What to expect at my first 5k race?
April 27, 2013 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me feel oriented and prepared for my upcoming race? I'm a 44-year-old overweight woman getting in better shape, starting to lose weight, and starting running. After working with a personal trainer over the winter, I worked up to running a mile for probably the first time in my life.

Now that I've run a mile - three times! Go me! - I'm planning to participate in a local, casual 5k in two weeks. I'll be alternating walking and running. I guess as an introvert I really just want to know what to expect, etiquette, what the experience is like in general so I'm not anxious about that instead of about the running.

As a slower participant, I assume it's my responsibility to start further back in the pack so I'm not in the way of real runners - or do they direct you where to be? How far ahead of start time should I show up? Do people hand you water as you go, like in marathons on tv, or should I carry a water bottle? What don't I know? Help a newbie feel a little more oriented, please!

Thanks for all you help, advice, reassurances.
posted by Occula to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Found a couple of links that may be useful:

Running Planet

Most say the things you've already pointed out about starting near the rear, but also have some other useful pointers. From what you've already asked, I'd say you're good to go!

Have fun and best of luck!
posted by Expat at 11:18 PM on April 27, 2013

Breathe! You will be fine. They will likely direct you where to start out. There will be many other people doing the same thing as you with the walking/running. The other runners will be supportive! There will likely be watering stations (if there is a website for the event you might check to see if it includes a map of the route - a lot of times that will have watering stations marked.)

Make sure you go to the bathroom before the start. Make sure you don't eat anything heavy for breakfast. Relax and have fun with it. If you experience any problems or issues during the event there WILL be other people around to support you. Good luck and enjoy the 5k! You can totally do this.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:25 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

On water: a common mistake novice runners make is to drink too much water, and to need to pee during short races. Unless it's seriously warm weather, you don't need to do anything other than hydrate normally for a 5k and you don't really need to take water with you. For a 5k you might not have water stations along the route. Just make sure you rehydrate properly at the end, where they should be providing water.

Good luck.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:09 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A lot depends a lot on the size of the race. When you say 'local, casual' then there might not be much formal organisation - I've run 5ks with as few as 30-odd people organised by 10 volunteers, so I'm not sure how big you mean. Some of this (race numbers, timing chips) may not apply but if it doesn't, well, it's for next time :)

- There should be a map of the course you can look at before you start, and if there are water stations, they should be marked on the map. Ideally this will be online/on the race flyer so you can look at it before the day of, but even just looking at it right before the start will help orient yourself with stuff like 'ok, when we hit the other carpark it's halfway'.

- You don't really need to take water with you, you'll be fine even if there's no water station. If there is a water station it will probably feel good to have a half cup of water, but it's not necessary. If you do normally carry water when you run or walk then go ahead and carry it this time as well, but be aware of drinking too much.

- For a small race they might not have timing chips: if not, your time will start when the gun goes off even if you haven't crossed the start line, and they will just tell you your time as you cross the finish line. You probably don't care much about your time but it's nice to take a note of it, even knowing it's inaccurate, for looking back on your progress in 5 years. If they do have timing chips, they'll tell you how to attach it (usually you tie it onto your shoelaces), and you might have to take it off and give it back after the race (probably by dumping it in a bucket somewhere).

- They might give you a race number to wear, if the race is a bit bigger. They will give you safety pins to attach it to your shirt with, and you can also take a couple small pins with you to be safe. It's worth attaching this at all 4 corners so it doesn't flap around. You can keep this after the race.

- All the small races I've done are loops that end up back near your car. You will leave your gear in the car. It's tricky to know how far ahead you want to take off your sweater/etc, so just try and follow the average of the crowd around you - if most of them are stripped down, then go ahead. If you will have a friend with you who isn't running then you can strip off at the last minute and give stuff to them, or if you are comfortable running/walking in whatever you're standing around in then this won't apply :) Decide in advance if you want to carry your phone/mp3 player/car keys with you, or what you will do with them. You might want to carry a phone to track how long you've been going, for instance, if you don't wear a watch. Or you might not want to know! If you listen to music when you run normally, then go ahead and do that during the race, lots of runners will probably be wearing headphones.

- Nobody cares what you wear but you (unless you make a costume). Rough guide - any clothing you could buy at nike, or close enough, is good enough racewear. Whatever you wear for training is ideal because you've already worn it while running. Don't wear anything for the first time at the race, it'd be annoying to find they rubbed the wrong way 2 miles in.

