Whether you’re tackling a 5K or a half marathon, running your first race is a big deal. And, although you’ve already put in the legwork (literally!) with the training, there are a few other things to know before lacing up on race day. We chatted with two Aaptiv trainers to get their best race day tips for anyone looking to crush their first race!
Stop running a few days before.
You might be tempted to ride that runner’s high straight through until the race, but you’d be wise to give your body a bit of a break leading up to it. In fact, to see maximum benefits on race day, you may need to hang up the running shoes entirely for a few days.
“A lot of beginners don’t taper before a race because they think they have to keep running in order to get better,” explains Aaptiv trainer and running coach Meghan Takacs. “I encourage some cross training—like [indoor cycling] or rowing—and make sure you take care of your body [via] a massage, cryotherapy, ice baths, and stretching.” Step one for a successful first race: Give yourself a break!
Plan out your gear and food.
Your first race day will be filled with excitement—and it can be a lot to handle. Avoid unnecessary stress come race day by taking care of all the logistics ahead of time.
Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois says it’s a good idea to have the exact outfit you plan on rocking the day of the race all laid out in the days leading up to it. Although you might be tempted to break out your fancy new kicks or leggings, she suggests avoiding anything new on race day. Wear an outfit you’ve trained in before to avoid any discomfort.
In addition, if you’re competing in a long distance race, plan out what fuel you’re going to carry with you for energy. While most races have food available for runners throughout, it’s always a good idea to look up and see what your event will provide on the course to make sure that it works for you. Again, no surprises on race day!
As far as what food to pack, Takacs says it really depends on the race distance. If you’re participating in a longer race, she suggests GU packs for sustained energy. However, she also suggests eating a simple carb, such as half of a bagel or a yogurt, about 30 minutes before the start.
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Pack up, fuel up, and plan your arrival.
You’ve trained, picked up your race bib, and planned the perfect race day outfit—now all that’s left is to run, right?
Not so fast. The night before your first race is almost just as important as race day itself, starting with what you eat. “When it comes down to the night before your race, make sure to eat a healthy, nutritious meal,” says Moncourtois. “It will help you fuel your body properly for race day.” In addition, load up on water, starting at least two days prior to the race. And, of course, try to hit the sack early!
After you’ve confirmed your phone is charged, your headphones are working, and your alarm is set (with a backup alarm set just in case), be sure to plan your morning arrival. Check your course map and determine where your start and finish points are. If you plan on checking a bag with clothes or anything you might need post-race, be sure to locate the baggage drop off spot. This is often not at the start line, so be sure to factor in any extra time it might take you to get to and from baggage to make your start time.
That said, you don’t have to show up hours earlier. “I never get to a race too early,” says Takacs. “All that does i[s] build anxiety. It’s better to get there about 10-15 minutes before.” But she says to factor in any traffic, because, in the end, better early than late!
Plan for the finish.
Once you cross that finish line, pose for your celebratory finisher photo but do not sit down! Keep your legs moving after longer races, such as a half marathon or marathon, says Moncourtois. “Otherwise you’ll get lactic acid build up and it will make recovery a lot harder!” she says. “Make sure to refuel with some food and hydrate with some electrolytes to replace ones you lost.” And lastly, Moncourtois says to incorporate in some static stretching to avoid stiffening up.
Don’t get in your head.
No matter what the outcome of your first race, the key is to avoid mental barriers. “The mental toughness in racing is the hardest thing for beginners,” explains Takacs. Remember, racing is difficult and, most times, it’s not fatigue that makes new runners want to stop racing—it’s impatience, anxiety, and doubt.
“Don’t do too much, too soon,” she says. “Often times, beginners, since they haven’t run a whole lot before, love the runner’s high, and they feel fresh, so they run a lot. They think they need to run more in order to get better, and this leads to injury, which holds them back from running in general.”
The key to avoiding burnout or injury is to add variety to your workouts. Takacs suggests newer racers spend two to three days running and two days trying some kind of strength training. “It’s important, as a beginner, to understand [that] you don’t need to run more to run better,” she says. “The structure of your weeks and adding in strength training is what protects your body and gets you stronger and faster.”