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Have you hesitated to sign up to run a 5K because you’re not sure how it works? There have been times where I’ve wanted to stop mid-way through a race and just start yelling at people. Like, “YOU CAN HANDLE GOING 3 MILES WITHOUT ALL 5 OF YOUR BEST FRIENDS! SINGLE FILE, PLEASE!” Unfortunately, I’ve also about run over some of these poor people because they just seem to forget that there are other runners on the course. I’ve come to the general conclusion that these are most likely running newbies, and they just don’t realize that there are rules for these things, mostly because it’s a sport that doesn’t really have any rules. So, I’m offering up some 5K running tips for beginners:
1) Pack lightly- Most short races under a half-marathon will not have a bag check, so you’re going to have to carry everything with you on your run. Stick with the basics: safety pins for your bib (though these are usually provided at the registration tables), your car key (key, not keys), and maybe a pre-race energy booster. Most running pants and singlets will have a small pocket for your key. Other tricks include hiding it on top of a tire on your car (not recommended for urban areas), or using a key magnet. I also bring my iPhone and ear buds so I can listen to music. Some races don’t allow you to wear ear buds for safety reasons. Check the race rules in advance.
2) Don’t run in anything you haven’t run in before- I once bought a cute running skirt with attached capris running pants, planning to wear it for an upcoming race. Fortunately, I couldn’t resist wearing them for a quick run through my neighborhood, and discovered they were uncomfortable and had to constantly be adjusted. You would think I’d have learned my lesson thrugh that experience, but no. It wasn’t long after that, I bought a contraption to cover my nose and mouth for running a 5K the next day in sub-freezing temperatures. It kept falling down, and didn’t wick the moisture from my breath, so it was doubly cold on my nose when it slipped down. I posted a horrible time from messing with that thing the whole race, though I’m sure the 17-degree temperatures didn’t help, either. One short test run shuld give you enough experience with a new piece of clothing or eqiupment to decide whether it’s going to work for you on race day.
3) Three’s a crowd- Especially when the course runs along a sidewalk or other narrow path. Running a race with friends and going out for coffee afterward is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. But please run no more than 2 across, for the sake of those trying to get around you.
4) Move over- The first 8K I ran was this past winter in Greenville, South Carolina. There was a sweet, 14-year old girl running begrudgingly, with her family cheering her on. She ran and got ahead of me, then STOPPED. All of sudden. RIGHT in front of me. And started to walk. I about fell on top of the poor thing– and I’m not a small girl. After the third time, I breathlessly asked to her to please stop stpping right in front of me (and got a rude reply). Younger runners tend to be the worst offenders at suddenly stopping to walk or tie a shoe. People around you can’t read your mind. Meaning the person running behind you can quickly become the person running you over. Unless you want to get plowed over by a fat girl while running your first race, it’s in your best interest to check behind you, then move over to the right before stopping to walk, or bending over to tie your shoe.
5) Hydrate- the day before. If you wait until the morning of the race, it’ll be too late. By the time you go to bed the night before a race, your urine should be almost clear. Make sure you’re replenishing electrolytes, and don’t drink more than 32 ounces of water an hour, less if you’re one of those skinny people, to prevent water intoxication. (No, I didn’t make that up. It can really happen, and it can be fatal.)
6) If you must spit, go to the right- If this isn’t an official road racing rule, it should be. I don’t enjoy dodging phlegmy puddles of saliva in the middle of the road, and I would rather not break an arm because I didn’t see your spit bomb in time to avoid it. At least be mindful of people behind you so they don’t run into your mid-air loogie.
7) Water Station Rules- Even a 5K will have at least one water station. They’re usually going to be on your right, but not always. If you’re going to get water, move over to the side and grab a cup. If you plan to stop and chat with the volunteers at the station and catch your breath, get out of the way of those runners who want to grab and go. Typically, a volunteer will hand you a small cup that you grab while you keep running. Take a sip, and toss the cup on the ground. No, really. It’s okay– but only during a race. A couple of things to keep in mind: A) There are other runners behind you. They don’t want to wear the water or sports drink that you’re tossing; B) Be careful merging back into the course so you don’ trip up the runners who aren’t stopping.
Some other friendly tips for your first race…
Post-race food- Nearly every race provides a post-race snack for the runners. You’ll never know what these are going to be until you show up, and there’s no guarantee that there will be anything left by the time you get there if you’re a slower runner. It’s a good idea to have a recovery bar (not coated in something that will melt) in your car just in case. Keep in mind that what your body needs most to recover from exercise is protein, and most post-race food would actually be better pre-race foods– lots of carb-loaded bagels and bananas. Remember– the food is only for the runners. Your cheering squad needs to bring their own snacks.
Pre-run the course- Especially if you’re a new runner, it’s a good idea to drive the course, and then run it so you know what to expect. I’ve only actually done this once, and only because I was going to run a relay and the team captain insisted that I run it with her. I was glad that I did, because there was a hill that would have caused me some panic had I not known about it ahead of time. If you’re looking for a PR (personal record), you definitely want to do a practice run.
Be grateful- No race would happen if it wasn’t for the people who volunteer to do set-up and clean-up, hand out water, and direct you along the course. Give them a little shout-out as you pass by so they know that you appreciate their time.
What are some things you’ve learned that a new runner might want to know before they head out to their first road race?
Cheering for you!