Race-day recommendations: 6 tips for your first big run!

“Don’t look at race day as being your final exam; look at race day as being your graduation party.”

That’s the advice offered to runners by David Harding, longtime endurance athlete, Ottawa Running Club marathon and half-marathon coach, and personal trainer at his company, DEKK Coaching.

As Harding sees it, race day isn’t a time to stress. It’s the time to trust in your training, do what you’ve practiced and, most of all, go out and enjoy the experience. “Smile,” he says. “Have a lot of fun, thank the volunteers, drink in all the spectators and what they’re doing for you out there.”

1. Set realistic goals

“It’s always good to go in with an A Goal, a B Goal and a C Goal,” says Harding.

Your A Goal is the time you hope to run if all conditions are perfect – your body feels great, the weather is ideal and there are no hiccups along the way.

The B Goal is what you expect to run if you encounter any problems, like a cramp or high humidity. “If that happens, just ramp back a bit,” says Harding. “Enjoy the day and the fact that you’re still out there being active.”

Your C Goal is what you need to keep in mind “when the wheels come off.” For example, if you run into intestinal issues and find yourself making frequent stops at the porta potty. In that case, says Harding, “just be thankful that you’re out there and that you’re generally healthy. Enjoy the day for what it is and don’t pressure yourself to meet your A Goal or even your B Goal.”

2. Arrive early

Would you rather have an extra 10 or 15 minutes to relax and get mentally prepared, or spend the final few moments before your race dashing for the porta potty and scrambling to get into the right corral?

“Have a plan for race day morning and make sure it includes arriving with a lot of time to prepare,” says Harding. “You should leave more time than you would expect to need.”

Exactly how early to arrive depends on the race and the person, but in general, you should aim to get there one hour to 90 minutes ahead of your start time.

3. Do a light warm-up

One of the most important parts of arriving early is that it allows time for a proper warm-up. You should always do some gentle jogging and drills to get your body ready for the big event.

“The shorter the race, the longer the warm-up,” says Harding. “For a 10K, what I generally recommend to runners is to do an easy jog for about 10 minutes or so, just to get the blood flowing and the joints loosened up a little bit. Then some dynamic stretches to work on flexibility and range of motion. And then finally four to six strides of 50m or 60m, accelerating up to your race pace before coasting back down again.”

If you’re running the 5K, try a slightly longer warm-up jog and a couple extra strides.

4. Find your place

Race Weekend organizes each race into several corrals, based on runners’ expected finish times. Do your best to seed yourself in the right corral according to how fast you think you’ll be running.

Says Harding, placing yourself in the right corral helps ensure that “you’re not caught behind slower runners, or running up at the front and getting passed by a lot of runners throughout your race.”

It’s a good idea to look for one of the pace bunnies in your corral to help you stay on track for your target goal. (They’re hard to miss – they’re the ones with the big pink ears!)

5. Start out slowly

Often, runners get excited – not to mention a little nervous – in the final few minutes before a race begins. Standing at the starting line amid a crowd of other runners, the adrenaline can push you to go out faster than you ever have in training.

Resist that urge.

“You didn’t suddenly increase your fitness overnight,” says Harding. “Recognize that you should start slowly and then gradually build throughout the race.”

6. Run the tangents – but only if it’s safe

Race Weekend courses are beautiful and scenic. They’re also curvy, in parts.

When you’re racing, it makes sense to try to run the shortest distance possible. But the 5K and 10K are popular races, and if you’re running in the middle of the pack, it can be hard to go for every corner.

“The shortest way around the corner is across the tangent, but you should never do it by cutting people off or going against the stream of other runners,” says Harding.

Bottom line? If you can safely run the tangents, do. But don’t force anything, and always be respectful of other runners.

Good luck at Race Weekend! Enjoy your first race, and remember: Don’t treat it like a final exam – treat it like a party!