Signing up for your first road race is an exciting yet daunting task. And while no race is going to be a breeze, a lot can go wrong that you might not have anticipated — so let us prepare you for your first race.
Chafing, bowel movements, and bloody nipples are just a few red alerts that newbie runners need to watch out for on race day. However, if you plan ahead, so much can go right — like a personal best, a huge sense of accomplishment, and an awesome overall experience.
To help ensure that your race goes smoothly, we asked running enthusiasts, veteran racers, and even professional runners what they wish they’d had a warning about.
The noms and drinkies are your fuel source on this journey — and they’re *so* important to get right.
1. Go to the end of the line of volunteers at the water stations
“Don’t get caught in the panic and chaos that usually gathers around the first few volunteers. It’s a lot less hectic once you get past these people.” — Katie Dobbs, four-time half-marathon finisher
2. After you’ve grabbed water at a station, get to the opposite side of the course ASAP
“After my first water station, I continued running on the inside track of the course and had cups of water thrown at me. It was a cold day and felt horrible.” — John Beck, two-time marathon finisher
3. Salt is a life force
“Volunteers were handing out salt packets during my marathon. By the end of the race, I was relying on it every couple of miles to feel renewed.” — Becky Fitzmorris, marathon finisher
4. Bring your own energy gels
“Many bigger marathons and halfs will provide energy gels (GUs) along the way, which is great — except when you’re so engrossed in your race that you run right past the GU table without noticing.
“When this happened to me, I was very grateful to have my own gels, as it probably would’ve been a struggle to finish strong without the added sugar and caffeine kick that GU provides.” — Dobbs
5. Is it cold? Well, your gels are going to freeze
“If you’re a lady, stick them in your bra, or just get in the habit of pulling them out 5 minutes early and holding them inside your glove so they’re consumable when you need them.” — Dobbs
6. Don’t mix Gatorade and energy gel
“That’s a *lot* of sugar and can hurt your stomach.” — Sean Fortune, USATF Level II running coach, owner and founder of Central Park Coaching
7. Try S!Caps (electrolyte tablets)
“I drank sports drinks and always got sick to my stomach before I switched to S!Caps (an electrolyte capsule).” — Michael Wardian, ultrarunner
8. About 10 minutes before the race, sip some Red Bull or a 100-calorie gel
“This will help spike the mind, adrenaline, and overall body aura to focus in with stamina on the race at hand.” — Meredith Kessler, Red Bull triathlete, marathoner, Ironman champion
When you’re going *that* fast, sometimes you have to go.
9. Cut down your veggie intake a couple days before you race
“One or two days before the race, less is more in terms of vegetables. This will limit any potential GI distress while you run the race.” — Kessler
10. Ladies. Peeing. You’re doing it wrong
“Why pull your shorts down around your ankles when you can just as easily scooch them over to the side?
“A) It’s quicker.
“B) not being able to find a tree or bushes for cover is no longer a problem.” — Katie DeSplinter, ultrarunner
11. It’s worth the wait for the bathroom at the start line
“Even if the gun has already gone off, stay in the line so that your bladder has maximum chill while you’re running. Your race chip will determine your actual time even if you don’t cross the start line with everyone else.” — Erin Kelly, seven-time marathon finisher
12. BYO toilet paper
“The toilet paper in the Porta-Johns is horrible… *and* it runs out. I always bring my own now.” — Beck
13. Sh*t happens
“GI distress is a real thing, and it will probably happen during long races and even some shorter ones. Test out your diet and hydration before race day so there are no surprises. I’ll always remember having to sprint to the bathroom at mile 7 of a marathon, which is hard to do after running several miles already.” — Danielle Wolfe, running enthusiast
It’s not just about looking IG-friendly — you have to make sure your clothes work for and not against you.
14. Make sure your toenails are clipped before race day
“Bloody toes can be painful, and they ruin your socks. Trim your toenails before the big day.” — Fortune
15. Do a trial run with the clothes and gear you are going to wear
“For my first race, I wore a shirt I had never run in. That was a mistake. It had no breathability, and I was very uncomfortable. Try on your stuff before the real deal.” — Tom Harley, three-time marathon finisher
16. Bring clothes you can ditch at the starting line
“I wish I knew that you have to stand around in the cold for a long time before you actually start. Everyone else had their throwaway clothes, and I was freezing my butt off. Ditched clothes at the starting line are typically donated by race volunteers post-race, so don’t feel too bad about shedding your layers!” — Beck
17. Wear waterproof gloves in winter races
“My first half-marathon was in January with 20-degree weather. And while I had three layers of jackets, I had one pair of gloves. Your hands get cold fast when you’re running for 13.1 miles while dodging obstacles like water stations and potential spills.” — Erin Nemeth, two-time marathon finisher
18. Those compression sleeves people wear? They’re actually arm warmers
“Compression sleeves are perfect for chilly days, as they’re basically sleeves that you can remove quickly and easily. Brilliant! There’s a bunch of races I wish I had known that tip for.” — Jamie Crisafulli, three-time marathon finisher and Ragnar Relay enthusiast
19. Gentlemen: Wear Band-Aids on your nipples
“Nipples bleed during races. Band-Aid up. You won’t regret it.” — Christopher Lopez, four-time marathon finisher and 60K ultramarathon finisher
20. Wear massive amounts of Body Glide
“Crotch chafing is real. If you love it, lube it!” — Molly Anne Kreter, three-time marathon finisher
21. Bring your own Band-Aids
“I got some pretty gnarly blisters during and after my first half-marathon, and I was happy to have brought a Band-Aid or two to help cushion them as I limped to my car after the race. The medical tents can get crowded, so avoid the lines by carrying a few Band-Aids on you.” — Dobbs
Get your brain ahead of the game.