- Arriving 45 minutes ahead sounds like a good amount of time for a small race, allows for traffic/accidents on the way, gives you time to find the bathroom and get back to your car and look at the map and finish signup and drift through the lineup crowd until you think you've found your place. I don't like being rushed before the run and it sounds like you're trying to make it as relaxed as possible, so go ahead and be even earlier if that won't make it more stressful for you (but if the race is at 6am and there will only be 50 people running, 5am isn't necessary). If there's a registration process on the day, be there at least 15-30 minutes before the cutoff time for that.

- Important for beginners! When the race starts, you'll be tempted to take off with the others. Even people with experience and specific plans get caught up in the 'LETS GO!' feeling. In your first race I suspect you're more likely to overdo it early, so it might be a good idea to decide beforehand that you'll walk the first 200 steps or something, to let that burst of energy get ahead of you. As a bonus, this means that when you start running, you'll be passing people! (I find that a pretty good feeling.) On the other hand - that burst of adrenalin is fun, so maybe you'll want to just go with it and decide to run the first few hundred meters, or similar. As a bonus, this means that when you stop for a short walk you'll have a lot more space - just make sure that you stop or slow down before you tire yourself out with that burst.

Overall - have fun! I've run 5k races where I went out too fast and walked most of the end, and it was still a nice feeling of accomplishment to cross the line. I've run races where I literally jumped out of the car and ran across the start line behind the group, and it was awesome.
posted by jacalata at 1:27 AM on April 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

All of the above advice is good.

My recommendation is to relax and enjoy the experience of being in a crowd of happy runners. So if you wait too long to start you could miss out on that. Also, when the race is over, look up the results and print them out. Then put them away somewhere until you run another race, and compare. Keep doing that (or maybe you could even create a chart to monitor your progress--and you might be pleasantly surprised at the celerity of your improvement!
posted by rub scupper cult at 1:52 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

The biggest thing I'd say is whatever your usual routine/clothes/shoes are, do that. Race day isn't the kind of thing to break in new gear on or try to shake things up.

The size of the race and the particulars tend to dictate how people sort themselves out. Some specify runners first, walkers next, strollers and families and dogs next. Sometimes everyone just gets in a big chute and is released in 2-5 minute waves and you sort yourself out as you like. For something as casual as you're saying, I doubt you're going to be in the way of the guy going for the world record or anything. I run pretty slow and usually start a few waves back and have been fine. Then you have a pack to follow along the course and people to pass.

Also, no matter how slow you are, I pretty much guarantee someone much slower is behind you, don't get all Bad PE Coach and make yourself feel awful if you're not keeping up with the people in the front.

If you've signed up, they should have info on the website or send you a packet with where to go and what the ordering is and where to pick up your number, unless it's super small.

Some people are chatty while you're waiting to start and others are very serious and dialed-in, but one thing I've found is...there's a section in Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running where he talks about how running is essentially a solo sport, but runners all feel kind of a common bond, so even if you're just trading nods with the guy on your morning run, you're still a part of something bigger. So being in the pack waiting to start can be kind of a fun bonding experience or you can just stretch and focus and most people won't be offended, because they understand.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:14 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I"m almost your age and likely your body size and probably 6 months further ahead of you in the running department. I have hydration issues so I always run with a bottle of water. Even for five kilometre runs.

I do the parkrun every Saturday morning. And I drink about 700mls or a pint of water in that time. They don't provide water over that distance as most folk have finished in about 40 minutes and there are several bubblers on the way.

I stay towards the back and on the left.. I'm in Australia and we drive on the left. If you're in America-land, I'm assuming it's the opposite.

If you're on facebook... I bought the book How to Train Like a Mother (that's the second book. the first one is How to Run Like a Mother.. but the mothering part is not important... it's the middle-aged, busy, sloth part that appealed to me.)and they have a facebook fan page that has HEAPS of tips for runners. And tips for newbie runners. Some of them are mad things talking about marathons.. but they also help the novice folk like me. They even have a Too Much Information Tuesday topic where women can talk about some really intimate and personal and hilarious and embarrassing things to do with running... I really recommend it.
posted by taff at 4:20 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

First - congratulations to you. This is a good milestone.

Second - don't worry about what goes on around you except to enjoy it. There will be a ton of people who are faster than you and there will be runners and walkers who will be slower. Just go at your own pace, that's what everyone else is doing.

When I ran my first race as a youngun, it was a 10K and I pushed my best pace (which was a decent enough amateur pace). When I was coming into the last mile, there were a group of 4 runners who passed me going the other direction, smiling and laughing and talking and moving at a blistering pace compared to mine. They had already finished and were running the race backwards because 10K was too easy, I guess. I had just enough juice to finish the race. You're going to see shit like that. IT'S NOT IMPORTANT. That you're running the race is important.

