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10 Tips for Running Your First Organized Race

Posted February 08, 2022 by Nick Ferguson, MBA, AT

Man being cheered on by other runners

Training for the Big Event


1. Take Your Time and Use a Formal Training Program

Going from a sedentary lifestyle to running a 5K or longer race is an attainable goal for almost everyone. However, running is not without risk and following one of the many formal programs, such as Couch to 5K or other run/walk training programs (available online) can help keep you from sustaining injury by doing too much too early. These programs also help keep you motivated by giving you clearly set goals and schedules that you must complete daily.

For more on beginning a running program, visit

2. Wear Appropriate Shoes

The emergence of “lightweight” running and training shoes has been great for leisure wear and some athletes. Distance running, however, is not the place to try the new, “lighter than air” mesh shoe. Running shoes should fit snugly around the heel, provide length and width for the forefoot to expand while running, and most importantly should provide rigid arch support. When bending a shoe’s toe up toward the tongue and heel of the shoe, the shoe should bend in the same line that your foot and toes bend. If the shoe bends in the middle, it will not provide adequate arch support for extended training runs. 

3. Cross-Train and Work Your Core

Safely running extended distances requires immense amounts of core strength and endurance.  The hips, pelvis, back and abdomen all play a pivotal role in keeping your running stride safe and efficient. Cross training helps strengthen little-used areas while also giving you a break from the constant pounding from all that running.

For some core work, try exercises like planks, side planks, bridges, clam shells and bird dogs. For cross training, try one or two days per week of moderate intensity swimming, bike riding, skating or lifting weights. 

4. Stretch

Stretching is one of the most overlooked ways to maintain health, improve performance and just feel better. Before each run start with five to ten minutes of dynamic (moving) warm-up exercises and perform five to ten minutes of static stretching after your post-run cool down. 

As a warm-up, try front and back leg swings, side to side leg swings, walking lunges, side lunges and skips. Do each exercise 10-20 times. As a post-run stretch, make sure you stretch your hamstrings, quads (thighs), calves, abs and back. Try holding each stretch for 15-20 seconds.

5. Hydration and Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to do what you ask it to do. Plenty of water, carbs and protein are a good thing when training for a run. Try to avoid foods that are heavily processed, high in saturated fat, or contain excess caffeine or alcohol. Complex carbs like whole grains and vegetables provide extended energy and don’t produce the “crash” that simple carbs like white bread and sugary drinks and foods do.

Maintaining adequate hydration is essential when training. When beginning a running routine, you likely need more than the standard eight glasses of water per day and if you wait until thirsty, it is often too late. Use your urine color as a guide. If your urine is clear or lemonade colored, you are well-hydrated. Keep it up! If your urine is bright yellow it is time to drink some more and if it is darker, like apple juice, you are dehydrated.

Finally, do not try “new” foods the day of or day before a race. Trust us about this.


Race Day


6. Show Up Early

Nothing is worse than frantically running around, trying to check in, find your friends, or get to the starting line only to realize you forgot your water bottle and didn’t get to warm up. Give yourself plenty of time, about an hour for most first-time runners, and feel stress-free as you approach the line ready to rock!

When you arrive, familiarize yourself with the starting and finishing lines and anything else about the surroundings that will affect your run. Take some time to hydrate, have a granola bar or banana, and go through your regular warm-up routine. 

7. Start From the Right Spot

Before a race, the fastest runners tend to line up in front and those with slower paces will line up behind. When lining up before a race, talk to the runners around you. If you know your pace, you can ask others what pace they will go and move yourself accordingly. When in doubt, start in the back. It’s always better to take your time and finish successfully than to try to keep pace at the front and get too tired to finish or have fun.

8. DRINK (water)

Drinking sufficient water or Gatorade to hydrate should begin three days prior to the race and should continue through the event. Don’t drink too much right before running though, or you may experience stomach cramping. Just drink slow and steady to maintain your hydration level.

9. Pace Yourself

It is natural to be “hyped up” for your first race. Resist the urge to set a new record early and keep a steady pace that you can run easily. If you have extra energy, you can always increase your pace for the last mile or so. Running too fast too soon could cause you to get too tired and run a slower overall time.

10. Have Fun!

I’m sure you didn’t run a race to feel pain or torture yourself. Most importantly when running your first race, have fun!  Enjoy the scenery. Take your time just to sprint across the finish line.  Strike a pose at the finish line. Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate with friends, family and fellow runners (after your post-race stretch of course)! Do whatever you want as long as you have fun.


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