Running your first race

Jennifer Bonn

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Jen Bonn

I was speaking to a friend who told me she recently started running, and she hadn’t started before because she didn’t think she would be able to do it. When I asked why she felt that way, she said, “I felt like it was beyond my ability. It seemed impossible to me.” Another friend has told me several times that she wants to do a 5k race, (3.1 miles), but when I suggest races we can do, she always has a reason why she cannot do it. I think she is afraid of failure, but the fastest way to make the impossible, possible, is to do it. I know if more people took a chance and saw what a race was like, more people would be hooked on them.

Running is more than a great physical activity. It can help combat eating disorders because it is something you can control and that will help you with a positive body image. It has been shown to help with depression and anxiety because you can set goals, see progress, and gain confidence. Running is healing. Running races also offers you more on the list of why to run. When you do a race you will learn more about the sport, you will hear inspiring stories, and you will be introduced to an amazing community of people. My best friends were people I met at races.

Fear of the unknown might be holding many people back, so I am going to tell you what to expect, how to prepare, and how to complete a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, and an ultra. There are several other distances, but these are the most common.

The 5K

What to expect

A 5k is a race that covers 3.1 miles. You can run it, walk it, or do a combination of both. To find a race, you can search online at www.active.com , https://runningintheusa.com/race/overview , https://runsignup.com/ , or search through google. Register for a race and on race day you will receive a bib with a timing chip that will time you on your run. When you arrive, you will see that there are people of all different fitness levels, and ages.

How to prepare

To prepare physically, start running a minute, then walking a minute, and keep doing that for about twenty minutes. Each day, see if you can run more than you walk, but don’t overdo it. You want to work up to at least three miles of walking or running. Do some work on your core by doing sit-ups and push-ups, and other strength exercises that you are comfortable doing. After you are more comfortable racing, you can start running hills and doing track workouts to become faster.

You also have to prepare mentally. Build your confidence by telling yourself you are going to do great. Attitude in competition is very important.

How to run it

Tell yourself that you are going to have fun, and you will be running your own race, instead of worrying about what other people are doing. Do not start off too fast when the race starts and keep an even pace so you will have enough energy to make it three miles.

The 10k

What to expect

A 10k is a race that covers 6.2 miles. You can choose to run or walk it, or do a combination, but you have to work on pacing more in this race because it is twice the distance of the 5k. Pacing is the speed at which you are moving.

How to prepare

Increase your mileage so that you will be in shape to cover this distance. You need to at least be running six miles at a time, but I personally like to do at least one run a week that is slightly longer. It makes me feel more confident when I get to the race. You only need to run three to four times a week to feel good running this distance. At this distance, you should start experimenting with nutrition and hydration. You need to find what works for you, but at longer races, I always eat something like a peanut butter sandwich before I start. Find an electrolyte drink that works for you. Practice running at a consistent pace.

How to run it

Pacing is important once you start doing longer races. Start out easy and speed up if you feel comfortable. As you do more races, you can figure out a good pace that works for you. Buying a running watch can help because it will tell you your pace and your heart rate, so you can speed up or slow down if you are trying to maintain a certain pace. Especially when you run in the heat, make sure you are drinking enough water. With longer races, break them up into parts. Instead of thinking I have six miles to run, take it a mile at a time, telling yourself that each mile is bringing you closer to the finish line.

Half-marathon

What to expect

The half-marathon covers 13.1 miles, and while you could probably survive a 5k or 10k race without a lot of training, you should consider putting thought into how you will train for this distance. I have a friend who did her first half without any training and although she crossed the line, it was not a good experience.

How to prepare

There are many mileage plans to prepare for a half, but I have always needed a little flexibility. You will be o.k. if you do at least a seven or eight mile run at least once a week, but you may want to do at least one run at the full distance so you will be more confident on race day. Find a hydration pack that works for you and train with it or be sure that there will be adequate hydration on the course. Know which form of electrolyte drink will work for you. I cannot drink the usual drinks that are offered, so I experimented and found one that was easy on my stomach. You could be on the course for three hours, so have some form of nutrition for energy tucked in your pack.

