Preparing for your first race

Preparing for your first race

by David Laney on March 21, 2024

So, you set a new year's resolution to start running, and maybe you did start running! But maybe you kind of forgot about that and went out and bought running shoes and running shorts and signed up for your first race and then watched a ton of netflix… So now you’re here! Maybe you've been running a lot, and maybe not so much, but clearly you’re googling how to get ready for your first 5K, or 10K or half marathon. Or maybe you’re googling “running for absolute beginners” Maybe you really went for it and signed up for a 50K and are in a bit of a panic…Fear not! Regardless of where you’re at, preparing for your first race is not as bad as it sounds.

First off, let's talk about training, because it's probably the biggest factor for success. If you’ve got a race coming up, you should probably be training. Duh… But how much? How hard? What kinds of workouts? Unfortunately those questions are a bit like asking a chef how to cook... Its beyond the scope of this, but some guiding principles can help you as you get started.


1. GO EASY: 
So to get in shape quick you should just run hard a lot right? Sure, and you will be so sore after 3 days of doing that you’ll take a week off and then be in a worse position than you were previously, so RUN EASY. Seriously. If you are just getting into running, you should never run harder than an easy conversational pace effort. You should warm up into each run, take walk breaks as needed to keep breathing controlled. Just keep everything nice and easy as your muscles adjust to this new impact and workload. Searching beginning runner training plans on google can be helpful, but just remember the best way to execute any training plan is to run easy and be consistent, the best way to be consistent is to run easy. Make sure any training plan you find has a variety of rest days, easy days and some longer days. Be very skeptical of any beginner training plans that have high intensity intervals or speed work. Unless you are already running consistently this higher intensity work may likely yield injury rather than consistency.


2. Sleep/Rest:
Quality sleep will improve your recovery and performance as you train for your first race. Most of us do not sleep enough or have great sleep quality. I’m not going to go into any details on that because Andrew Huberman does so wonderfully here. This podcast is absolutely worth the listen for anyone beginning a running program or training for a race. Proper non sleep rest is also vital for running, your weekly training should look a bit like a wave, easy days followed by recovery followed by a slightly longer easy run, followed by a recovery or off day. It should not just be harder, faster and longer each subsequent day.


3. Eat right:
Again, proper nutrition varies so much from person to person, but most people know when they are eating right and you know when you are not. To train you must fuel the body, so fuel it. Don’t unintentionally skip meals. Don’t “forget” breakfast or be so rushed you miss a pre workout snack. Be intentional and plan ahead, just like you do for training sessions. Don’t swear off dessert, don’t go zero carb, don’t eat only doritos and as delicious as they are, don’t eat ONLY sour gummy worms (but definitely eat some cause they're freaking fantastic). Without triggering anyone, maybe also consider who you are taking diet advice from… Why is (name any) instagram influencer really an expert at nutrition or are they just really good at making catchy videos. Basically eat mostly smart and let the training do the real work.


4. Gear:
Getting new gear can be the fun part of starting a new training plan, but it also can be challenging as you strive to find the right thing. The best way to get dialed in with gear for your first race is to visit your local running shop. These folks are experts in all things running and should be able to provide new runners with expert advice and shoe fitting. It can be a little intimidating to walk into a running shop and not know much about running or shoes or gels (Do i need to be eating these things??!!) Don’t stress, doing is learning and sometimes you have to try on a few pairs of shoes or visit a few stores before you find the right fit. It can be tempting to simply purchase the coolest or lightest shoe. But look for a shoe that is generally comfortable on your foot, provides cushion and fits in a way so your toes can move around a bit. Quality gear may be expensive but it does not have to be! Often you can find last year's shoe models at your local running shop.


5. Race Day:
Preparation is the key to a successful race day, plan your gear, have shoes, shorts and gear planned and prepped the night before. Plan your food, eat what works for you and is typical for you. No need to try that new energy bar right before your first race. If you haven’t done it before, you might not want to try something new. That being said, maybe you’ve traveled to do this race and you're in a new town with new foods and different coffee, don’t stress!! Do what makes sense. jThis is an opportunity to have fun and learn. Things will go wrong, and things will go right and thats OK! Be sure to hit the porta potty lines before they get too long, and if you don’t, don’t stress! Make some friends in line. Attitude is the paintbrush that colors every situation. Finally, you’re going to have some major race day energy, especially in the first couple miles. Relax, don’t go out too fast! Just treat this like you would a normal training run for the first ½, then race as hard as you want in the second ½.


6. Recovery:
So you raced, it went well, or not so well, either way, now you are sore… How do I get recovered so I can get back to training so I can continue to do this delightful cycle?! Should I be doing an ice bath? Should I be doing redlight therapy? Should I be getting acupuncture? Recovery again like everything in this list is a total bag of worms, so let's just point at what we do know. Sleep, moving the body and proper fueling will improve recovery. So maybe take a few days of easy walking after your race, do some breathing, maybe some light running, eat well, and get a little extra sleep. This will do as much as anything in terms of getting you healed up and ready to tackle the next challenge.


So, there you go, a far far too incomplete list for you to get training for your first 5k or 10K or half marathon. Honestly if your first race is anything beyond a ½ marathon I’d recommend doing a shorter race first. While distance running does not have to be a linear ladder, there can be much to learn from starting at a challenge that is hard, but sets you up to continue to grow in your running in a healthy sustainable manner. Good luck, run easy, be consistent and have fun doing it!