Top 10 tips for choosing your first race

Running races is an integral part of being a runner, that’s not to say you have to run them but they are a great motivator.

If I hadn’t of entered that 3k fun run all those years ago I may never have discovered my love of running and I would never have continued to up the ante by increasing my race distance right the way up to marathon.

Of course signing up to your first race is scary, and so it should be. It is all about making a commitment, putting a line in the sand and having something solid to work towards. The learning that takes place during a race is unlike any training run, and the sense of achievement unmeasurable.

But choosing the right race is important if you want to have a positive experience, so here are my top 10 tips for choosing the right event

1. Distance – Choosing the right distance for your level of fitness is crucial. It has to be realistic on the one hand but have the capacity to challenge you on the other. A 5K is a great place to start out at, and as you increase in confidence and fitness you can work your way out, but do not dismiss the idea of going straight for a 10K or a half marathon. If you give yourself enough training time, there is no reason you can’t skip the shorter distances. My ebook From Slouch to 10K will get you race ready in 10 weeks if you want to test out this theory

2. Location – Are you willing to travel for your first race? My advice would be to do one close to you to keep things simple. Dealing with race logistics and the hassle of travelling can make the whole event more stressful that it needs to be. Choose a race that you can drive to in less than an hour, but better still one you can walk to. One of my favourite races of all time is Run to the Beat purely because it is only a tube ride away, so much so I have done it 4 times!! 2007. 2010, 2011, 2013 I also ran a 10K right on my doorstep which resulted in extended celebrations in the local drinkerys until the early hours, I call it that Outrageous 10K

3. Pace – How quick do you intend to run? Do you even know what your pace is likely to be over the distance? If you are a speedy runner then you can take your pick, but if you are on the slower end of the spectrum then be careful not to set yourself up for failure. Check the finishing times from the previous year, and steer clear of anything organised by a running club. I once ran a 10K in Victoria Park organised by a local running club and not only did I come last, the finish line had been packed away by the time I finished

4. Scale – Are you looking for something low-key or do you want to razzamatazz of a big event? The great thing about a big event is that you can get caught up in the atmosphere, and where there are over 1000 participants you tend to get big crowds too so lots of encouragement, it is easier to hide in the crowd and less chance of coming dead last. But hey whats wrong with coming last? Someone has to!

5. Terrain – Do you prefer to run on grass or pavement, are you ok with hills and what about a bit of mud? All of these things will have an effect on your race experience. I much prefer to run on pavements as opposed to cross-country type races, far less likely to have to deal with nature, like the time I got stung by a wasp

6. Scenery – Do you want something nice to look at? Or are you happy running through an industrial estate? Some races boast spectacular views or take in iconic buildings or landmarks I recently ran my fastest ever race on a car test track but it was boring as hell, yet my stroll through leafy Richmond in their inaugural half marathon made the whole thing almost bearable, and lets not even talk about my race that finished in the London 2012 Olympic Stadium

7. Route – Even the layout of a running route can take its toll on you, particularly in terms of your moral. Is it an out and back route, does it snake around leaving you feeling like you are not going anywhere and what about a race with laps? Laps give you a get out clause and if there are more than two can make you lose the will to live. I once did a 10K with 5 laps and it was hilly too

8. Price – This may not be a deciding factor but you don’t want to have to remortgage your home to pay for your new racing habit. Try and work out a cost per mile and then consider the added extras like goodie bags and technical race t-shirts. Running club races tend to be much cheaper than ones organised by charities and big brands. If you have to fundraise as part of your race this can add an additional pressure, I raised over £1700 when I ran the London Marathon in 2012 and it was THE most stressful thing about the whole race preparation.

9. Timing – How early do you want to get up to race? Much of this will depend on how far you are travelling but nobody wants to have to get up at 5am really do they? How about an evening race? Racing in the dark brings about a whole new vibe, but it does give you the whole day to stress out about it. Nike do great night-time races and I have done two so far, Run the World and We Own the Night

10. Seriousness – do you want to have fun? And the answer to this should be yes…especially for your first race. There are all sorts of concept races popping up now. Race for Life is a prime example of a race where the running is kind of secondary. Now you can also find runs where you have paint thrown at you, races to music, mud runs, races dressed as Where’s Wally, there is even a race where you run with nothing but a tiger mask. The point is these kind of races are less likely to have club runners competing for a PB and more likely to have similar runners to you. A word of advice though, do not go for a concept race for anything over 10K, a recent run in Lisbon Portugal, taught me that no amount of rock and roll was going to make it easier.

