Every runner in a race has, at some point, had to enter their first race, usually with some trepidation. Here are some tips.
You do not need to be fast to enter a race
Races are always full of runners of all abilities, from young to old. Where races permit, there will often be participants running with pushchairs or dogs on a lead, or in a wheelchair. One of the great merits of running is that you can enter the same competition as world class athletes, whatever your level of running.
You do not need to be competitive to enter a race
A very few people in a race are hoping to win. The rest of us are running it for fun. You should not think of most races as a competition – the people you are running with want you to succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves. For many of us, races are a way to run with a group, on a measured course with mile markers, with regular water tables.
Decide which race you want to enter
The increased interest in running and jogging over the last few years has meant that races tend to become booked up some time in advance (as much as 6-9 months in advance for high profile races like the Paris marathon). Many races no longer accept entrants on the day so you will need to enter in advance. Consult the Serpie planner and use the search functions to narrow down the distance and rough date you would like to run. Most races can now be entered online so follow the links and in a few clicks you are there.
Don't forget to click on to add it to My Events (apart from enabling you to build up a diary of races it also allows you to see which other serpies are running and, perhaps more importantly, allow you to travel with some friendly faces). If you plan on racing further afield then Runner's World has an excellent race calendar (click on Events).
Plan what to bring
Plan your kit the night before, pin your number on to your vest, and lay your clothes out over a chair. Bring some extra clothes to change into afterwards (especially a fresh pair of socks, which are always welcome after a long run). Runners often take with them: toilet roll, vaseline (to prevent chafing), money, a banana, a recovery drink, safety pins.
Pin your number on the front of your shirt
Although cyclists wear their numbers on their backs, in road races you wear your number on your front. Pin the number in all four corners.
There is nothing worse than feeling rushed when you arrive. Arrive at least half an hour, preferably an hour, before the start time, to pick up your number (if you are entering on the day) and to go to the toilet.
Start slowly, and at the back
Resist the temptation to go shooting off with the faster runner: take it easy at first, and you can speed up towards the end if you still have the energy. (It is said that every 10 seconds a mile you run too fast at the start will cost you 20 seconds a mile at the finish). People are generally more sociable in the middle of the pack, since most people are not aiming for a very fast time. You may not cross the start line immediately, but this won't matter unless you are aiming for a fast time.
Your first race is a special moment. Take time to savour it.
See also our tips on running the London Marathon.