Showing up to your first official race, whether it be a 5K or a full marathon, can be incredibly intimidating. Being surrounded by fit, experienced runners can make you feel wildly out of place, especially if you are a new runner. While these other runners warm up looking like professionals, you struggle to figure out which side of your shirt the race bib goes on.
(It goes on the front, by the way.)
The nerves may be enough to send you packing for the comforts of the quiet miles of solo training runs in your neighborhood. But rest easy: The nerves you are experiencing are most likely the same exact fears so many other runners have felt before and during their first race. And you too will be able to get through this.
Do any of these sound familiar?
I don’t belong here.
You are a brand new runner. It’s easy to see how you could feel intimidated and out of place surrounded by other runners who seem to be experienced and fast and appear to know exactly what they are doing. But guess what? Every single one of those runners at one point in their lives had to nervously show up for their first race too. And 99 percent of those runners still remember that day. My point is, don’t feel out of place. All of the other runners, no matter how experienced, are happy to have you join them among the running community.
I’m too slow.
There is no such thing.
Well…sometimes there is. Some races have course time limits. Depending on the difficulty of the race, these time limits are usually long enough to allow fast walkers to finish in ample time. If you are truly concerned about being too slow, be sure to check out these time limits before you register for the race and realistically consider your ability to finish.
That said, if you simply feel you are too slow because you look around at experienced runners and assume they are fast, you need to give yourself more credit. “Too slow” does not exist in the running world.
I’ll start out too fast.
This is a valid concern. The excitement of a race can cause a runner to take off way too fast after the starting gun goes off, causing them to crash and burn before the end of the race. There are a few ways to avoid this and keep the crash and burn from happening. First, seed yourself in the proper corral, or if it’s a small race, find your place behind the start line. Large races will typically offer pace groups or signs showing your projected average pace per mile, so you can find where you fit in based on your estimated finish time. Smaller races won’t offer this, so sometimes you have to guess. If you are racing to try to win? Well, obviously you want to be as close to the start line as possible. Are you walking? Then start toward the back to allow the runners to be ahead of you. Unsure of where you belong? Ask! Seriously, ask the runners around you what their projected finish time is so you can decide if you are close enough—or too close—to the starting line.
I don’t know what to do at the aid station.
Obviously aid stations don’t exist on training runs, so encountering your first one during a race, especially a crowded race, can be overwhelming. But all you need to do is the following: first, merge carefully closer to the aid table. Grab whatever it is you want from the volunteer (water, Gatorade, etc.—typically the volunteers will be yelling out what they’re holding). Then you have to make the decision: are you going to eat/drink while moving or do you need to stop and walk? If you choose the latter, continue running past the aid station while holding your food/drink. Once you have passed the table, move to the far side of the road (or even off the road) to stop or slow down. This ensures no other runners crash into your back because you immediately stopped at the aid station. It also helps prevent bottlenecks.
I’ll get lost.
Race directors do not want you to get lost, therefore, they carefully mark the course to ensure you know where you are going. In a large race, it’s almost always as simple as following the people in front of you. In a smaller race, this might not always be an option. So to calm your nerves, ask a volunteer or member of the race staff to show you an example of a course marking before the race, so you know what to keep your eyes open for.
I’ll need to use the bathroom.
I’ve been racing for 10 years now, and I’ve attended well over 100 races. I’ve never seen one without port-a-potties at the start and finish line. If you’re racing a 5K, chances are you’ll be able to make it back to the finish line without using the bathroom. For a 10K or longer, there are almost always port-a-potties on course.
I’ll finish last.
No, you probably won’t finish last. Believe it or not, plenty of people come to these races simply to walk. But, perhaps you are the slowest person, and perhaps you do finish last. So what? You still finished ahead of every single person who didn’t show up that day. You finished ahead of every single person who didn’t have the courage or the motivation to get off of their couch on an early morning and push their limits to compete in that race. Excuse me for sounding so cliché, but even last place is still a finisher, and every finish deserves to be celebrated.
The bottom line is this: the running community is one of the biggest, best families on the planet. Our outlook truly is “the more the merrier!” We are happy to share our love of running with anyone and everyone. So please, know that you are welcome and that you do belong at this race! Also? Never hesitate to ask questions. Runners are a friendly bunch, and no matter how experienced we may be, we are always happy to help.
I can promise you one thing: the joy of crossing your first finish line will quickly make you forget about every single second of worry, fear, and anxiety!