The Ultimate List: Our Top 50 Tips for Running Your First Race
Running your first race can be scary, exhilarating and everything in between. It’s a mix of physical and emotional that can make your mind race faster than your feet. With the OrthoCarolina Classic 10K (plus 5K and kids dash) coming up August 22, we polled our providers at OrthoCarolina to get their top-secret, best running tips to help you rock your first race.
- Don’t overtrain. Most experienced runners know the key to a great race versus a mediocre trot lies in training smarter, not necessarily harder. Make sure you incorporate rest days and cross training days (swimming, biking, yoga, anything but running) into your training schedule. It will not only help recharge your body, but also recharge your mind.
- Intervals!!!! Most novice runners only focus on clocking miles, when they should incorporate intervals into their runs. Alternating between your normal pace mile speed for a minute (or two or three) and then a short burst (30-60 seconds) of running at 80-85% MHR not only mixes up your routine, but will actually help increase your pace mile time.
Janie Bostian, PTA, CKTP; OrthoCarolina Huntersville
- Proper pre-race nutrition is key including being hydrated and consuming the right calories. Hydrate the night before. Eat a combination of complex carbs (1/2 bagel), some fruit (3-4 strawberries) and protein (nuts, scoop of peanut butter) two hours before the race. It's a short race so don't overload on calories and you shouldn't feel the need to eat while on the course.
- Adequate warm up does not mean only running. To run effectively, one must "awaken" key running muscles for efficient running on the hills of the OC Classic course. Those are the glutes, abs, hip flexors and legs. Before running a step, do two sets of 10 reps of plank leg lifts, standing high knees, mini squats with hands behind your head and side to side leg swings. Exercises like these should be done before EVERY run. It will reduce the likelihood of developing knee pain, IT band issues and foot pain.
- Be patient and let the race develop. The tendency is to go out too hard. Run YOUR race by starting steady and building to a higher pace. You will have some gas in the tank for the final push!
Kevin Casey, ATC, PAC; OrthoCarolina University; Member of the Triathlon Team EPT (EPOCH Performance Therapy) Racing, marathon runner and Ironman participant
- Have fun!
- Get there early. It can be difficult to navigate parking, the registration tent, exhibit area, start line, and port-a-jons with an excited race day crowd.
- Scope out the course. Know where the start/finish lines are. Know if there are any large hills that you should be prepared for.
- Don’t forget to warm up! It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and run out of time to do some light jogging and stretching.
- Run a consistent pace within your fitness. Don’t run too fast for the first mile and suffer through the final miles of the race. That will not be enjoyable.
- Eat a good meal the night before – something that you know won’t upset your stomach. Chicken and pasta always works for me.
- Just as important as the meal the night before is the morning meal before the race. This may be something that you want to experiment with on training days. I usually go for a piece of toast with peanut butter a few hours before race time.
- Enjoy the healthy competition and celebrate your finish!
Matt Dobler; PA-C; OrthoCarolina Huntersville
- Drive the race route before the race: you are then aware of where you will need some extra effort (hills) and where you can recover and reduce anxiety of “what’s around the corner”.
- Run the race in the shoes and clothes you have been training in. New/different attire can cause unwanted discomforts you weren’t prepared for.
- If you don’t usually eat a big meal the night before or morning of your runs, don’t do it before the race. This helps prevent digestive distress during the run.
Crissi Harrison, MS, ATC, LAT; Eastover Physical Therapy
- Don’t change anything on race day – this means no new shoes, no new socks, no new foods, no new anything. Stick with what you are accustomed to and what you have used while training. Race day is no time to experiment or try anything new.
George B. Collins PA-C, OrthoCarolina Matthews
- Never wear new equipment for the first time on race day (shoes, clothes, socks, hat, etc.)
- Practice your nutrition routine before the race. If you don’t run with water or GU or other types of nutrition don’t try it for the race. If you prefer a certain flavor make sure you use it for race day.
- Use a race belt (<$10) which saves your clothes from getting safety pin holes in them, and its way faster to get your bib on in the morning of race day.
- Don’t wear cotton!!! Holy blisters everywhere! Especially in this Carolina humidity, chafing and blisters are basically guaranteed if you wear cotton instead of a wicking fabric (socks too).
- Hydrate the days leading up to the race. Drink lots of water and put salt on your food to help avoid dehydration. Sports drinks aren’t necessary leading up to the race as long as you have a balanced diet. The added sugars and dyes in most sports drinks end up being more detrimental than the electrolyte boost is helpful.
- Smile at the finish line for the photographers; enjoy the experience of finishing and get a good photo of it at the end. Don’t stress out about stopping your watch exactly at the line, that’s why you wear a timing chip.
- Stick around for awards at the end if possible. You never know, you might place in your age group even if you think there wasn’t a chance for it. Even if you don’t place, it’s a great experience seeing your fellow runners’ achievements and building camaraderie with those you just raced with.
Katrina Courtright, ATC, LAT; OrthoCarolina Ballantyne PT and ATC with Ardrey Kell High School sports; former collegiate soccer player, distance runner including half-marathons, marathons, triathlons, ultra-races, Olympic distance triathlon and half-Ironmans.
