How To Prepare For Your First Running Race

I’ve been answering some repeated questions on Reddit on the first running race for many runners that I figured I’ll summarize my answers here as well as describe the experience of my first running race. Even though my race calendar lists the San Francisco Half Marathon as my first running race, there was another one before that, the one that I never ran, ‘cos I chickened out.

My First Running Race

Finishing the San Francisco Half Marathon

San Francisco Marathon

I had been running for about three months, with Xero Shoes, some Vibram and a little barefoot, when I saw a poster for an 8K charity run in Campbell downtown. Up until that time I was mostly running by myself, reading, experimenting, un-learning how to run. I was mixing up the terrain (asphalt, dirt, gravel, grass) and slowly increasing my distance. I was reading voraciously on anything and everything I could get my hands on. Signed up to many running blogs and forums to really figure out how to run properly. All of my focus was on running posture and technique and I had no clue about my pace. I was still walking a fair bit during my runs, learning (by experience) about all kinds of lower-limb injuries (mostly minor) and how to fix them without a trip to the doctor or ingesting copious amounts of Advil. So while I was really curious about the race, I was also incredibly nervous about it.

I was pretty athletic as a kid, but I hadn’t participated in any race most of my adulthood. I was super self conscious and had all these burning questions on my mind.

  • Was my running posture okay?
  • What if I’m the last one to finish?
  • Will I get injured during the run?
  • Was it okay to walk during the run?
  • Do I have to finish by a certain time?
  • Will I be the only one running barefoot?
  • What if I can’t finish?

Remember this was just an 8K, but at that time was a really big deal for me. Turns out it was daylight savings on race day and I found a million other excuses not to run that race. What I did do was to run that 5 mile loop the evening before. I poured over the route nervously looking where I could find help in case something happend. But to my surprise I ran the 5 miles in about 45 minutes. When I mentioned it to my friend, he congratulated me on running at a 9:00 minute/mile pace. Funny though, as a newbie to running, pace was a new metric for me. I know, should’ve been obvious. But that run was a huge morale booster and broke a bunch of mental walls.

If it’s your first running race, remember that having fun, being with the other runners and getting to the finish line with a smile matters a whole lot more than anything. Replace questions like what pace should I run with how much fun am I going to have. Memorize the route you are running and if there are aid stations remember where they are. Breath deeply, be self aware, walk if you have to and most importantly remember to thank the volunteers. You’ll find that getting out of your head, looking around the scenery and appreciating others that are working their butts off so you can run with a smile, will actually get you that much closer to the finish line. And for your first running race, remember this quote by George Sheehan.

It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.

And that pretty much sums up what you should do for your first race. I’m running my 50K in just a couple of weeks and I still ask myself many questions, only they are now different. I still spend a fair amount of time looking at route, the locations of the aid stations, the weather, etc. to visualize how my run’s going to be. See my top 10 race day running checklist for how I prepare. Keeping the smile during the race and having fun still continues to be on top of my list.

What was your first running race? What did you do to prepare for it?


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