Running: Advice for first-time racers

Posted: October 14, 2013

I don't remember too much from my first race experience except that it was hot and I wore navy blue shorts. But from the actual race on the actual course? Not much. A lot of that was nerves, and the rest was my worrying about doing something that would label me a novice.

I reached out to longtime runners and asked them what they wish they knew their first race out. Some of their advice is common sense to someone who has been running for a while, but might be surprising to those racing for the first time.

First, stick with the routine you developed while training. "Do not try something new on race day. Race day is not the day to experiment - stick with food/shoes/clothes/routine that got you there," said Joe Hellenbrand, 41, of Southampton, who will run the Bucks County Marathon - his ninth full marathon - on Nov. 17.

You don't want to change what's been working for you because you have no idea whether that new energy gel will make you sick, or if the socks will give you blisters. Wearing the race shirt during the race is another no-no. You don't know how it'll hold up in a stressed situation.

"There is a lot of cool new stuff at the expo but save it for after the race. Stay with what has worked for you in the past," Hellenbrand added.

A race is different from a training run in a lot of ways, one being the number of people running with you in a finite space, which means you don't want to make sudden stops that could trip someone up. That means, if you're bringing your cellphone, keep it tucked away for the entire race.

"Don't stop and take pictures during the race. Don't take selfies," said Sarah Weddle of West Chester, a four-time marathoner who just finished the Washington, D.C., Ragnar Relay.

"This also means no texting. Aside from the fact that other runners find this annoying, it makes it really obvious that you're not taking the race seriously," she added.

My advice? Don't bring your phone, period. You'll be too tempted to fiddle with it, and it'll just weigh you down. Meeting friends and family after? Pick a predetermined meet-up spot. If you really need to call a loved one, trust me: A spectator will let you use his or hers. Just make sure you've memorized that loved one's cellphone number, or write it somewhere on your race bib.

If it's your first race, you might get caught up in what everyone else is doing, which could push you into running too fast too soon.

"When you start running, don't worry about people running by you, fast. Concentrate on yourself and your breathing," said Leigh Wetterau of Philadelphia, who has run four half-marathons and will be doing the Oley Valley Country Classic 10 Miler in Oley, Pa., on Nov. 3. "Run your own race. It's difficult, because it is exciting being in a race and your adrenaline is going, but just hold back."

And don't put too much pressure on yourself. It is, after all, your first time out.

"When you're a newbie, you often worry about finishing last or being too slow. Focus on finishing - that's the most important thing," said Kelly Phillips Erb of Chester Springs, who has run two half-marathons and two 10-milers and recently ran the Penns Woods 10k for her 41st birthday. "Your pace and your placement is all gravy."


Racing Schedule


Run for the Tech of It 5K/1-mile fun run, Hopewell Crest School Science & Technology Foundation, 9 a.m. Starts at 122 Sewall Rd. Bridgeton, N.J. $20 Preregistration, then $25. 1-mile Fun Run $15, $20.

Dottie's House End of Season Triathlon / Duathlon / AquaBike at Island Beach Park, Seaside Heights, N.J. 8:30 a.m. start, $60-$70.

Oct. 19

Armed Forces Freedom Run 5K and 6-hour Relay Team Competition, at the Burlington County Fairgrounds, Route 206 & Jacksonville-Jobstown Rd. 8:30 a.m. start for 5K, pre-race fee: $20, race-day: $25.

Oct. 20

Mother Matter 5K run/walk. 9 a.m. Washington Lake Park, 626 Hurffville-Cross Keys Rd., Sewell. Fees: Prerace: $20 individual; $50 per family (up to 5). Race day: $25. All proceeds benefit

10th annual Northeast 5-mile run, 2-mile walk. Starts and finishes inside the NE Philadelphia Airport. Registration/fees: Prerace: adult, $15; 14&under, $8 by Oct. 13. Then: adult,$20; 14&under, $10. Walk starts at 8:15 a.m. Run at 9. (Ashton Road entrance off Grant Avenue.)

Oct. 26

Brain Injury Challenge Race for Recovery, 5K run/ mile fun run/walk. Tyler State Park in Newtown, Pa. 5K starts at 9 a.m., fun run: 9:30. Registration opens at 7:30. Fee: $25. Benefits Drucker Brain Injury Center and the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania.

8th annual Browning Ross, Bob Kupcha 5K run and 1-mile Walk, 9 a.m. Start at Hessian and Grove Streets, National Park Firehouse, National Park. Entry fee $20 pre, $25 post.

4th annual Spirit Run 5K, St. Andrew School, Drexel Hill, 7:30 a.m. on-site registration, 8:30: 1 mile Fun Run, 9 a.m. 5K. Friday pre-registration at 6- 7:30pm at St. Andrew.

Nov. 2

Brandywine Battlefield 5K, Brandywine Battlefield Park, 1491 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., Start: 8:30 a.m., fee: $20.

Nov. 3

Run the Bridge 10K run, 2-mile walk. At the Ben Franklin Bridge, Camden side, 8:30 a.m. Fees: 10K: $45, registration closes on Oct. 20 or when cap of 4,500 is reached. No 10K race-day registration. Walk starts at 8:35 a.m, fee: $25. Walk is free for children 10-and-under but must be registered and accompanied by an adult. Walk caps at 1,000. There is no in-person registration at running stores. Youth event starts at 8:45 a.m. at Campbell's Field, fee: $10.

Nov. 10

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation's Lemon Run 5K, Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park. 8 a.m.-10 a.m. Fees: $35 for 5K, start at 8:30 a.m.; $25 for 5K walker (not timed), $15 for 100-meter Kids' Dash (10-and-under, not timed), starts at 8 a.m.

Nov. 16

Marlton Lakes Fall 5K, Marlton, N.J., 9 a.m. start, $15 preregister, $20 post.

Dec. 7

Winter Wonder Run 6K at the Institute Woods, Princeton Friends School, 470 Quaker Rd., Princeton, N.J. Check-in 8:45 a.m. 6K starts at 10. Limited to 150 participants. Walkers welcome. Prereg. online only till Nov. 23 is $29 including T-shirt, after is $35. Discount for no-shirt option. Day-of registration credit card only, $35 not including T-shirt.
E-mail date, name of race, site, time and fee, plus registration information, to sports editor John Quinn at

comments powered by Disqus