My first big race, a half-marathon, was many strides short of a perfect event.
I realized this recently while chatting with a friend, who also shared her first race experience. We laughed as we recalled our preparation mistakes, but I shuddered remembering some of my choices. I ate two energy gels before the race and another two during it, a decision that my stomach didn’t … well, stomach well. My friend shook her head about her decision to wear a cotton t-shirt on a hot day and carry an enormous water bottle on a course filled with aid stations.
The mistakes were endless, and of course glaringly obvious, now that we have a few years and races under the waistbands of our running shorts. But as many new runners head out this racing season for their first race, below are a few race day tips — some that I wish had been shared with me. Happy running.
Not all shoes are created equal.
Seriously. Even if your new shoes are the same brand and style as those stinky ones you’ve been training in, it’s not a good idea to break them out of the box for race day. Running in them for a week or two before might even seem like enough of a break-in period, but they might not feel as comfortable come race day. Plus, it’s always more fun to look like a veteran runner with dirty shoes.
There (usually) will be water available. Bathrooms, too.
OK, so this tip comes with a caveat. Most — emphasis on most — road races have ample aid stations as well as port-a-potties along the route. The aid station offerings are usually enough for runners completing up to half-marathon distances, and many race directors have them marked on course maps. For trail races, however, it is wise to carefully read the race details and the course map. Conditions vary wildly depending on the type and length of course, so occasionally it’s acceptable to pee in bushes or wise to carry a hydration pack. Emphasis on occasionally.
Your training clothes should be your racing clothes.
I’ve watched a couple friends show up in brand new “race day” outfits, or the shirt handed out at the race expo, and cross the finish line with bloody armpits, thighs and other body parts because some sliver of fabric rubbed them raw. It looks painful — and is totally avoidable. Wear your favorite running clothes on race day and it will give you one less thing to worry about on the course (unless it’s a 5K costume run — then I say go for it, and be willing to accept a few hot spots for some good pictures).
Don’t broaden your palate on race day. Or the day before it.
This falls in line with the advice about the shoes and the clothes. Don’t eat the fancy energy gels and chews during the race if you’ve never tried them before, don’t drink a protein shake for breakfast if you usually eat a piece of toast, and don’t chow down on a plate of pasta the night before if you’re used to chicken and veggies. Stick to the food regimen you implemented during your long training runs. Trust me, and my stomach’s experience, on this one.