A friend (who is probably reading this!) posted on Facebook that she had signed up for her first 10K. My first thought was “AWESOME! Good for you!” and I immediately sent her a message to start talking about it. As we talked a little, I reflected on my first 10K and how much I learned from it – it dawned on me that not only could I have benefited immensely from knowing then what I know now, but others who are getting ready for their first race could benefit too! My first 5K and 10K both taught me a lot, and they are very different kinds of races!

SO, in the spirit of Hump Day, let’s talk about some do’s and don’t’s to help you get over the hump of your first race(s)!

When I started running this past March, I dove right in. Megan and I talked about it and figured hey, we got through P90X, we did Insanity…why couldn’t we run? We went…and I went farther than I probably should have…and finished having gone 3.2 miles. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had never “gone for a run” before that. I figured if I could do that, I could do a real 5K race – same distance!

So Where Do I Start?

Do A 5K!
I will be so bold as to say anyone can run a 5K. If you can run, you can do a 5K. Either it’s a challenge and you push yourself to finish, or it’s a piece of cake and you push yourself to break your best time. Either way, you can do it! If it’s going to be more on the “I’ve never run before” / beginner side of things, there are LOTS of training schedules out there to get you ready to run that 3.1 miles. I recommend using Runkeeper (if you have a smartphone / device that can use the app) – you can either track your runs doing your own thing or you can choose a training plan developed to help you be your best!

Did the 5K? How about a 10K?!

If you’ve overcome the challenge of your first 5K and feel like you can go farther, why not find and register for a 10K? A 10K is 6.2 miles – twice as long as a 5K. It might not seem like that much of a difference, but running a race is a whole different animal after the first 3 or 4 miles. A 10K can give you new challenges to overcome, including pacing yourself,  staying hydrated and fueled, dealing with hills and inclines, and much more. If you have successfully completed a 5K I highly recommend finding a 10K to do.

What about those do’s and don’t’s?
I mentioned I learned a lot from the first couple of races I ran – I have some hot tips that I really wish I had known going into my first 5K and 10K. Some of them might seem obvious to you, but I didn’t realize the importance of some of them until it was too late.

Rule #1 – HYDRATE!

I CANNOT stress this one enough! Hydration (drinking water) is INCREDIBLY important. Not properly hydrating before and during a race can leave you cramped, panting, and
struggling through what should have been a piece of cake. Properly hydrating is SO important I had been considering writing an article entirely dedicated to it, but even if I do follow through with that, it needs to be mentioned here. The average person should be drinking 8 glasses of water a day. I know we’ve been beat over the head with that our whole lives…prior to this whole fitness thing I never really understood just how important it really was.

How do I know if I’m getting dehydrated?
Your body is mostly made up of water – as you sweat that water leaves your body. When enough water leaves your body, you start feeling thirsty and your mouth might get dry. As you get more dehydrated, you might get a headache (I do), you’ll eventually get cramps, and you might get nauseous. If you get dehydrated enough you can pass out and have a real medical issue.

Bear with me here. One of the easiest ways to tell how hydrated you are at any given time is the color of your urine. Think about it – urine is your body’s way to get rid of what it doesn’t need – the water component of it is more or less a vehicle to get rid of the waste. If you’re dehydrated, there’s less fluid in your body. If your body has less fluid to spare, it’s going to get rid of that same amount of waste using less water, so it’s going to be more concentrated and thus, a darker/more saturated color. If your body is well-hydrated, there’s a lot of fluid in there to spare and your body will use more fluid to flush out the waste – thus less concentrated and a lighter color. The clearer the urine, the more hydrated you are.

So how do I stay hydrated?

Easy – DRINK WATER!  It’s that simple and that difficult. I drink on average about 20 glasses of water a day. That green water bottle? It’s a 1 litre Camelbak Eddy. I drink about 4 or 5 of those a day. Yeah. Water is just about all I drink. I used to drink almost that much diet soda each day, but then again I was also 300 lbs. If you find drinking that much water is a challenge try easing yourself into it with flavor. Add fresh citrus fruit to your water – lemon, lime, orange…not only does it add some flavor to your water but you get some vitamins out of it! Eventually you can use less and less fruit until you can just drink regular water! The calories from the fruit you squeeze into your water is going to end up being negligible, so go for it!

