, making sure you know the locations of hills and other key landmarks. It’s particularly useful to be familiar with the last half-kilometre of the course, where you will be budgeting your energy for the finish. On race day, it’s a good idea to warm up by running the last half-kilometre of the course and setting a few landmarks in your mind.
4. Getting Ready: When you arrive at the race, don’t be intimidated by what you see other runners doing. Do some walking, some stretching and some easy running to loosen up.
5. Lining Up and Starting: Make your way to the back of the pack where you won’t get caught in the starting sprint. Many races have Running Room pacing groups: join the group that will be running at a pace you feel comfortable with. Begin slowly. Don’t worry about all the runners who take off ahead of you.. Maintain that pace, the one that allows you to talk comfortably, at least until you reach the halfway mark.
6. Walking: Use the proven strategy of running 10 minutes and walking 1 minute. Nowhere on the entry form does it say that you can’t walk. So if you feel the need, take a walk break, particularly on the hills.
7. Finishing: Keep your pace constant and steady. Don’t sprint hard at the finish line. Concentrate on finishing with good, strong, relaxed form.
8. Recovery: After you finish, be sure to walk around for a cool-down. Drink plenty of fluids, especially if it’s a hot day. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible, and when you get home, stretch your muscles thoroughly after taking a cool shower. Don’t do any running the next day. Running on tired leg muscles only tempts injury.