- Start slower than you think, go shorter than you think and be consistent in regular running. Think "marathon", not in distance but in attitude toward your running. Slow and steady.
Chris Dollar, DPT, PT, OMPT; Eastover Physical Therapy
- Start off walking/running. Run one minute, walk one minute; increase your time and your mileage each week. The goal is to run longer and walk less.
- Use a running app – I use Map My Run. This will help monitor improvements that you are making each week.
- Find a partner to run with. This will keep you accountable.
Kim Holland; Practice Administrator, OrthoCarolina Winston
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the race and make sure you get up early to warm up and stretch before the race.
- Practice running the course or know the course ahead of time so you can plan for any changes in elevation and know what locations are at which mile marker.
Carrie Kibler, MPT; OrthoCarolina Winston
- Lay out your clothes and any running accessories the night before.
- You will always have pre-race jitters/nerves, whether it’s your first race or 100th. Get up early enough to have a cup of coffee to help speed that bath room visit along ;)
- Don’t get overwhelmed with the crowd and the quick start. You may start a little faster than expected but once the crowd dies down adjust you pace as needed.
- Last, relax and enjoy the race. I have learned through the races to just enjoy the scenery and the feeling of running than worry about what may be hurting or people passing me.
Amanda Kreger, PT; OrthoCarolina Winston; Avid runner for 10+ years
- Set a realistic goal for yourself; a first-time runner is not likely going to try and set a personal record (PR). A first time racer has either not been physically active before, it has been a while, or may have been involved in other forms of physical activity. The mistake I made for my first run was being disappointed with my finishing time without adequate pre-race training.
- Don’t be too critical or hard on yourself for this first race. A realistic goal is to aim to just finish the race (running, walking or jogging, the important thing is that you are out there and physically active) and then you can build upon that finish time in subsequent races!
Adam Lupinski ATC, PTA, CSCS; Physical Therapy, OrthoCarolina Mooresville
- Have fun! Unless you are competitive, remember that the race is fundraising for research! No need to finish first!!!
Nancy Morgan, LPN
- Take a look around and enjoy the scenery. It’s a different perspective when you are running through a neighborhood or street that you may have drive a hundred times before. Take a breath and look around. I guarantee you will notice little things you never appreciated before.
- Relax. No one is there to point at you or judge you. YOU got your butt out of bed that morning just like everyone else. YOU are going to finish this race.
- YOU are going to celebrate at the end knowing you did more before 8am than most folks may do all day!
- Don’t do anything new on race day. Now is not to try those new shoes, socks, underwear, gel, drink, or whatever. Stick with what you are used to. Don’t upset the apple cart or you may toss your cookies or chafe the heck out of yourself instead.
- Be prepared for a crowded start. Think cattle in a chute or being in line at the entrance to Carowinds. You will move slowly at first until the crown spreads out. Look for an open spot to go and stick with it, but be prepared to change lanes if necessary. You can be a Sunday driver or a soccer mom late for pick up – your choice.
- Socialize. Races are about setting goals and attaining them. Part of the journey is paying it forward. Congratulate or cheer on someone you don’t even know. Talk to other racers afterwards and revel in how you both kicked butt on that beast of a hill and how awesome it was to come around the last turn to the cheers from the crowd and see your family there too!
Scot Rheinecker, MS, AT-C/L. PA-C, PA-C; Physician Assistant-Certified; Athletic Trainer - Certified ; OrthoCarolina Concord
- Invest in a good pair of running shoes with plenty of support. If you are unsure about what brand to buy ask a friend or relative that runs regularly. They will have an opinion and suggestion. The appropriate shoe does not have to be the most expensive.
- When you start your training allow plenty of time to slowly increase your mileage to the intended target mileage. Many first time runners make the mistake of pushing too hard too soon and end up with overuse type injuries that limit their ability to continue training.
- Listen to your body. The human body is an amazing organism that will often warn you when you are headed toward injury.
Shaun M. Riney, MPT; OrthoCarolina Monroe
- Get a good night’s sleep.Eat a light snack or use GU chomps for energy pre-race.
- Pace yourself – start out a bit slow and build up to a faster pace as your body acclimates to the run.
Stacy Rumfelt OTR/L, OTD, CHT, CLT; Director - Hand Therapy Residency Program
- If running the 5K, since this is a fast from the get-go race, make sure to jog lightly for 10-15 minutes prior to the run. Then do some dynamic warm ups like high knees, monster walks, etc. Try to time this to end as close as you can to the start of the race. This will help prevent injuries.
- If running the 10K, you'll need to warm up as well but be careful not to get too caught up in the crowd at the start and go faster than you want. You can use this as part of your warm up. Going slower at the beginning helps you to be able to increase your speed throughout the race for a strong finish!
DeAnna Shelley, OTR/L, CHT; OrthoCarolina Randolph; has run many half marathons and ran a marathon this spring qualifying for the Boston Marathon.