Rule #2 – Eat Breakfast!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and race day is no exception. The longer the race, the more important it is to eat something before the run. Race-day nutrition can be the difference between a strong run with sustained energy or huffing, puffing, and crapping out. There’s lots of products out there designed to help you before and during your run like Gu gels, sport beans, chomps, blocs, etc. Find what works for you and stick with it! They’re all made from fast-absorbing and easy to break down carbs/sugars to give your body the juice it needs to get through the race. I like to start my race-day morning with a combination of those and some fruit. To each his own.

Rule #3 – Test your playlist before the race

This one only applies if you listen to music during your runs. I do. You can see “The Music While Running Controversy” to see exactly how I feel about the topic. If you DO listen to music while you run, be sure to test out your playlist on a run before the actual race. The wrong music can make you go too fast or too slow, mess up your pace mid-stride, and just all around lead you to a bad time. Find what works and stick with it – always best to test it out. Check out my running playlist (tested) here.

Rule #4 – TRAIN!

Training is about learning your pace, testing your limits, and improving both. Do shorter runs to see what kind of pace you can reach, how fast you can go, and what your stride is. Do longer runs to see if you can maintain that pace over a longer distance. Do some REALLY long runs once a week to push your limits, increase your stamina / endurance, and ultimately be able to run farther. Training is a learning experience, and it IS very important. Try and fail. Experiment. Do hills some days and flat courses other days. Map it out ahead of time – know where you’re going and when to turn around and go home. Give yourself options in case you decide to run a longer or shorter distance when you’re already out there. Get the most out of your training so you’re ready for that race! There are lots of training programs for every different race distance – if you’d like help finding a good one reach out with the contact form at the bottom of the page!

Rule #5 – PACE YOURSELF! Run Your Own Race.

This one I learned the hard way. When you go and do a race, it can get very competitive. There’s lots of people out there, you’ve got the adrenaline pumping, you’re antsy…and once you cross the starting line you just want to shoot off like a rocket and GO. That’s a bad idea. My first 5K I shot off like a rocket – I broke out of the pack early and tried to beat everyone. I was able to maintain it and go hard the whole time…but it was only 5K. I tried to do the same thing on my first 10K…it didn’t work out so well. There were a LOT more people…hundreds! I tried to bounce from open spot to open spot in an effort to break out into open space where I could really run. By mile 4 I was toast. I went SO hard in the first 5K that I had no gas left for the second 5K. I was so concerned with going fast and passing people that I didn’t worry about myself and my own limits/abilities. I paid for it in the end. My time was absolutely awful compared to what it could have been. I learned my lesson and applied it to my Falmouth Road Race run…and what an improvement! I ran my own race and did WAY better than I did during the 10K…better average pace, a stronger run…I felt better…Trust me – this is a lesson you can take to the bank. 

Rule #6 – Know The Course And Have A Plan

You should absolutely know the course before race-day. Know the route, know if there’s hills and if so, how steep/long they are, and overall know what to expect from the course. Knowing the course ahead of time allows you to come up with a plan for your run – where the hard parts are, what parts you need to save some energy for, and where you can turn on the afterburners and just go. If you don’t know the route you might burn yourself out before a particularly hard hill at the end. Conversely, you could be more conservative than you need to and not achieve your best possible time. You could also, heaven forbid, take a wrong turn! Suffice it to say – know the course and have a plan.

I’m sure there’s more to running a race than just this, but these rules are a good jumping off point to help you achieve success in your first race(s)! Take these lessons to heart and learn from my mistakes – I certainly wish someone had told me about these when I was getting ready for MY first race(s)!

What tips would YOU give a beginner? Comment below!