Running a Race? 7 Ways to Prepare For Your First Event

Your keys to crossing the finish line

Are you considering running in a race, but unsure of how to tackle the challenge? Racing is not difficult when you have the right mindset and the proper tools.

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Running in any race requires dedication and preparation. You want to go the distance and cross that finish line. Whether you’re running in a 5K, half marathon or marathon, there are important steps you can take so you’re ready for the event:

1. Make sleep a priority

Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night during your training. Listen to your body’s needs. Some people require more than that; some require less.

But focus on being well-rested as race day approaches. Remember, a sleepless night can make you feel sluggish, groggy and dull. You’re aiming for alert and energized on race day.

2. Practice and plan

It doesn’t matter how many miles your race will cover — preparation is the key to conquering any distance.

  • Run several times a week to condition your body.
  • Determine ahead of time what your fueling strategies are — do you need a nutritional bar before the race? What about water?
  • Experiment before the race with various types of running clothes and decide what’s most comfortable. Certain fabrics irritate some people’s skin. Make sure you avoid that issue on race day or you’’ll be in for a miserable marathon.

3. Set a goal and a backup goal

You may have a goal that you want to achieve on race day. But you might not feel your best or the weather may not cooperate. There are so many things out of your control that you should always set a goal and a backup goal.

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For example, a downpour on the day of the race will slow everyone down. As a result, you probably won’t hit the time you really want, but you could have a secondary target in mind to work toward.

4. Hydrate before and during the race

As a runner, it’s vital for you to avoid dehydration. Plain old water is the best way to go. Water will help prevent your body from overheating. It’s a good idea to practice hydrating yourself before, during and after long runs. That way, you’ll know what’s necessary on race day.

A good rule of thumb is to take a drink about 30 minutes before you run. Then take small sips throughout the race when your mouth is dry.

5. Stay upbeat and positive

Maintain a positive attitude during your training and leading up to your race. A positive mental attitude can put you on track for success and help you overcome any challenging situations you encounter.

6. Relax and enjoy the run

Having jitters before a race is common. It’s a normal part of any competition. It means you care about your performance and want to do well.

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But there are things you can do to keep yourself calm and relaxed. One suggestion is to run with music you enjoy. Music allows you to think about something other than the task at hand and helps you relax.

7. Start out slow

Finally, don’t try to set a land-speed record in your first mile out. It’s best to pace yourself. Start slowly and gradually increase your stride until you’re settled in your normal training pace.

Get your doctor’s go-ahead 

Before you start training for any road race, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. He or she may have some running suggestions that suit your needs and can address any possible limitations you have.

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Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.
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