Whether you’re planning on walking or running a 5K –the equivalent of 3.1 miles–is a great achievement.
But if you’re new to the racing scene, walking or running a 5K can be intimidating. From what to wear to how to hydrate, there is a lot to think about.
Check out these six tips to get you ready for walking or running a 5K race:
1. Get Familiar With the Course.
One of the best ways to ease your anxiety when walking or running a 5K is to eliminate surprises. Ask a race coordinator or do a Google search to find out what the race course looks like. Some races are “Out and back,” which means you’ll be turning around halfway through. Others are complete loops, while still others are “End to end,” meaning you start in one area and end in another, 3.1 miles away.
Knowing what the course looks like will ease your mind as you’re running since you can make appropriate adjustments for hills, turns or changes in terrain. Plus it will be helpful information to share with your cheer squad, so you they can pick a good spot to stand.
Other things to scout out ahead of time? The bathrooms and the water stations.
2. Be Prepared.
Some bigger races require participants to pick up their race bib (that piece of paper with your running number on it) the day before the race. Make sure you know the times and locations you can pick up your bib, and if you need to bring an ID or email confirmation.
Make sure your phone is fully charged for the race so you can listen to your favorite playlist, and contact family members when you’ve finished. If you use a fitness tracking device, double check that it’s all set and ready to go. Consider double-knotting your shoelaces so they don’t come loose as you’re walking or running the 5k.
The night before your race, lay your race clothes out, and be sure to set aside four safety pins to pin your race bib to your shirt. If you plan to go out for brunch to celebrate your victory (you earned it!), you may want to pack a change of clothes and some face wipes, especially if it’s particularly hot or rainy.
Come prepared–make sure you know where the parking lots are, where and when the race starts, and any restrictions on the course (some races won’t permit strollers or animals). A note on that: Many race websites indicate that headphones are not permitted. This is rarely enforced, so if the thought of racing without listening to music makes you want to run for the hills, double check this one with a race coordinator or a veteran runner.
3. Dress Smart.
Since your body will heat up as you get moving, a great rule of thumb is to add 15 to 20 degrees to the expected temperature when selecting your race gear, says runnersworld.com. So if the temperature on race day is 60 degrees, dress for 75. It’s the best way to ensure you won’t overheat.
If it’s warm, opt for wicking fabrics, and don’t forget your sunscreen and possibly a hat to protect your head. If it’s cold, fleece is a great insulator. Gloves and headbands or hats are great options because they are easily removed. Some race coordinators even collect extra clothing runners toss aside at the start line just as they start running to donate to local charities. Check the race website to find out if this is an option and if so, toss on an old sweatshirt that will keep you warm until the race starts.
If rain is in the forecast, consider purchasing a poncho that you can toss once the rain stops or if you get uncomfortable. You’ll notice many veteran racers show up wearing garbage bags over their shoulders, which may look ridiculous, but it works: The material is the perfect repellent for water.
And never, ever wear anything brand new on race day. The last thing you want is to find out just how uncomfortable those new shorts are mid-race, or that your brand new sneakers are a breeding ground for blisters.
4. Start Smart.
If you’re planning on walking, but the race includes a run, your inclination might be to start in the front of the race crowd since it will probably take you a little longer than the runners to finish the race. But since many runners are chasing a record, they generally appreciate having less to dodge as they run. If you know you plan to walk, consider starting toward the back of the crowd, and you won’t have to worry about runners bumping you as they try to shave seconds off their pace.
Some of the bigger races have corrals, which are areas of the start line where racers line up according to their anticipated finish time. Since starting too fast can cause you to burn out too soon, and starting too slow can be frustrating as you dodge slower racers, it’s important to be realistic about your race time. If you’ve been running 10 minute miles in training, you probably won’t suddenly run five- or 15-minute miles. Adrenaline might make you a little faster, and stopping to stretch mid-race might add a few seconds, but generally speaking, using your training runs to get an approximation of your race speed is a great way to ensure you start where you should.
5. Mind Your Manners.
Ask any veteran racer what their racing pet peeves are, and chances are good they’ll say when other racers stop short at a water station and they nearly barrel right into them. If you do stop for water, try not to abruptly cut across other runners or stop suddenly. And if trashcans aren’t available for your empty water cup, be sure to toss it on the side of the course as opposed to the middle, where other runners are more likely to trip over it.
Other 5K don’ts? Don’t spit on the course unless you’re positive no one is behind you (trust us, there’s something about races that brings out the spitters!). And if you’re racing in a group, try not to spread across the entire road, which makes it difficult for other racers to pass you.
6. Soak it Up.
Walking or running a 5K is a major achievement. Don’t let yourself get so worked up anticipating the unknown that you don’t enjoy it. Take some time before, during and after the race to appreciate the sights and sounds. And of course, once you’ve crossed that finish line, give yourself a huge pat on the back!