How to run it

My friend Sally saved me from not enjoying my first half. I thought it would be a good idea to run it at the speed of a 5k or 10k, but when the start gun sounded and I was about to bolt, Sally grabbed my arm and said, “No, you have to run this slower.” She was so right. Instead of running too fast at the beginning and not having any energy at the end, we ran at an easy pace and enjoyed the run. Many runners at this level carry their own hydration and nutrition, but there is usually at least one aid station with gels. You should use gels as you train because certain brands might upset your stomach, so you need to experiment and find the one that works for you.

Marathon

What to expect

A marathon covers 26.2 miles, and it is a different beast from the other races. This is a race that pulls out all the emotions because it requires planning, hard work, and possibly some sore muscles. You can consider yourself a beast if you get to this level. My husband told me he cried after his first one because it was something he never imagined achieving. I completely understood what he meant when I saw the finish line in sight with my family cheering for me.

Most marathons have several aid stations stocked with whatever you need for hydration and nutrition, but many runners prefer to bring their own.

How to prepare

Unless you are a superhuman, you must put some time and effort into preparing for this. I think consistency is also key. I was preparing to do a marathon when my sister became ill, and I had to travel to be with her in the hospital two weeks before the race. I told my husband that I was thinking of not doing the race because of my lack of training at the end, and he said, “It isn’t the two weeks that you haven’t run that will determine this race, it’s all the weeks that you did.”

Many runners believe in running several long runs of at least twenty miles before the marathon. I used to do that, but now I rely on doing a consistent mileage of thirty to forty miles each week. I am not a speed demon, but I can finish the marathon without feeling too sore if I maintain that mileage.

How to run it

At any distance, how you run the race can be personal, but I think at this distance and beyond, that is even more true. Some runners use the run/walk app which tells you when to run and when to walk. Other runners run several miles, then walk one. Some runners run the whole race. The point is that whatever method you use to get from start to finish is fine. Most runners will have to slow down their pace for this distance, at least until they are used to covering that many miles.

The ultra

What to expect

An ultra is any race that covers more than 26.2 miles. Although that sounds crazy to many people, ultras can be more doable than some other races. Loop ultras allow you to set up your gear near the course, and you can stop for a rest whenever you want. They tend to be low-key, and a great place to hear some inspirational stories.

How to prepare

If you are doing a loop ultra and your goal is only to survive, weekly mileage of 30-40 miles will get you there. If you want to be more competitive, you will have to increase the mileage. Preparing for an ultra takes the most effort. Pack your nutrition, hydration, extra clothes, socks, shoes, a first-aid kit, and a headlamp if you are running at night. Your body will react badly if you do not know how to handle these miles, so practice at least one long run.

How to run it

I run ultras very slowly, and I’m never afraid to walk to rest. Sip water continuously and drink some electrolytes every hour. During hours one and two, eat carbs like blocks, or energy gummies, at mile three eat a protein bar, or a peanut butter sandwich. At some point, sit down and eat something for a meal. If your stomach becomes upset, eat ginger candies, or drink soda.

Trail runs

You can find trail runs at every distance and you need to know they are more difficult than running on road which means your finishing time will probably be slower than you are used to having. Trail running is fun though. If you are like me though, bring the med kit because I can find every root and rock there is!

Races are more than competitions. It is a chance to become stronger, build confidence, see improvements, encourage others, and make great friends. Races are as much social as they are physical. Some general rules to follow are don’t do too much too soon. You should not increase your mileage by more than 10% each week. Listen to your body and do not run through any pain.

Running is as much mental as it is physical. Work on becoming strong mentally with positive visualization, using power phrases during your run, and being determined to achieve the results you want. An example is running hills. Many people look at a hill looming before them and instantly give up. If you see the hill as an opportunity to pass a lot of people, and keep telling yourself, “It’s only a hill. I can do this!” it will help you to overcome that feeling of dread every time you see a hill.

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I am passionate about running, parenting, education, and self-help information. I enjoy writing articles that will offer readers the information needed to help them in some way. I recently retired from teaching French and Spanish for forty years. I run every day and have done all kinds of races from 5ks to ultra-marathons. I have three children and three grandchildren. I write for several magazines in my area, I am a contributor and in charge of the Pinterest board for a parenting magazine called Screamin Mamas, and I have a second book about to be released through Loving, Healing Press called 101 Tips to Ease Your Burdens.

Kennesaw, GA
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