You've finally worked up the courage to register for your first 5K. But before you hit the streets, there are some things you should know.
Whether you've been training hard or you're just going out there for fun, running your first race can be intimidating when you don't know what to expect. To help you overcome your pre-race anxiety, I've put together four tips to help you get through your first event while avoiding the infamous crash and burn:
1. Focus on nutrition first.
When it comes to your event preparation, nutrition is where your main focus should be. The food you eat the night before will be the food in your system during your event. Instead of going for a greasy takeout meal, try eating a dinner consisting of dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower, carbohydrates such as sweet potato or yam, and a moderate amount of lean protein such as chicken or fish.
On the day of your event, eat a good meal approximately two hours before the event starts. A good pre-race meal could be something as simple as a small sweet potato. Just make sure to avoid anything that can cause any stomach issues during the event!
If your event starts early in the morning and you prefer to just skip breakfast, then you will be just fine as long as you ate a nutritious meal the night before. If you do get hungry before the race, opt for half a banana 15 to 30 minutes before the event begins. This will hold you over without causing any stomach issues.
Hydration is key when it comes to avoiding muscle cramps and premature fatigue. Make sure you start hydrating about 24 hours before your event start time. Don't worry about drinking fancy electrolyte drinks. Good old-fashioned water will do the job.
One mistake many first-time 5K-ers make is they forget to hydrate the day before and try to catch up right before the event. It's important to drink water before the event, but too much could have you waiting in line for the porta-potty at the 1.5-mile mark.
3. Warm up.
Standing around too much before the event can lead to stiff muscles and muscle cramping during the race. Warming up before the event can help you loosen up and work out some of the pre-race jitters.
A good warmup is a few minutes of easy jogging, a few hard sprints, and some mobility work consisting of leg and arm swings in each direction. This will help you start the race in a better physical state, especially in cold weather events.
4. Check your pace.
Because of all the excitement surrounding your first event, it's easy to start at a faster pace than you've been training for. But it's extremely important to start at a slower pace than you think you're capable of. The pre-race adrenaline will wear off sooner than you think.
Once you get about halfway through the race, you can push harder if your body feels good. Part of the fun during these events is testing your body's capabilities. Simply increase your pace to what you think is sustainable for the remainder of the course.
Don't feel performance pressure during the race. Many people simply walk their first 5K, and if that's all you can do, that's just fine. You can also do a combination of walking/running if that's what you can handle. Just make sure to go at a pace that's sustainable for you and that will still leave you smiling when you cross the finish line.
That's it! Now that you know exactly what to do to crush your first 5K, you can focus on enjoying the event without killing your body in the process. If you're looking for a deeper dive, you can check out an article I wrote called "How I Avoided Gut Rot, Ate Pure Corn Starch, And Won The Leadman Triathlon" where I discuss all the nitty-gritty details of race-day nutrition.
Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, obstacle course racer, human performance consultant, speaker, author of 13 books, and founder and CEO of Kion, which provides products, information, entertainment, coaching, consulting, and a global community centered around becoming a “fully optimized human.” His book Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life is a New York Times bestseller, and he was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the Year in 2008 and in 2013 and 2014 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Greenfield blogs and podcasts at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.