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Racing Tips

by Daniel Johnston

Running a race is awesome. Although just normal running is awesome too, there’s just something really special and exciting about running a race.

If you haven’t done a race before, I would go and sign up for a 5k as soon as possible. Running in a race is a totally different animal than running on your own and it will really motivate you. I fall in love with running even more every time I race.

There are some racing tips that you’ll definitely want to know if you’re planning to do a race soon. We all learn as we go and it would’ve been easier for me if I had known some of this stuff beforehand.

Before the Race

If you’re running a distance from 5k to half marathon, first you need to dispel your fears that you won’t finish the race or that something really bad will happen. If you can run even a mile on your own, you’re capable of finishing a half marathon, let alone a 5k. You may have to stop and wait a bit, but no shame in doing that.

If you’re running a marathon, you obviously have to worry about that a little bit more. While I’ve known people to run and finish marathons without training, I wouldn’t recommend it because you probably won’t be able to move for several days.

Also in a marathon there is the problem that your bodies resources tend to become depleted, especially if you know you’re going to take a relatively long time to finish it. For marathons you’ll need to prepare a lot to make sure nothing goes wrong. For shorter races, though, the truth is that nothing is going to happen.

If you’re on a training plan, they will probably instruct you how to taper. Personally, I taper even more than they usually recommend so I have totally fresh legs (I usually do my last run on Tuesday for a big race on Saturday). For 5ks you don’t usually taper unless you’re trying to do really well, but I’d recommend at least not running the day before.

For a 5k or 10k this also doesn’t really matter, but for longer races you’ll definitely want to get a lot of sleep. Chances are the night before a half or a full you won’t be able to sleep very much. That’s ok, though, because studies show it’s the sleep you get the week before-and especially two days before-that really counts.

For running gear, you need to keep everything the same for your race as in your training. I know sometimes people think they can change that rule and that it doesn’t apply to them. Let me tell you: It does.

I thought that, too. Going into my first half marathon, I decided to wear one shoe that was relatively new (not totally new but not one I usually ran in) because my other shoe was getting banged up. Bad mistake. I ended up with blisters on the foot with the new shoe. You don’t want to take any chances or have any surprises on race day.

You may want to run with music and have a playlist for the race (some marathons won’t allow it, although most will). I always like to make my playlist the night before the race right before I go to bed to add to the excitement, but you can do whatever you want. Some people prefer to just run in silence, and that’s awesome.

You also need to not put too much pressure on yourself for the race. I wouldn’t tell a lot of people about the race, either. Otherwise you’ll feel some pressure, when really running should be for you and about what you want. For some fundraisers you obviously may have to share it with people, and you may want to with your friends and family, but I just wouldn’t build it up too big.

If you’re running a bigger race, they may have a festival or whatever the day before where you can go, pick up your stuff, play some games, and look at products. It’s a fun way to go and meet people. If you’re running a half marathon or a marathon, you’ll definitely want to be prepared and get GU or an equivalent to keep your body stored with fuel during the race.

You shouldn’t have too much pressure from yourself. Remember you’re running to enjoy yourself and however you do in this race is just fine, because you’re already a good runner. So just treat the race as a fun adventure, because that’s what it is.

Prerace

Clearly it’s of high importance to actually get to the race on time. Generally they will say a certain time to arrive if you haven’t picked up your bib already. Many larger races have you take buses to the starting line, so you should get there before the buses stop rolling.

Generally races are pretty lenient about letting you run and sign up even past their deadline, but I wouldn’t push it. I would try not to go too early, though, because it’s not really fun waiting around in the early morning (possibly very cold or very hot) waiting for the race to start. It’s also best to try to sign up online, but that’s not always possible.

If you’re running a 5k, you definitely don’t want to eat or drink anything before the race. If you can avoid it, it’s best to avoid taking any medication you might take before the race, because they can cause complications in your body. When I complained to my nurse of my stomach cramps, she told me to take my vitamins after I run, and that has solved the problem.

If you’re running a half marathon or a marathon, it’s definitely a good idea to try to eat something before the race. If you have the opportunity to eat 3 hours before the race (which would be REALLY early in the morning) then you can pretty much eat as usual. Most likely, though, you won’t want to get up that early, so a couple hours before you might want to just eat something light.

