Racing for Beginners – Picking your first race

Learning from My Mistakes:

Since I’ve started running again, I’ve only run one race, a 10k Turkey Trot (1:07 clock finish).  However, I started my running career in my twenties, before kids.  And, in my inimitable style, my very first race ever was a half marathon.  Really.  And it was a local one, out and back along a country road with three water stops.  The only entertainment was trying to avoid the roadkill along the road.  I only trained up to about 6 miles.  And I felt great at the beginning, so I ran about a 9 minute mile for the first couple miles (my normal pace was around 10 minute miles).

Yes, I finished.  And I cried the entire last 4 miles.  Literally.  It was not pretty.

After that, I ran a couple of 5ks and finished my pre-kids racing career with my best race to date, the 15k Gate River Run in Jacksonville, FL.  I finished in 1:31with NO tears.  I ran the whole race, other than the water stops, including going up the huge bridge at the end.

Based on my very different race experiences, I thought I’d do a series of posts about racing for beginners.  If you’ve never run a race before, it can be terrifying.  Or, you can be totally unafraid (like I was) which might be worse if you get in over your head.

First Race Selection Tips:

Common Race Distances: 5k = 3.1 miles
10k = 6.2 miles
15k = 9.3 miles
Half Marathon = 13.1 miles
Marathon = 26.2 miles

I think that it is a great idea to start with a relatively short 5k or 10k local race.

Local races take away the uncertainty of travel arrangements, getting lost, leaving something critical (like your running shoes!) at home, and greatly reduce the cost.  I have much less anxiety for a local race than for a race I have to travel for.  It’s also easier for your family and friends to come cheer you on. 

I like the 10k distance because it’s long enough for the non-speedy folks to hit their stride, but short enough that you can train for it in a few months.  I find that local 5ks tend to be a little more competitive with a faster field, but that may just be my local area as it is a college town.

Charity races tend to have a wider range of paces from speedsters to walkers.  If it is a charity you have a personal connection to, even better.  People often run those races wearing something in honor of a loved one which gives greater meaning to the event.

One more tip is to check out the finish results from the same race last year.  There is a saying that I completely believe in:  Dead Last > Did Not Finish > Did Not Start.  That being said, I really don’t want to be the last person.  Yes, it’s an ego problem and a personal failing but it’s true.  If you look deep in the depths of your soul and find that you have similar issues, checking prior year race results can give you an idea of how competitive each race is.  If you know you run a 12 minute mile you might not want to enter a race where the results show that the last person in the prior year finished at a 9 minute mile pace.  I usually find it very reassuring when I check and find that there are a people finishing at a 15 minute mile pace or more.  Just one less thing to worry about.

Inaugural races might be a poor choice.  An established race will typically run smoothly from registration to packet pickup to the start to the finish.  A new race is a gamble, it could be awesome but it could be awful.  For your first race, always take the safe bet!

How to Actually Find Your Race Options:

Active.com isn’t the most user friendly website out there, but it does seem to be fairly comprehensive.  You can search by sport “Running” and location.  I’ve noticed that for local races, they tend to be only posted a couple of months prior to the race.  I was looking for local 10ks for this fall back in the spring and didn’t find any.  I assumed I’d have to travel to get a 10k in prior to Princess (for corral placement – more on that in a later post).  Around late summer, the local fall 10ks started popping up and I was able to find a great Turkey Trot 10k just 15 minutes from my house. 

Local running stores often post (and sponsor) races and can be a great resource.   Bigger recurring races have websites that are usually updated for the next year’s race between 6-9 months prior to the start.

Signing Up: 

Sign up as early as possible.  There will probably be a discount for registering early.  The registration fee will probably be non-refundable.  This should serve as motivation for you when you want to skip a run or procrastinate a long run.  If you have a firm date circled on the calendar that is already paid for with your hard earned cash (or Visa), you’ll be much more likely to stick to a training plan.

Tell everyone.  Tell your mom, your spouse, your kids, your hairstylist, your boss, your coworkers.  Everyone.  Part of my sensitive ego character flaw is a need to prove myself to others.  If I’ve told everyone I’m going to do a race, I’m going to have a big problem not delivering.

Next Post – Preparing for Your First Race

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