Tips for Running Your First Race

July 21, 2019

Ready, set, run!

Sure, we’re all aware of the perks of running: less stress, better heart health, an easier time slipping into your jeans.

But even the most disciplined woman can find herself requiring extra motivation. “Once you’ve succeeded at a challenge, you need new ways to test your limits,” says Janet Hamilton, founder of

so many women are discovering the joy of racing

That’s one reason so many women are discovering the joy of racing. Last year, 60 percent of finishers across the U.S. were women.

Want to toe the line? We asked running coaches and race directors to weigh in on the most common questions about competing so you know exactly what to expect.

What if I have to stop midrace?

Last November, the top marathoner in the United States, Meb Keflezighi, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon and the 2009 New York City Marathon, stopped at the 18th mile on the New York City racecourse and walked. That’s right: Even elite athletes need to take a break sometimes it’s fine if you have to, as well.

What if I have to go to the bathroom?

Fear not: You’ll find porta-potties at the staging area before the race and typically along the course. How many there are, however, depends on the distance. Check the map on the race website beforehand to pinpoint exact locations.

What if I’m last?

If you’ve been running regularly, it’s unlikely that you’ll be the final person on the course. Many race organizers assign someone the task of “bringing up the rear,” meaning she will wait to ensure all other runners clear the course before she crosses the finish line. (That’s a relief, right?)

Do I need to wear special shoes?

A good pair of running shoes is essential, but don’t feel compelled to shell out $200 for ones designed specifically for racing. “You can find some great shoes on sale at your local running shop,” says Kelly Bither, coach of the Runner Chick Training Club in Tigard, Oregon.

Should I carry water?

Water run station

If you’re running for under an hour, leave your bottle at home. The is just added weight to tote. Plus, most races have fluid stations at regular intervals on the course.

RELATED: What to Eat Before, During, and After Running

On the other hand, if you think you’re going to be in the back of the pack, “it’s not a bad idea to carry extra water on a hot day,” says Stephanie Atwood, coach for the Go Wow Team in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s possible for aid stations to run low for the later runners.”

What if I get lost?

Race day

Not to worry, says Bither: The course will be marked with cones, tape, and chalk, and there will most likely be race officials wherever you need to make a turn.

Just how sore will I be the day after?

Sore legs

As a rule of thumb, the longer the distance, the greater the achiness. “You are challenging your body,” explains Atwood. “But as long as you’re consistent in your training and  during the race and in the days leading up to it your muscles should be OK the next day.”

How to Start Running Without Getting Hurt