Now, as an older person like you (I'm 46), I trained last year to run the Falmouth Road Race for charity. I did the race very poorly. But I did it. Even though I couldn't run the whole way, I did it and am proud of that and you should be too.

In a large race like the FRR, they have you self-sort ahead of time by speed when you register. In your race, maybe not so much. Start further back. Maybe even ask where the walkers are as there will be people who are just going to walk it and that will be close to where you'll need to be.

Depending on the turnout, there will be a big clot of people working their way to the start line, then it will spread out naturally as the race goes on. Keep your line consistent - don't go swerving madly. People going faster than you will go around you. If you're passing someone, just gradually go to the side where there's enough room, go around and resume your line.

Take heart in the people cheering you on. They really are there for you. In some races, they put your first name on your bib and people will spot it and call you out by name. I love this.

When the FRR started, there was an announcement by Bill Rodgers, who was a world-class Marathon runner and had won the FRR 3 times. He said, "I'm running this race too and a lot of you are going to pass me. When you do, just tell me 'you're looking good'." And that for me was a wonderful attitude to have.
posted by plinth at 4:21 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Let's talk girl parts!

I am probably also your size-ish, if not bigger, and the best thing ever invented for us girls with actual thighs is BodyGlide. Use it liberally anywhere that skin rubs against skin, or seams rub against skin (both up top and down below). Don't substitute something like Desitin, because then you will spend the entire race worried that your shorts are displaying white stripes in embarrassing places. (Don't ask how I know this. It is still a mortifying memory.)

Good luck and have fun!!!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:24 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

The best piece of racing advice I was given early on was to arrive at the race early. How early depends a lot on the size of the event, but 45 minutes is a good ball park figure. If you're running late, you will waste a lot of nervous energy on the drive there, and the start won't be as much fun as it should be.
posted by eelgrassman at 7:55 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your advice and encouragement! I don't know if they have "Fat Ass" runs everywhere or if it's just us, but it's a combination run and street party with some serious runners and some folks drinking beer and eating corn dogs. There will be more than a thousand participants, which is really why I got the yips, I think (bashful in new situations!).

My goal is to not finish last! Thanks again.
posted by Occula at 7:56 AM on April 28, 2013

I'm happy for you! Your goal should be to finish. Don't worry about your time. Just have fun. It might be helpful to have a plan, like, you're going to run 2 minutes and walk 1 minute until you finish. You can always change your plan but it helps to start with something in mind.

I agree that the size of the race will affect whether there are pace groups. Some races have signs telling you where to go based on your expected pace. If not, just don't start in the front. More experienced runners will be able to figure it out. When you take a walk break, please do it on either side of the race. Please do not just stop short in the middle of the race.

Run *your* race. That's hard - I still struggle with it. There will be people cheering and you'll be excited, so having a plan is helpful here too. But if you start too fast, you might not finish as strong as you hope to. Again, your goal is to finish so you have no reason to run really fast.

That said, it also helps to break the race up into parts. For the first mile, you just want to find your pace. Try to keep your pace with the second mile. If you feel good after 2 miles and want to try running the last mile fast, go for it!
posted by kat518 at 8:07 AM on April 28, 2013

Yay! Go you!

This 'Fat Ass' run sounds like a lot of fun! I think once you get this one under your belt, you'll want to do more 5Ks, they are really a good time (Even for us back-of-the-pack... or especially for us....) . There will be a lot of other people just like you lining up towards the back, and just like you, they are concentrating on knocking out the race.

One thing that was an issue during my first time was nervous pee. I went about 45 min before, but had to go again before we started, and then during the race (luckily, they had portapotties on the course, because it was shared with a 1/2 marathon). Try to hit the bathroom line about 20 min before the start, and don't drink too much water before starting.

There will be people that pass you the whole time; don't worry about them. There's plenty of people behind you too.

One other thing... if you do most of your training on sidewalks/a treadmill and this is ran on a road, watch your footing... around this time of year (in the northern US anyhow), there are tons of potholes.
posted by Fig at 8:42 AM on April 28, 2013

As a slower participant, I assume it's my responsibility to start further back in the pack so I'm not in the way of real runners - or do they direct you where to be? Yes you should probably start towards the back, but unless the race is very organized this is just an estimate anyway. Sometimes walkers will thoughtlessly start up front. Sometimes fast runners start in the back because they like the thill of passing people. If the race is very organized they will have signs or people directing you to where to start based on your expected pace per mile, but I'm guessing this won't be the case for your race. (BTW, you are a real runner.)

