You Signed Up for Your First 5K Race… Now What?
With fall arriving, many dedicated runners are now moving into their half- and full marathon training in preparation for the cooler temperatures.
For those of us that don’t feel like putting in the 20-mile weekend run and just want to stay fit, the 5K race becomes more attractive than it was over the summer.
Cooler temperatures make for fast racing conditions if you’ve warmed up properly. Personally, I love a 50 degree morning for a race. Finishing a race with a new personal record (affectionately called a PR in running circles) and not dripping sweat for the next 30 minutes is a nice change over summer runs.
The exodus of long distance runners to their training also means races get thinned out. They’re a little less intimidating and your chances for placing well overall or in your age group get better. It’s a great time to take the leap and enter your first 5K race.
Going out for a training run often means lacing up your running shoes and stepping out the front door. But race day isn’t the same. So how should you prepare and what should you expect?
Before the Gun
Law number one of racing (not rule, law) – don’t change anything on race day. Don’t show up in a new pair of shoes you haven’t broken in. Don’t wear a different pair of shorts or shirt. Don’t eat and drink things you haven’t already trained with. It’s a recipe for a bad day.
Some fall and winter races might have 50 people or they may have 500. Either way, arrive early. They more people registered, the earlier you need to be there. With races up to 500 people, I like to be an hour early. That gives me time to pick up my running bib, chit chat with some of the people I know, and warm up.
Showing up any later than 30 minutes prior to the start of your race will leave you rushing to the start line and have you out of sorts before the gun ever goes off.
You don’t need much fuel to finish a 5K well, so enjoy a light breakfast. Be sure to eat at least an hour before the race; 2 hours is better to be sure everything is digested. If you’ve been training with it, you can pop a gel 15 minutes before the race start. Sip on water throughout the morning, just don’t guzzle. Be sure to give yourself time to use the restroom before the race starts.
The Starting Line
As everyone lines up at the start, resist the urge to push your way to the front of the line. You may be prepared to run a 25 minute PR, but you can bet there are guys and gals capable of running under 18 minutes (and often much faster) at most races.
When the gun goes off, you’ll have a surge of adrenaline and your legs will want to go faster than you’ve trained. That’s okay, but you won’t be able to maintain it. Take a couple hundred yards to let that energy blast out, then try to force yourself into the solid cadence you’ve been training at. The adrenaline will still usually carry you a little faster than normal – you’re just not likely to go from an 8:30/mile training pace to a 7:00/mile race pace.
Once you find a good pace to settle into, just keep your feet moving. The race clock doesn’t stop if you need a break, so try to keep it at a run even if you need to slow down to do it.
Every race I’ve done has had supporters, volunteers, and completed racers cheering people on at the finish line. You’ll get a second burst of adrenaline as you get close to the line. Go ahead and use it to drive a faster kick home.
Across the Finish Line
If you’re in a chip-timed race, be sure to return the chip to the correct person once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath and get some water. If there are still people out on the course, make your way over near the finish line and cheer them home as well.
Once everyone is done, the race director will start handing out awards. There are usually trophies or medals for the top 3 men and women overall in the race and the top 3 men and women in each age group broken into 5-year increments. Even if you didn’t finish in a place to receive an award, it’s a great way to learn some names and introduce yourself to people you might like to get to know later. As you stick around racing longer, you’ll form friendships that will lead to training partners and people you’ll enjoy making plans to race with at out of town events.
The adrenaline rush and endorphin released on race day is addictive and you may find yourself wanting to sign up for every local race as your times begin to drop. Keep it in perspective though. Running is a great way to stay fit and meet new people – ladies included for you single guys. However, it can quickly spiral into an addiction that holds an unhealthy position on your priority list. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle can and should be a priority, your faith, family, and work/school responsibilities should be placed ahead of it.