Whether you’ve already signed up for an event or if you’re just thinking about running your first 5K, you might have a few questions about what’s going to go down on race day. What do you wear? What will the check-in process be like? And, is this actually going to be fun?
The answer can totally be yes if you plan ahead with some enjoyment-enhancing strategies. Granted, there are some factors you can’t control on race day (like the weather or the crowd), but there are a few things you can do to have your best 5K ever, and they don’t have anything to do with your time. Here are 14 simple tips for actually having a great time during your first 5K (and maybe your second and third, too).
1. Good news! You’ve only got 3.1 miles to run—not 5.
A 5K is five kilometers, not five miles, and if you’re not familiar with running culture this fact isn’t that intuitive. After all, half-marathons and marathons are typically referred to as 13.1 miles and 26.2 miles, respectively, so that inconsistency can be confusing.
2. Try to scope out the course before race day.
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“Getting out on the course ahead of the big day will not only help you train, but it’ll help you know what terrain to expect on race day,” says Craig Slagel, founder of voice-guided route app RunGo and running enthusiast (he’s completed 93 ultramarathons). Plus, you’ll have an idea of what’s coming up as you run the course—including where any hills are.
3. Wear the outfit you wore during your best training run.
The first factor in choosing your race-day outfit is the weather, but if possible, wear the outfit you wore during the training run you crushed, suggests SELF.com’s lifestyle editor Zahra Barnes, who just did her first 10K. “You’re not going to deal with any unforeseen issues that can come up, like chafing or leggings falling down, and you’ll also have good memories tied to the outfit—it’s a physical reminder of how well you can do and how much fun you can have while running,” says Barnes.
4. And make sure you’re not wearing a brand new pair of shoes.
Nothing kills a run like aching soles or a brutal blister you can just feel forming. “Ensure that you have ample time in those new shoes you’ll need to purchase and use throughout your training,” says Gary Berard, an NYC-based running coach and the founder of GB Running. Here are five tips for choosing the perfect pair of running shoes.
5. Recruit friends to cheer you on from the sidelines.
It’s always more fun to run when you’ve got a support crew ready to congratulate you at the end of your run and encourage you till you get there. “Seeing them will instantly boost your mood,” says Barnes. “Plus you’ll have pictures to remind you of how much fun you were having.”
6. Or recruit friends to run with you!
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Even better? Get friends to run with you and turn the race into a social event—and plan on a celebratory brunch after! Don’t worry if your pals are faster or slower than you, says Slagel—if you get separated, it’s NBD. “Just knowing your friends are with you at the race will help,” he says. Remember to arrange a meeting spot at the finish line, he adds.
7. Get ~in the zone~ with a motivational video or anthem before you start.
Hype yourself up by listening to a powerful, go-crush-it song or watching a video that inspires you before you head to the starting line. “My absolute favorite is Misty Copeland’s Under Armour commercial,” says Barnes. “Watching cool women do amazing things before you race is an easy way to get motivated and focus on how strong your body feels as you run, which definitely makes it more enjoyable.”
8. And curate a killer playlist.
Create a playlist that is packed with songs that’ll inspire you to push yourself and be proud of what you’re doing. My personal favorites to listen to when I need a boost are “Power” by Kanye West and “Unstoppable” by Sia. Creep on some running playlists on Spotify for some inspiration.
9. Chat it up with your fellow runners before the race.
“Introduce yourself to the people around you at the starting line,” suggests Slagel. “Runners are nice people, and you may end up with a new running friend. This really helps with any pre-race nerves, and they may be able to give you some useful tips about the race,” he adds.
10. Don’t line up at the front.
Unless you happen to be an insanely fast runner, find a starting spot toward the middle or the back of the pack. The front is typically reserved for runners who are going all-out and are trying to set a personal record. No matter where you start though, don’t feel pressured to keep up with the runners around you.
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“You always want to start a little slower,” says Slagel. This actually helps you run a better and usually faster race, and it’s also easier and more fun to pass people.”
12. Ignore your time.
Speaking of speed, don’t worry about it. While it’s great to have a goal time in mind, just focus on crossing that finish line, whether it takes you 25 minutes or 45. “Aim to enjoy yourself from start to finish. In fact, this excitement should begin the moment online registration is complete—lay out your training and plan to partner with a friend in preparation for your race,” says Berard. He suggests working with a coach for customized race prep, but there are also several 5K training plans out there you can use (like this 8-week one for beginners).
13. Make a day (or a morning) of your race.
Most races happen in the morning so there’s a whole day waiting to happen after you cross the finish line. So while thinking about brunch may motivate you to make it to the finish line, thinking about running errands or doing housework after your run can be a bit of a buzzkill. “Plan to meet up with friends post-race to refuel and share your race recap,” says Berard. “Even if you don’t all run together, the race will be a great reason to get a group of friends together. After all, you can’t say BRUNCH without R-U-N, right?” Barnes vouches for this strategy, too. “Post-race, I was heading to a friend’s going-away party at a restaurant with huge mimosas and delicious skillet egg meals. Before my race, I pinpointed exactly what I would order at brunch so I had something to look forward to.” Oh, and wear your race shirt there to celebrate your finish, suggests Slagel.
14. It sounds cheesy, but just smile.
“Smiling might actually make you feel better, and it makes people around you smile back,” says Slagel. Plus, chances are there will be cameras at the finish line to capture your victory. And completing your goal is definitely something to smile about.