How far ahead of start time should I show up? Depends on if you already have your race packet (usually includes your number, t-shirt, miscellaneous swag). If you do and you know your way around the starting area, you can show up fairly late. I did a race this morning and I arrived five minutes before the start with my number pinned and ready. If you need to check-in or you're afraid you will have trouble finding the place, give yourself a half hour cushion. You may want to leave yourself an extra ten minutes to pee. Not because it takes ten minutes to pee, but because at virtually every race I have been to there is a looong line for the port-a-pottys before the start.

Do people hand you water as you go, like in marathons on tv, or should I carry a water bottle? If there is a manned aid station, they will likely hand you little dixie cups of water. Bring your water bottle, but if you find out there are aid stations leave it in the car. (I hate running while carrying stuff.)

One other thing: In all likelyhood you will not stand out. There will probably be dozens of people at your level of fitness. Relax and just focus on how great it will feel when it's over.
posted by dzot at 9:21 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, I'm another you clone.

If you can pick up your race packet ahead of time, that's nice, because you don't have to wait in line and you can just put your number and chip on ahead of time.

My first official 5k I was passed by so many people. I felt so slow and lame and why was I going so much slower than I usually did? But then I found out my time and it was my fastest time ever. So don't get too down on yourself.
posted by bq at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Great advice above. I just want to reiterate one point though - if you are taking walk breaks throughout the run, make sure you are off to the side when you stop running, and gradually slow down into a walk. Please don't just go from a quick run to a dead stop. It's also good form to raise your hand a few seconds before you stop running as a signal to those directly behind you.

Other than that, have fun! You'll be surprised at the variety of fitness levels - you will definitely not be the last person finishing. And it will feel great when you pass the finish line and everyone is cheering for you.
posted by barnoley at 9:32 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is this your race? (It looks fun!)

This looks like a pretty organised event. You should try and go to the 'packet pickup' the day before the race - this will contain your race number and most likely a timing chip, which you can then put on at home before going to the race.

Looking at last years results for this race, about a fifth of people took over an hour to finish. If you run even one mile, you should be well under that time, so I don't think you need to worry about being last!

It looks like it's going to be very crowded at the start. I suggest you just plan to jog/walk at the speed of the crowd around you for the first few hundred meters, don't worry if it's faster or slower than you want to do. Then you either get enough space to speed up, or to drift to the side and slow down.
posted by jacalata at 1:07 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, that's it!
posted by Occula at 1:27 PM on April 28, 2013

I trained for a 5K last summer on a treadmill, in the air conditioning. At the actual 5K I thought I was going to die from heat stroke and the humidity. You don't specify if you're training indoors or out, but if indoors my tip would be to do a couple of trial runs at the time of day that the 5K will begin. Also, I felt left out at my 5K because I wasn't wearing a tutu or something silly, which I didn't know was a thing. Good luck, have a blast!
posted by andlee210 at 5:33 PM on April 28, 2013

Position yourself well-back from the starting line. There is always a lot of jostling in the beginning as the field strings itself out. Hang back, stay out of the elbowing and crowds, and take it easy. Finish strong.
posted by three blind mice at 2:33 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go you! I've been running for 11 years, and I'm still slow, but races are so much fun!

My tip is to make sure you pin your number to the FRONT of your shirt. Pinning it to the back is a classic newbie mistake.
posted by pyjammy at 12:02 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My hot tip - pin your race number to your thigh, not your shirt (assuming you're wearing leggings - not literally to your thigh!). That way you can take layers off your top half as you warm up without worrying about whether your number is still visible.
posted by penguin pie at 5:10 AM on May 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your kindness and advice!

There were nearly 5,000 participants, but only 3,100 bothered to finish - the rest did one lap or started drinking and didn't cross the finish line.

My results: clock, 49:58; chip, 46:16 (my tag was 4615!). I finished 1757th overall and 1037th among females. Pace was 14:54.

I was happy. My personal trainer, who came with his patient girlfriend to cheer me, said afterward that he'd wanted me to finish under 50 minutes. I had hoped to finish under an hour!

There were water stations ... also beer, doughnuts, corn dogs, possibly shots, a number of live bands and general chaos. (the one time in my life I'm offered free beer and corn dogs, and I pass!)

Although I started just in front of the "walkers" indicator, many participants in front of me were walkers. There wasn't a lot of etiquette as far as leaving a space for runners - in fact, some just ran on the sidewalks instead of in the street. So I pretty much just tried to stay aware and glance over my shoulder a lot when speeding or slowing.

I think the Fat Ass will make my next race seem boring! In the meantime, I went to the local running store and got help picking out Fancy Running Shoes Appropriate For My Gait.

Thanks, all!
posted by Occula at 10:32 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Congratulations Occula! Here's to many more happy 5Ks - you're just going to love watch those times drop gradually the more you do, but the first one will always be special :)
posted by penguin pie at 3:48 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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