Every time I stand on the start line at a race there is a mixture of excitement and nerves. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I also know from my own experience that these feelings are x100 when it’s your first ever race.
My first ever proper, serious, non-Race for Life race, was back in 2014 when I ran the Forest of Dean Half Marathon, a trail half marathon in a much hillier part of the country than I’m used to. Looking back this was probably a bit ambitious for a first race, but although I had been running for years, I was new to the whole race concept – so the ‘off-road’ part didn’t really mean a lot to me at the time. But that’s the main reason why first races, no matter what distance it is, are so nerve wracking – you don’t know what to expect.
The hours you put into training prepares your body for the race but it doesn’t prepare you mentally and this is what can throw you off on race day. If you are taking part if your first race soon, good luck, and here are some things to expect from the race day itself.
You will feel nervous
The vast majority of runners feel nerves before any race. That is actually a good thing as it helps to get the adrenaline pumping and help you get through the race. Just be aware that you will feel nervous and it is totally normal; it doesn’t matter that you’re not fighting for a space on the Olympic athletics team, the race is still important to you and wanting to do well for yourself is completely natural. It is important to control those nerves though, and one of the best ways of doing this is to have everything prepared for the race the day before.
This means having your race day clothes already laid-out, having your pre and post race snacks and drinks packed and ensuring you have your bib number, race details and directions on how to get to the race all ready, so that on the day you can just focus on preparing for and running the race.
Weather conditions are unpredictable
The week leading up to a race I’m usually on BBC weather every hour trying to find out what the weather will be like on race day. I’ve ran races when there’s still been snow on the ground while others I’ve done under the hot midday summertime sun. Rain, wind, heat, snow – weather conditions can really impact on how your race goes. Everyone has their preferences, I normally prefer warmer weather to colder temperatures and would rather run in the rain than battling a windy day.
Training in all weather conditions can help prepare you for dealing with all types of weather, which is why it is important to not skip a training run just because it’s raining – although it is tempting! It also helps to prepare clothes for the weather conditions, if it’s cold you want to layer up before the race to stop getting too cold while you wait for the race to begin. If it’s raining you will probably want to bring a change of clothes so that you don’t have a long journey home in wet running gear. Changing into flip flops after a marathon is also a good idea no matter what the weather conditions!
There is a lot of waiting around
Unless you can deal with the panic of turning up 10 minutes before the start of a race (not a good idea) there will be a lot of waiting around on race day. Normally you will have about 1 hour to 30 minutes of just waiting for the race to begin. If you’re like me and hate waiting for anything, this can be both frustrating and boring. The fact is there is no getting around this, you just have to sit it out and wait.
The toilet queues will be long
There is one thing you can guarantee on race day – you will need the toilet. It doesn’t matter how many toilet trips you make before leaving the house, once you get to the event you will need it again. Normally the toilet queues at races are long – unless you get there really early. Factor this into your race day plans and expect to wait 10 minutes in the queue – although normally even the longest queue is quite fast moving. Also try and plan it so you only need to go once – ideally stop drinking water 30-45 minutes before the race starts as you should be fully hydrated by then anyway.
Everyone will go off fast…or really slowly
Perhaps it’s the fact that the race has finally started after all that waiting around; or the adrenaline has really kicked in – whatever it is you can almost guarantee everyone will go off fast as soon as they get over that start line. Learning to pace yourself is something that comes with race experience, although there are some runners who can go off fast and keep going at that speed until the end of the race! Starting off fast tends to happen with smaller races, with bigger races where thousands of people are running, the opposite is usually true and sometimes it can be hard to build up speed until 2 or 3 miles into the race.
It is important to judge the type of race you are in and roughly the speed of the other runners around you to ensure you go off at a good pace for you. If it is a crowded and slow start, just be patient as it will soon open up and you will have more space to run. On the other hand if you do find yourself going off too fast try and slow down your pace after the first half mile into a more comfortable pace – especially if it is a long run.
Everyone will be friendly
The volunteers and organisers at the start of the race, the race marshals on the route, other runners (usually) and supporters – everyone will be really friendly. Running unlike many other sports, doesn’t take place in front of cheering crowds all the time, which especially with longer distances, often makes it more about mental toughness than physical fitness. But nearly everyone you meet on race day will be friendly, supportive and aiming to help you do your best.
It is also important to remember that a lot of the organisers and race marshals are volunteers who have given up their time to help, so try to smile even when your legs are in agony and you’re told ‘you’re nearly there’ and you know you’ve still got 4 miles to go!
The finish line feeling
So why do runners constantly battle crappy weather conditions and give up their Sunday lie-ins? Simple, the for the finish line feeling. If it’s your first race nothing is better than getting over that finish line after months of training and worrying about whether or not you will do it. It is such a huge sense of achievement and a fantastic feeling.
Plus any runner will be lying if they didn’t say they liked collecting the finisher’s medal as well!