5 Race Day Don’ts

TGIF, party people!

I’m linking up with the DC Trifecta’s  Friday 5 Link-Up. Please check out the Trifecta’s individual blogs: Courtney at Eat, Pray, Run DCMar at Mar on the Run, and Cynthia at You Signed up for What?! And If you’re a blogger, please consider linking up.

Today’s theme is “5 things about race day,” so I’ve decided to focus on 5 race-day taboos, things no runner should do on race day when running 5K or longer distances.

IMG_99755.  Don’t start in the wrong area.

If the race you’re running has corrals, start in the corral that matches a pace you can probably sustain for the length of the race. So, for example, if you’re confident you can run 9-minute miles for roughly 13 miles, by all means start in the half-marathon corral for people who intend to finish in 2 hours. But you shouldn’t line up with the corral for those running the half-marathon at 1:40 or faster.

IMG_9977If the race doesn’t have pace- or finish-time-based corrals, which is usually the case in smaller races, don’t line up at the very front of the pack, toeing the line, unless you think you’re capable of running 6:00/mile or faster for the entire race. Don’t even line up close to the front unless you think you can finish in the top 10%.

Why? If you start in with people who run a lot faster than you, it could hurt how you feel for the rest of the race (see below), you may get in people’s way, or you could end up getting trampled.

This rule also works the opposite way. If you’re confident you can run a 1:40 half-marathon, don’t start with the 2:30 corral (unless you don’t care about your time) or too far back in the starting area. You’ll end up weaving in and out of runners as you pass them, expending a lot of unnecessary energy.

4.  Don’t run too fast at the start of the race.

If you run too fast for your fitness at the start of the race, you will probably end up crashing and burning at some point on the course. No matter what the distance of the race.

You don’t have to run a marathon to hit the infamous “wall.” You can also bonk in shorter races if you run at an uncomfortable, unsustainable pace for the first part of the race.  I did this several times in 5Ks and once in a 12K before I learned my lesson. In the case of the 12K, I ran the first mile faster than 6:30. The rest of the race was very hilly, with the last mile completely uphill. The last mile was basically a death march–I could barely run because I felt horrible.

Now, I hold back for the first mile of the race and don’t freak out even if I’m running a pace 30 to 60 seconds slower than my goal race pace. Even if you’re pursuing a time goal, you can usually still make up for that slower first mile during the rest of the race.

3.  Don’t be a jerk to your fellow racers or the race volunteers.

Play nice! Don’t knock into people even if the start area or course is tight. Don’t spit or blow a snot rocket without first checking all around you to make sure you’re not going to hit someone with your spit/snot. Don’t throw your half-full cup at or after the water station unless you’ve first checked to make sure you’re not going to throw it in someone’s path or–even worse–at someone. Don’t forget to say “thank you” to volunteers when they hand you water or anything else at the water stations. Don’t make a mess in the portapotties (I’ve twice had the ultimate displeasure of reaching for the hand sanitizer dispenser only to note POOP on the button that I was supposed to push to dispense it–thank God I noticed before I actually touched it). Don’t listen to music when you run unless you’re using headphones or earbuds. Don’t listen to music so loudly that you’re unaware of your surroundings. Don’t stop to walk when you’re in the center of the course–run off to the side of the course and then walk. Don’t walk more than 2 people abreast.

Phew! Okay, I think that pretty much covers the common assholish race behaviors.

2.  Don’t try anything new.

Anything. No new pre-race food, race fuel, clothes, or shoes. (Okay, maybe I went a little too far by saying “anything,” because I think you’ll be fine with a new Garmin, for example.)

You’ve probably heard this advice before, and that’s because it’s sound advice. If you try something new and untested on race day, you’re gambling on how you’ll react to that new thing.  You could end up having an adverse reaction on race day, which you probably want to avoid.

New food pre-race or fuel during the race?  You don’t know how it’s going to affect your stomach, and you could end up experiencing some sort of gastrointestinal distress on the course, which is pretty much my idea of hell on earth.  As far as new fuel goes, you also don’t know whether it’s going to give you the boost you need.

New clothes and shoes? Speaking from personal experience, wearing new clothes is a recipe for disaster. I never had a problem with leg chafing until I decided to wear a brand new running skirt–having never even worn a running skirt, ever–at a half-marathon. As luck would have it, I ended up chafing terribly in my inner thighs.IMG_9981As far as shoes go, if they’re brand new, they’re not broken in. This may not be a deal-breaker for a shorter race, but you could end up running into trouble if the race is a half- or full-marathon.

