Expert Tips and Tricks for First-Time Racers

Must-read advice from seasoned runners.

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Sometimes the smallest details can make the biggest difference. Avoid race-day frustration with these insider tips from The Runner’s Field Manual ($18; Rodale) by Mark Remy and the editors of Runner's World.

Arthur Kwiatkowski

Recruit Fans

A surefire way to garner some special attention and personal support during a race is to display your name somewhere on your shirt. Write it on your bib or tee with permanent marker, use electrical tape or iron-on letters or get fancy and have your shirt professionally screen printed.

Groom Responsibly

Avoid clipping your toenails the night before your race. If you accidentally cut skin or clip too deep, the pain could disrupt your sleep that night—and your run the next morning.

Viacheslav Krisanov

Hotel Hints

If you’re torn between two comparably priced hotels, one near the start and one near the expo, take the one near the start. Be sure to ask for a room not too close to the ice machine or elevators, and, once there, unpack all of your running gear as soon as you can. If you’ve forgotten something important, now’s the time to find out.

Bryan McCay

Get Your Gear in Order

If you’ll be carrying a gear-check bag to the start, pre-pack as much as you can. Include extra gloves, a hat and so on if there’s even a tiny chance you might need them. Don’t include anything irreplaceable or otherwise valuable in your bag and mark the bag super clearly. Lean your bag against your hotel door or hang it from your door’s latch, so it will be impossible to miss on your way out.

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Last-Minute Prep

The less you have to worry about the night before your race, the better you’ll sleep. So, before you climb into bed be sure to pin your bib number to the shirt or singlet you plan on wearing and to attach the timing band or chip to your shoe.

Bryan McCay

Map Your Pre-Race Route

Especially for smaller, local races, simply finding the starting area and the registration/bib pickup area can be a challenge—not to mention stressful. This is why it’s always a good idea to print out a map and directions to the start the night before the race, even if you think you know where you’re going. While you’re at it, jot down the cell phone number of the race director or another race official, if such information is available, before you leave home. As a last resort, you can always call for help.

Alex Slobodkin

Set a Strategy

Whether you’re hoping to qualify for Boston, set a personal record or just finish the thing, it pays to have a plan going into your race. This usually consists of two parts.

Step 1 is a simple matter of forethought: Decide well in advance what exactly you hope to achieve on race day, and how you’ll do it—for example, what “split” you’ll try to hit for each mile.

Step 2 is a simple matter of discipline: Try your best to hit those splits, even if it feels like they’re way too slow. Writing key splits on the back of your bib number (or even on your arm) is a good way to keep yourself honest.

Daniel Käfer

Prevent Painful Sores

Apply a layer of petroleum jelly or a specially produced lube, such as Body Glide, over your feet and between your toes, on your inner thighs, under your arms or anywhere else you’re prone to chafing.


Stay Warm at the Start

It’s common at a cool- or cold-weather race to see runners peeling off clothing, then throwing it over everyone’s heads, either just before or just after the start. The idea is to wear something old and/or disposable while waiting for the gun, then to discard it once the race is under way. Don’t feel guilty: At most races, discarded clothing is collected and given to charity.

GoodMood Photo

Navigate the Aid Station

As you grab the cup, hook your finger into it and pinch the sides. This will form a sort of spout, making it easier for you to drink. If you’re going to stop or slow down to a walk in order to get those fluids down, look around first, and move to one side of the road.


Execute Race Etiquette

If you’re trying to pass an MP3-using runner or such a runner drifts a little too close, and you suspect that she can’t hear you, simply reach out and touch her arm or elbow. This is the international gesture meant to convey, “I am here and an entanglement would end badly for both of us.”

Sean Locke

These tips were excerpted from The Runner’s Field Manual by Mark Remy and the editors of Runner’s World magazine. For even more tips and tricks, buy a copy of the book at

Next: A Newbie's Guide to Running Slang


First Published January 13, 2011

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Jacky Milan06.14.2011

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