Tips For First Time Racers

Ah, Spring was in the air this weekend and it felt fantastic.  I don’t know about you, but I woke up with a little it more pep in my step.  When I took Mary for a walk yesterday, I just felt like a different person.

This is the time of year when my training clients start working on building up their race schedules.  And this is also the time of year when I started hearing from runners about writing training schedules for spring, summer, and fall races.

As a running coach, I receive many inquiries about races mixed with a lot of hesitation.  First time racers are often the most excited and reluctant to dive in to their racing debut.  I absolutely understand this.  It can be scary and overwhelming.

In many ways, signing up for a first race reminds of me walking into a new gym for the first time.  We often have many of the same questions.  What will the atmosphere be like?  Will they immediately know that I don’t belong here?  What if I get started and then am totally lost?  What if I collapse and can’t make it through?

These are legit concerns.  However, I can assure you that in almost any race you choose to partake in, you will be one of many first time racers.  99% of races are both welcoming and meant to be for first timers.  Below are some tips to help you with first time racing.

First, decide on a distance:  If you are new to running and racing, I would recommend trying a 5k (3.1 miles).  This is a manageable distance for almost any level of runner.  Most 5k’s even have a walking option and allow ample time for walkers.

Not feeling the 5k?  No problem.  There are plenty of other distances.  Just because you have never run or never raced doesn’t mean you can’t do another distance.  In fact, I have coached dozens of first time runners who jumped right into the marathon distance.  Just be aware that you will need to allow yourself ample time to train.  First time runners and marathoners will want to plan on some extra training time to prepare themselves.


Do your research and find a race that suits your style:  Just like runners, races come in all shapes and sizes.  There are road races and trail races.  You can find a fun race like a color run or something more intense like a mud run.  Some races are flat while others pride themselves on butt kicking hills.  Courses can be an out and back (meaning you will see the same views twice) or a winding loop.  Races can hold just a few hundred runners while big events like major marathons welcome  tens of thousands of runners.

Take some time and decide what will feel best for you.  Some people like to start with smaller, less overwhelming events.  Others prefer to feel like they are one of many thousand, where they will blend in a bit more.  Perhaps you want to run solo or maybe you want to do a relay.

Websites like Running In The USA  archive races by state, date, and race type.  You are certain to find something to suit your style there.


Find a plan:  The best way to enjoy race day is to feel prepared.  For almost any race distance, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your entire life for several months.  If your goal is to simply finish, you can find a plan that will accommodate your style.  Take the time to follow a plan and I can assure you that your experience will be far better than had you not prepared.

Get there early:  Arrive early.  Find the porta-potties and use them.  Look for the start and listen for any announcements.  Make sure you look at a race map ahead of time.  I have a great friend who is a fantastic runner and he is notorious for getting off course during races.  Lucky for him, he is super speedy and often still places or wins!

I also recommend finding the appropriate corral for your pace.  One of the best things you can take advantage of for first time racing is the pacers.  Find the runners carrying flags with times listed.  Jump in with your projected finish time and you will have a lot of assistance and likely meet a bunch of new friends.

Don’t try anything new:  If you want to know from experience how I can pick out first time racers, there are a few things I notice.  As a general rule, you should not change anything up on race day.  Wear the same clothes you trained in (shoes, socks, shirt, and shorts/pants).

At Grandma’s Marathon last year they gave out race socks.  I saw several people who wore those socks on race day.  Almost any experienced runner would know that this is a recipe for massive blisters.  Another dangerous thing to do is wear the race shirt you are given with your packet.  Gentleman, I have seen many, many a bloody nipple(s) on those runners who try their shirts out on race day.  The best guarantee that you won’t chafe or bleed is to wear what you know works for you.


Have fun and know that everyone was a first time runner/racer at some point.  Running is one of the most inclusive activities I have ever experienced.  It is very rare to meet a runner who isn’t thrilled to see someone new join the bunch.  It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are.  We don’t care if you are doing 3 miles or an ultra.  We just love having you join our team!

What is your best advice for first time racing?

6 thoughts on “Tips For First Time Racers

  1. Ooooohhhhhh bloody nipples! Yikes, not fun. I struggled one marathon keeping my band-aids stuck when it was a really warm day (it hit 88 while I was running) … fortunately was able to get more at an aid station. Worth it!

    Another tip – your first time running anything other than a 5K, go out slower than your body will tell you … you might feel great, but that is nervous energy and adrenaline powering you in a way that is not sustainable.

    • Bloody nipples are the real deal. It is so hard not to stare at someone with those red marks! Absolutely wonderful advice for first time racers. Thank you so much for adding that. Almost all of us, regardless of how long we have been running, tend to get excited and go out of the gate a little crazy. Always better to err on the side of a bit slower at first. Nothing is worse than getting out there a bit and realizing you are already spent!

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