22. Don’t stress about sleep
“Even if you are up tossing and turning the night before — and who isn’t excited for a first race? — as long as you get enough sleep two nights before, you’ll be fine on race day.” — Marnie Kunz, RRCA-certified running coach
23. Be nice to people at the starting line
“It can calm insecurities and makes you feel less alone.” — Dominic Grossman, ultrarunner
24. Mile markers can sabotage you mentally
“When I’m just out for a run, I can sometimes go for a while without knowing how far or how long I’ve been out there. In races, those mile markers are just psychological torture. I don’t want to know I’m only 8 miles into a marathon!” — Darren King, 60K and 5K finisher
25. Save your favorite workout songs for the tail end of your playlist…
You won’t hear them with your nerves and the roar of the crowd for the first few miles. — Erica Tillinghast, trainer, global education manager at Precor, and marathoner
26. …but unplug from your headphones before the finish
“If you run with headphones, take them out before the finish line so that you can hear the crowd cheer you on! It’s a massive motivator for the next race.” — Tillinghast
27. Smile when you see photographers!
“You can even wave, throw up a deuce, dab, or leap for joy. Ham it up, and your race pics will stand out from the characteristic painful looks of runners, closed eyes, and even death glares. Your IG account will be happy with a kick-ass race shot.” — Kunz
28. Don’t lose hope if you aren’t doing well!
“Persistence hunting is the basis of running. Sometimes, when a runner takes off early in the race, they may seem impossible to catch, but they end up crashing, and you can catch them toward the end if you don’t give up.” — Grossman
29. While races are exciting, they’re really just runs
“You need to approach it with the same calm and collected attitude as any other run. It’s easy to become a victim of paralysis by analysis. Don’t overthink it!” — Desiree Linden, professional distance runner for Brooks and second-place finisher at the 2011 Boston Marathon
All systems go! (With caution.)
30. Beware of adrenaline
“It might make you start out faster than you can manage — which will hurt you later on.” — Joseph Mullins, half-marathon finisher and 5K enthusiast
31. Always pay attention at the start line
“It can get crowded and frantic. I once lost my balance right as the gun was going off and spent most of my energy trying to catch up. The first 100 meters won’t win the race but could take you out of it if you’re not careful.” — Katie Mackey, professional mid-distance runner for Brooks
32. Stash $20 on you
“Throw it in your compression sleeves, sports bra, or pocket. I got injured during a race and, without money for a cab, I had to limp home!” — Jennifer Hughes, marathon finisher
33. Your GPS watch might not give an accurate pace
34. Know your route
“It’s important to know the route you’re running for a variety of reasons. You’ll want to know where the water and bathroom stops are, and you can also let people know where you are should something go wrong on your run.” — Wolfe
All good things must come to an end. Here’s how to close out like a champ.
35. If you’re running a marathon, take the following day off from work
“Limping to and from your office will be no fun. Reward yourself with a pajama day.” — Molly Socha, marathon finisher
36. Your arms are going to hurt post-marathon
“You probably expect that 26.2 miles will leave you with dead legs. But nobody tells you how much your arms (plus your shoulders and upper back) are going to hurt after swinging them in time with your legs for hours. Be prepared to have trouble lifting them in the 2- to 6-hour window after you finish.” — Nemeth
37. Don’t eat all the snacks they provide immediately after finishing the race
“It would have been good to give my body some time to cool down after my half-marathon before I stuffed a bagel, banana, hummus, and chips down my throat. I felt sick immediately.” — Lauren Pallister, two-time half-marathon finisher
38. The finishing chute can be really long
“When you finish big races, there’s typically a long chute you’ll walk through with other finishers before you can reunite with friends or family. I was fighting back tears of frustration because they wouldn’t let me sit down!” — Crisafulli
39. You’ll probably do it again
“After finishing my first marathon, I grabbed my medal, sat down, and vowed never to do another marathon EVER, EVER again. A year later, I did my second marathon and have done a few halves, 5 and 10Ks here and there.
“The bottom line is that once you do a race of any distance, at any speed, you’re bound to fall in love with the race atmosphere.” — Wolfe
So, long-distance running is hard. Like, really hard. And while it can be super rewarding, making sure your snacks, energy boosters, water, and clothes are prepped is mega important.
Knowing what to expect means that curveballs won’t f*ck up your vibe on the day, and you’ll be able to focus on the most important thing: getting to that finish line.