After getting to the race you definitely want to go the bathroom. A lot of times the lines can be pretty long, though. If you arrive earlier enough, you’ll most likely get an opportunity to go. I definitely would not use the bathroom during the race because you’re going to lose a lot of time. The only exception may be in a marathon where you need a break anyways.

Before you know it you’ll be at the starting line and the race will be about to start.

Racing

I must say a word about pacers. Many longer races are staffed by pace groups, with runners known as pacers holding up signs with times on them. If you follow them for the whole race, you will finish in that time.

Pacers can be a very valuable way to help pace yourself and run with a group. The problem, though, is that pacers are in such good shape that they can easily run the race in the time they’re pacing for. Consequently, the pacing throughout the race may not be even.

What you want to do in a race is start out conservatively but at a good pace, and get faster as you go along. If you can’t get a negative split (the second half of the race is faster than the first) then you at least want to try to get close to an even split. If you go out too fast, you may crash and burn.

Unfortunately, pacers often go out way too fast because they can easily handle it, but it often has bad consequences for less in shape runners, ruining their race. So while there’s nothing wrong with sticking with a pace group, you need to run your own race and let yourself dictate your pace, not anyone else.

Okay, so like I said, you don’t want to go out too fast. With all the excitement at the beginning of a race, you may want to rush ahead at the beginning. This may feel good at the beginning, but it sure won’t feel good when you’re struggling in the middle of the race. While it’s okay to go slightly above your goal pace for the first mile or so, really it’s best to not even do that. Don’t worry about what other people are doing; just stick to your pace.

If you haven’t raced before, you’ll soon discover that running in a race is far easier than running by yourself, and you will probably be able to go way faster than you had imagined, especially for longer distances if you’ve trained well.

You will also discover that running a 5k can be very painful, although still very fun and rewarding, while running a half marathon can be one of the most joyous days of your life. Ultimately, though, everyone experiences it differently, but let me tell you that running a race is a great experience that is unlike anything else.

There are a lot of tricks to make it so you can push past the pain that inevitably will come up in a race (especially in a 5k or 10k). By practicing them in your training, they can become second nature and allow you to dig deeper than you had previously imagined. For example, you might simply shut off your mind, or disconnect yourself from your body totally. Everyone has a different technique.

It is definitely a good idea to take advantage of aid stations. If you’re running relatively fast at a 5k you probably won’t need them (although they can still be nice). In a longer race, though, you should definitely drink a little bit. Studies have shown it doesn’t really matter whether you drink gatorade or water, so take your pick.

Although a lot of people advise sprinting at the end of a race, that is a horrible idea. It is certainly a good idea to pick up your speed as it gets to the kind, but you don’t want to push yourself too hard at the end. You will only save a couple of seconds, and it just is not worth it and does not make any sense. By going so hard at the end, you jeopardize your race with the possibility of collapsing and not finishing. It may feel good, but it just does not make any sense.

Crossing the finish line is a great feeling, although the real feeling of accomplishment is actually running the race, living and reaping the work hard of my training.

Postrace

After the race you will probably be very tired but also very energized. Some races they will give you a medal and they will have all kinds of stuff available for you to do and eat. Other races they won’t.

Either way, you should feel great! You set out to run the race, and you did it! Whatever your time might have been, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you enjoyed yourself. You’ll probably be on a racing high for awhile. It’s a good idea to stretch a little bit after a race to keep yourself from being too sore later.

You can stay for the award ceremony or not. Many races have giveaways with pretty cool prizes. I’ve gotten a couple of nice gift certificates simply from being there, because a lot of people went home and missed out. Obviously, you might have something to do, though. And some award ceremonies drag on FOREVER.

If you have already done a few races at the distance before, it will probably not be that big of a deal. However, if it your first race your legs will most likely be very sore. Even if you only did a 5k or 10k, your legs will probably be pretty tight. If you ran a half marathon or marathon, however, prepare to be limping for a few days.

If you are moving on to another training plan, you will probably want to analyze your time and figure out how your running is coming along and what your training for your next race should be. Please wait a little while to do that, though. For now you should just feel good.

I always say that the emotional benefits of a race are even bigger than the physiological benefits. With racing this is definitely true. There’s a great feeling that comes with running together with all these other people, your hard work pushing yourself to heights you never imagined.

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