Racing is a great way to commit, a great way to test, a great way to improve and a great way to renew your enthusiasm for running. Having a clear picture of what you want to get out of each race you sign up for will go a long way in helping you to enjoy each and every one of them

What factors do you consider when signing up for races? and have you ever had any major catastrophes which could have been avoided by following the advice found above??


13 Responses to “Top 10 tips for choosing your first race”
  1. My first race getting back into running was a 5-miler over a year ago! It was in a nearby town with lots of my friends participating and cheering us on — no catastrophes, I trained hard and made my goal: Finish without walking!

  2. kathy wood says:

    Ive signed up for the Britishlondon 10k as my first race. Ive given myself loads of time to prepare for it and was already running the 10k distance so felt this was better than a 5k. Its a very big race with lots of participants so hopefully people of all abilities, scenic – runnninģ thru Central London and fab teeshirt with quite an iconic medal. No sponsorship push so im doing this just to prove i can do it.

  3. pjpocahontas says:

    I notoriously end up running (and I use that term loosely) races that I am not really fit enough for. If I know I can walk the distance, I just do it anyway. I have been very bad at sticking to regular tuna to improve my running as I want everything straight away!! I have come dead last (by quite a bit) in a 10k trail run where all the marshals ended up being collected as I went round and were walking behind me. I am always near he back because I have to walk a lot, even in park run. It always frustrates me that others won’t run a race until they know they can do it in a decent time, but really, I know it is me that is being he weird one. I do a lot of obstacle races and these are my favourite type, but I am often last – i just make sure i start in an early wave so there are still people on the track. I have my first Tough Mudder this weekend!!! Arghhh!

  4. This is great advice. I might also add knowing the course profile before you run. My first race was a 10km in Edinburgh (I live in London) and I had no idea the first 2km was uphill. It was fine but had I known I would have been more mentally prepared.

  5. Tubontherun says:

    I would definitely add in the terrain thing. See if you can google any terrain maps to get an idea of the hill profiles. I didn’t realise that Longleat 10k was as hilly as it was, which has meant I have deferred to next year, as I wasn’t fit enough to tackle it this year.

    I would disagree with the “steer clear of anything organised by a running club”. I loved the Weston Christmas Cracker 10k which is organised by a club, and it was honestly one of the best runs I have ever had. It was incredibly friendly and, sure, there were competitive people right at the front going for sub-40 mins, but it didn’t make it intimidating. I had checked to see roughly how long people were on the course in previous years though.

    The only other thing I would add is perhaps, if you’re on Twitter, taking part in #UKRunChat and asking if anyone else is doing the same race who you can chat to before, or maybe has done the race before is a good idea. I did that for the Christmas Cracker, and it helped to put my mind at ease.

    • fattymustrun says:

      Great suggestions, I will add in the bit about terrain and hills, it was on my notes just didn’t make the final edit somehow.

      My comment about running club races is mainly aimed towards first time runners due to the speed and seriousness of many club runners (not all of course)

      • Tubontherun says:

        Sure! It was my first race and probably helped that it was a chip timed kinda fun run to be fair. I agree that there are some races I would never look at, like our local 5k series. Far to fast for me! Those people run 5k in the time it can take me to do a mile! 🙂

  6. Eva says:

    Great tips! My first race was a 3,5k in my home town of Gouda, so I could bike there, I knew the way and I saw a lot of friendly faces to cheer me on. The distance was perfect for my abilities at that time. Since then I´ve run two 10k´s in Rotterdam (on marathon day so it was really crowded but a great atmosphere) and in a nearby village. My next race will be Gouda again, but 3 las to make it 10k. I’m a bit worried about the laps. We’ll see. I’m having a bit of leg trouble now, seeing a fysiotherapist, I’m crossing my fingers this is sorted out before September.
    And I enjoy entering the race with a friend a lot too. I don’t mind running the race alone, but going to the start together helps me a lot.
    I really enjoy reading your blog.

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