If you have been running for a while or are about to start running and want to have a goal to work towards, you may well be thinking about doing your first race. You can easily Google races in your local area but the problem is that with thousands of different races available it can be hard to know what race to choose which could lead to you having a negative first race experience. As someone who has completed over 50 races here are some tips on what to look for (and what to avoid) when choosing your first race.
The most important thing to consider when choosing your first race is the distance you will need to run. As picturesque as a trail ultra marathon through some distant mountains might look, unless you are an experienced runner who happens to have never done a race, picking a shorter distance such as a 5 or 10k is probably more sensible for your first race.
You want to pick a distance that will challenge you but not put you too far out of your comfort zone. If you have been following the Couch to 5k programme I would highly recommend choosing a 5k race that is happening around the time that you will finish the nine week programme.
If you are fairly comfortable running 5k and have maybe done Parkrun a few times you might prefer to pick a 10k. This will require you to double your distance but the step up from 5 to 10k shouldn’t seem too overwhelming if you do it gradually and are used to running 5ks.
Whatever distance you pick, you want to make sure you have time to train properly for it. There is little point in signing up to a 10k race in two weeks time if you have only ever run a 5k. This won’t give you enough time to train and you are more likely to get injured and not enjoy the experience, which is unlikely to motivate you to do more races. Before signing up for your first race, think about where your training currently is and how long, realistically it will take you to get to the required distance and pick something far enough away so that you will have time to train for it.
For your first race, especially if you are new to running it is important to pick a race that is beginner friendly. On the whole all races are very friendly and welcoming but some are more suitable for beginners than others.
You want to look for one that isn’t too competitive and will have plenty of people finishing at about the same time as you (some races are great but are largely filled with super fast runners in club vests who are all after a new PB which isn’t ideal for your first race). Many races post their results from previous years online and so if you have identified a possible race and know roughly how long it will take you to complete, have a look on their website and check that there are plenty of other people finishing around that time.
Also have a look and see if there are any cut off times (times after which the race is officially closed and the roads will be reopened etc. and there may no longer be volunteers/ marshals on course). These are normally very generous and will accommodate any speed but occasionally they are quite tight which is often a sign that the race will be quite fast and competitive. Smaller races are also sometimes more competitive so keep an eye out for that as well.
For a race that is guaranteed to be very beginner friendly I can highly recommend Race for Life. These are a series of events across the UK organised by Cancer Research UK. There are over 150 5k races across the UK to choose from and many venues also have a 10k option for those wanting more of a challenge. They are perfect for beginners as they are focused on enjoying the experience rather than being competitive and many people who take part aren’t regular runners. You will be started off in groups of walkers, joggers and runners and so you will always be with people going at the same speed as you. They are also ideal for the whole family as children are welcome to take part and for the first time in 2019 men can run as well.
You may want to consider additional race features when picking your first race.
For example some races have a separate, shorter junior race for children which often takes place before the main event so that you can run round with your children as a warm up and then do your own race. This is a brilliant way to get the whole family involved in running and being active. Race for Life lets children run round the 5k event with an adult but not all races let children run in the main race so you need to find this out.
You may also want to consider whether the ability to use a wheelchair or take a running buggy round the course is possible if this applies to you. Some races have information on their website about this but not all do. If you find a race you like the look of but aren’t sure if it will be suitable, contact the organisers and ask them.
If you have a dog you may want to take them round with you. Some races allow this but others don’t so it is worth finding out before you sign up.
Not everyone wants a reward for completing a race but it is nice to get one, especially if it is your first race. After all, you’ve trained hard for a race and deserve a reward for your efforts. Many races give out medals which is good as you get to build up a collection of them over time to keep track of all the different races you have done. The race website will generally say if you will receive a medal so it is worth checking there if that is something you want. Some races also offer t-shirts, these are sometimes part of your entry fee and sometimes need to be paid for separately. Again, the race website should provide information on this.
Leave a comment below with what your first ever race was, or what it will be if you are building up to your first race.
Happy exercising 🙂