1.  Don’t forget to have fun.

Unless you’re a competitive (i.e., professional) runner, your career doesn’t rest on the race you’re running. You may be shooting for an important goal you’ve set for yourself, such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or finishing a half-marathon in under 2 hours, but ultimately you’re running the race as a recreational activity.  Recreational activities are supposed to be fun. Yes, it may not be super fun to gut out the last few miles of a full-marathon, but try and find some joy–no matter how minute–in what you’re doing.

What do you think is the most important thing to avoid on race day? What’s the worst mistake you’ve made when you ran a race?

49 thoughts on “5 Race Day Don’ts

  1. I have a tendency to start out too fast and I pay for it later on in the race. I need to eprk on that. I just purchased a new pair of shoes and I have a race next weekend and debating if a week is enough to break them in or to stick w my old ones.

    • I probably look at my Garmin too often for the first mile of a race, but it keeps me from going out too fast.

      As far as your shoes go, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about unless it’s a long race.

  2. Can this be posted at every race? Seriously. I agree with each of these. Can you teach me how to not go out way too hard in a 5k? Bc I can NOT for the life of me get pacing right!

  3. Great reminders about courtesy to fellow runners and volunteers. Agree 100% with looking where you spit / snot…LOL. I have almost been hit a couple times.
    I would also add don’t insult fellow runners. Races are crowded in the beginning, everyone is trying to find their pace and we can not always go as fast as we would like in the beginning. Don’t say something about it… its not like I deliberately WANT to slow other runners down or block their paths.

  4. runninrocker says:

    Great “Don’ts” here! I think the worst one I’ve done was going out too fast. It’s so hard to reel in that start line energy. Running with a pacer last year helped me see how much easier it is to run a more consistent pace throughout…but still….that excitement just gets to ya!

  5. My post today was on mistakes, too! Although more around prep than the actual race. Been there, done that many times over on starting too quickly.

  6. Sue @ This Mama Runs For Cupcakes says:

    I have definitely had issues going out to fast, but I have finally learned to reel myself in and go easy. Yikes about the running skirt. Body glide is my friend with the inner thigh chub rub….darn chub rub, don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it. I’m really picky about the length of my skirts for that reason! Have a great weekend!!

  7. For smaller races, I tend to start near the back to keep myself from going out too fast, and I start with my walk intervals to safely warm up my muscles.

  8. Molly, this is such a great list; those people slinging water cups really get to me, sometimes. Good grief. I think I may have taken the “don’t start out too fast” to an extreme now; I think I actually need to pick up the pace a bit because I end up having negative splits ALL the time. I should probably have them come out a little more evenly, but I guess it’s the lesser of evils. Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Tara, it’s good to run negative splits–that’s the ideal! I’m envious; even though I don’t run my first mile too fast anymore, I still end up fading at the end of most races. I need to improve my pacing.

      Have a great weekend!

  9. Love these don’ts! It’s a great list. I haven’t run a race where there are varied pace times yet, but I will for my 2nd half in October. I had to put down an estimated finish time when I registered. First time I’ve ever had to do that.

    • Thank you! I love races with time-based corrals. The more specific the corral’s timing, the better. I think the Rock ‘n’ Roll series does this the best–each race has around 40 corrals!

  10. I have noticed way too many runners starting in the wrong place for self corralled races. That really annoys me as someone who plays fair. You certainly covered all the important parts of good race day behavior!

  11. Love your tip to not be a jerk! There is nothing more annoying than having a half full cup of sports drink dumped on you by the person in front of you who just dropped it on the ground. And definitely thanking volunteers is a key one for me! The race would not be possible without them!

  12. This is a great post! I was totally the jerk that blew a snot rocket without looking once… I felt really bad and learned my lesson though! 🙂 My only other Race Day Don’t would be “don’t be late!” I seriously can’t understand people who leave themselves 10 minutes to park, use the restroom, check gear, etc. Yikes!

    • Hahahahaha! Seriously? I’m surprised. 🙂

      And I totally agree about the not being late to a race. I’ve done that before and ended up weaving through the back of the pack, wasting a lot of energy.

  13. Definitely the worst mistake I’ve made on race day was wearing something new. I wore a pair of new shorts for a half marathon that felt like they fit, but by the end they were falling off of me! I spent much of the race hiking them up. Not cool!

  14. I must remember these for my upcoming marathon! Even though I’ve run a good amount of races, I still learn something new after each one. I’m such an offender on trying new stuff at races though, I think I’ve done it every time. Guess I’ve just gotten lucky! I won’t be doing that for the marathon though, don’t worry.

  15. Great post! Yes to #3 – had water flying on me during Cherry Blossom and have heard too many stories of runners slipping on cups. Today everyone (albeit it was a small race) discarded their cup in the recycling bin – it was really nice. OMG your port potty story…. sooo gross!

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