By: Maria Lestari

How to Run Your First Race Properly

Road racing has evolved from a mere competition into a social movement. Today’s runners are often characterized as amateur, recreational enthusiasts who participate for a variety of social, health, competitive, and personal reasons. Running attracts men and women eager to test their limits, fulfill bucket lists, and/or raise money for charity.

Running a race provides valuable insight into a runner’s motivations, adherence to training, and ability to complete the race. The sense of accomplishment, competition, and reinforcement of health and personal goals play significant roles. However, understanding the fluctuations in moods, emotions, mental toughness, and confidence is essential during race preparation and the race itself.

Many runners face numerous physical, emotional, and psychological challenges before and during a race. Physical challenges include dehydration, fatigue, temperature, and weather conditions. Psychological challenges can include feelings of anxiety about the race, limiting distractions and staying focused, and maintaining confidence and a positive attitude before and during the race.

Here are a few key things to remember if you want to run your first race:

Understand Hitting the Wall (HTW)

    According to Stevinson and Biddle (1998), the physiological aspect of hitting the wall is defined as the depletion of glycogen in the body, requiring energy to be derived from fat, which inhibits a runner’s performance. Runners without mental preparation often worry about injury, hydration, finding support along the race path, or the dreaded “wall.” HTW is a physiological and psychological response to an aversive situation that requires physical activity. Runners often describe this response as a point in their run or race where they feel physically and/or psychologically exhausted.

    Picture 1. Variations in muscle glycogen storage according to fatigue status, training status and dietary carbohydrate (CHO) intake.6

      Finding Support

      A running group can provide motivation through social interaction for first-time runners. To help runners adhere to training programs, joining a running group is highly recommended. First-time race runners may find it confusing and frustrating to find a running group with a schedule, purpose (such as charity, performance, or social), and culture that aligns with their own. However, the education received from running with seasoned and experienced runners, emotional validation from sharing experiences with other first-timers, a sense of accountability from training with a group, and the feeling of belonging are essential for adhering to a training program and coping with the physical, mental, financial, and emotional strains of running training.

      Nutrition and Physical Training

      Runners often report neglecting their diet or nutrition and failing to incorporate strength training into their weekly routines. Poor nutrition and lack of core strength can lead to frequent running-related injuries and anxiety about one’s ability to complete the race. As part of a comprehensive training regimen, runners should focus on sound nutrition, strength, and endurance training to reduce injury risk and increase confidence.

      Applications to Sport

      A multi-strategy approach combining physical training and mental skills training is most useful for new runners to develop a positive journey and effective coping responses. Training for a race requires months of preparation, high effort, engagement, and commitment to complete the race successfully. Health practitioners and coaches working with runners should learn, acquire, and apply the psychological tools outlined here, using a systematic delivery approach aligned with the specific requirements of the event.


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