13 Tips for Your First 5k

My friend Chris, who I’ve known for about eleven years now, will be joining me at the start line on Saturday for his first 5k race. He started Couch to 5k earlier this year and finished it a few weeks ago. I’m so proud of him! Considering how long it took me to get through Couch to 5k, he has done such a better job starting out than I did. 🙂

He messaged me and said he was nervous, so I told him I’d write up some tips for him. Here ya go!

nashville predators fangtastic 5k

Photo from 2013 Fangtastic 5k
Source: Nashville Predators

  1. Pay attention to what you are doing a couple days out from the race.
    Eat well in the days before the race. Drink lots of water! And don’t stay up too late; get plenty of sleep.
  2. It’s okay if you don’t sleep well the night before, though.
    Nerves, anxiety, and excitement can keep you up the night before a race. Early start times don’t help (though, thankfully, that’s not an issue for this race). Studies have shown that the sleep the night before a race is not really important. Just try to get some sleep the night before that!
  3. Lay out all the stuff you’ll need on race day the night before.
    You’ll be less likely to forget something, and you won’t have to figure out what to wear while rushing around early in the morning. If you go to packet pickup before the race, go ahead and pin the bib on your shirt and attach the timing device to your shoe (not all races use these, some timing devices are attached to your bib). Not sure what to wear? A good rule of thumb is to add 15-20 degrees to the temperature it will be for the race and dress like you’re going for a walk in that weather.
  4. Study the course map before the race.
    Most race websites will post the course map, along with the location of any water stops. Check it over before the race so you know what to expect. If you think you’ll need to hydrate more than what they provide on the course, bring your own water. Make sure you check the elevation map too; if there’s a large hill right before the finish, you’ll need to conserve some energy for it!
  5. Don’t do anything new on race day.
    Race day is not the day to wear new shoes, new clothes, or eat anything new for breakfast. That is what training is for. The only thing new you should be doing is pinning a bib to your shirt.
  6. Get there early, especially if you are doing packet pickup the day of the race.
    I’ve seen packet pickups with no wait and some that I’ve had to wait 20 minutes in line for. It all depends. So if you are doing packet pickup the morning of the race, I’d aim to get there an hour early. That will give you plenty of time to park, pick up your things, attach your race bib, use the restroom, and get in some warm up time without feeling rushed.
  7. Don’t start in the front.
    Unless you are in a larger race with corrals, it’s going to be up to you to pick where in the crowd to start. The people in the front are the fast ones. The people in the very back are the walkers. Middle of the crowd is your 8-10 min/mi group. Pick where you think you would fall in. If in doubt, choose further back.
  8. Don’t start too fast.
    You will start too fast if you aren’t consciously thinking about it. Adrenaline will naturally make you run faster than you do in training. This, coupled with the fact that you are running with a bunch of people who are passing you, will make you want to take off faster than you have ever run. And you will get worn out quickly. Be conservative when starting out. You can pass all those people later when they realize that they’ve started too fast.
  9. Run the tangents.
    Race courses are measured by using the shortest distance possible to finish them. This means on curvy roads, the shortest path is straight down the middle and not following the curves. When you run a race, usually a watch or any other run tracking software will probably say you ran further than the race distance. This is because it’s nearly impossible to run all the tangents, due to other runners. But try to save yourself from adding too much extra distance to your race by running all the tangents you can.
  10. It’s okay to walk.
    Plenty of people run/walk or just walk races. That doesn’t just apply to 5ks either, as I know plenty of people planning to walk the Country Music Half next month. People aren’t judging you, and you aren’t a failure if you feel the need to walk. Sometimes it’s the little boost you need to get to the finish line. However, make sure you follow race etiquette: if you decide to walk, make sure there’s no one directly behind you and move over all the way to the right!
  11. Don’t worry about your time; it’s an automatic PR!
    This goes for every race of a new distance that you do. If you’ve never raced it, you don’t have a time to beat! Enjoy your first race and don’t be concerned about numbers.
  12. Don’t stop after you cross the finish line.
    Keep walking around for a bit to cool down. I know you are tired and probably want to sit, but get in at least 5 minutes of walking so it’s not a shock to your body when you stop.
  13. Eat something right after you finish.
    They offer you free food for a reason. Your body needs protein and carbs after you run (the sooner after you finish, the better), so grab a banana, a doughnut, or whatever else they are offering.

Most of all, have fun!

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