The Keys to Running: Your First Race

By now you’ve picked up the running bug.  It’s a habit, and you are somewhat committed to it.  You physically feel better, and maybe you even enjoy it.  But now you need something more.  Something of a challenge.  You are going to sign up for your first road race.

Running Your First RaceWhere do I sign up?

There are a lot of places to find out about events going on that you may be interested in.  One of the best resources is the website  This has become the defacto online listing of race (and all sorts of other sports) events.  There will be listings by date, by distance, by age category, you name it. will show you just about every sort of race out there, so spend some time finding something that looks appealing.

You can also find race events that are advertised in the community.  Typically, a lot of race events are tied so some sort of fund-raising activity, and they will be heavily promoted in your neighborhood or community.  These races tend to be 5Ks and 10Ks.

National magazines such as Runner’s World will feature an entire advertising section in the back of the magazine dedicated to advertising upcoming events.  The events listed in national publications tend to be the very large, long distance races, such as half and full marathons.  Participants in these events tend to be in the thousands of runners.

The local specialty shoe store is another excellent source of information for information on race events.  Very often, the running specialty store will be a sponsor for an event, or serve as the place for registration or packet pick-up (see below).  Events that are sponsored by a specialty store tend to be mid-distance to long-distance, such as 10Ks, 10-Milers, half and full marathons.

How do I sign up?

Once you have decided you will be running your first race, and have found the event you want to participate in, you have to sign up. hosts a lot of information for races and in fact, a lot of smaller races will use them for their event’s registration and payment.

The official web site of a race will have its’ registration info.  Smaller races may send you to another site to register, larger race events will handle everything in one spot.  Always sign up well ahead of the actual race event, as a lot of them can and will sell out.  Once you have decided that you want to run a race, do not wait to register!

A lot of smaller races may not completely fill up.  Very often you will have the opportunity to just show up early the day of the race, pay your fee, get your bib and you are ready to go.   This is a nice option if you are a little unsure about a race, the weather that day, or if it is a last-minute decision.

Packet Pick Up

Depending on the size of the race you are participating in, there will be designated times to pick up your race packet.  This usually happens the day before the race.  Your ‘packet’ will contain your bib with your race number and some safety pins, may include a t-shirt or promotional item, a race day schedule, and possibly a timing chip of some sort.  The timing chip may be built into the bib itself, or it may be something that gets laced into your shoes.  It measures the exact moment you cross the starting line.

Race Day

Once the day of the race arrives, plan on getting there early.   Depending on the size of the event and the race course, parking may not be anywhere near the start line.  Some races include shuttle busses to the start line, some races make you park a mile away and walk to the starting area.  Just be sure to leave plenty of time – after all that prep work the last thing you want to do is miss the start of the race!

There will generally be an announcement for all the runners as the start time approaches.  Just follow the crowd.

Depending on the size of the race, they may break up all the runners, segmenting people into different groups behind the starting line.  They may split runners up by expected pace, such as a group for 8:00 minute milers, one for 8:30 minute milers, 9:00 minutes milers, etc… This is to help control the crowd as everyone crushes towards the actual starting line.    If you don’t know your average pace, just head towards the middle of the pack.

And… Go!

All races are different based on their size, the number of runners, and how experienced the race organizers are so your experiences will differ from what I have described.  At the end of the day, just remember that you are not alone. There’s a good chance there are a lot of others like you, running your first race..  Enjoy the day and the satisfaction of having just completed your first race!


Brian Kehs

About the Author: Brian Kehs is a husband, father of two, a runner, and a manager in IT. In addition to running, Brian is an avid Star Wars fan boy who thinks Neil Gaiman’s Sandman may be the best literature out there. He regularly run 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers and half marathons. In his free time he coaches an elementary school running club.

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