You’ve been running to improve your health and fitness for months now, and although it wasn’t especially easy at the beginning, you finally feel like you’ve found your stride. Over that time you’ve become a much stronger and more confident runner, increasing your distances and picking up the pace too. Now you’re even considering entering your first race, but you’re not exactly sure which one you should start with. Here are some tips to help you decide.
Stay Close to Home
While the idea of traveling to some exotic place just to compete in a race may sound enticing, you’ll want to avoid doing so for your first event. You’ll have enough on your plate in terms of logistics and planning without having to worry about packing your bags, getting on a plane, and flying across the country.
For your first race, the top priority should be keeping things simple and easy, so look for an upcoming event that is in your hometown or at least in close proximity. Race day will seem hectic enough as it is without adding other unnecessary distractions.
Pick the Proper Distance
Another key factor to consider is the length of the race. You’ll want to select one that aligns to your current level of fitness and training, even though you may be tempted to try to push yourself to go further.
Come race day, chances are you’ll be excited, nervous, and anxious all at the same time, which means you probably won’t perform at your best. Learning to pace yourself is a key skill, though. It is better to gain some experience in that area on a shorter race than learn a painful lesson on a longer one.
After you’ve gotten a few races under your belt, things are likely to go much better. But when you're first getting started, choose a distance that you are comfortable with and is easy for you to complete.
Look for a Beginner-Friendly Course
For your first race, you may want to avoid events that are known for having difficult and demanding courses. Those types of events are better suited for more experienced racers, not those just starting out. If a course has lots of climbing and descending on hills it can really sap the strength from your legs, particularly if you’re not used to that type of running. Courses that are mostly flat will allow you to run at a more consistent pace, which will be useful for your first time out as you work on pre-race preparations, pacing, and running in a crowd. Being able to finish strong will help build confidence for future races too.
Allow Yourself Time to Train
Although you’ve been running for some time, putting a race on your calendar will generally kick your training schedule into a higher gear. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get ready for the event, which means picking a race that falls on a date that gives you ample time to increase your training in preparation. Don’t pick one that is just a week or two away; instead search for an event that is month or more out. The anticipation will make training more fun, and you’ll find yourself looking forward to the day even more.
Consider Your Budget
Races can be expensive. Between entry fees, new running gear, pre- and post-event food and drinks, and other miscellaneous expenses, the cost of a simple 5K or 10K can really start to add up. Keep that in mind as you start to narrow down your selections too. After all, you’ve never run a race before, and maybe you won’t enjoy it. You’ll feel a lot worse about the experience if you’ve spent a lot of money but didn’t have a good time.
Are There Any Race Extras?
Some race directors use every last bit of the entry fee money to put on their event, with little left over for fun extras, such as prizes, t-shirts, or finishing medals for participants. Others go all out and shower their racers with fun swag or even a post-race dinner. Before spending your hard-earned money, take a look at what kind of extras are included with your entry fee. After all, this will be your first race, and you want it to be a memorable experience.
The most important thing to remember when getting ready for your first race is to have fun, enjoy the buildup, and get to know your fellow competitors. It will be quite an experience to say the least, but hopefully it will be just the first of many races to come.