10 monster tips for running in your first event — and smashing it!
Lisa Scott, Editor
I remember the nerves, and the nervous tears, in the days and hours leading up to my first running event well. Running, albeit very slowly, where people could see me and all my jiggles was daunting and scary.
Being a slow, round woman in her late 30s visibly exercising (and struggling) was almost overwhelming. I’m fully aware of the comments and slurs that can be directed at women like me.
But they’re nothing compared to the negative narrative running through my own head for most of my thirties.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. And to be honest, two and half years in and I still get all the feels before a big event. And sometimes even for small events like parkrun.
Jumping into running events, although nerve-wracking, can open up a whole world of fun and adventure, but getting past those nerves is tough.
Here are 10 awesome tips from a runner who has been there, run that and will do it again next season!
Running in events shows my daughter that we deserve to take up space, we deserve to be visible, and we deserve to move our bodies in a way that brings us joy. It shows her that ‘winning’ is having the courage to line up at the start line, not in finishing first.
Photograph by David Scott.
1. Choose a small distance.
Knowing that your first running event is just 5km (or maybe even 2km if you’re running as a chaperone to your kid in their race), makes that mountain much more of a molehill.
Running a smaller distance will give you some much-needed confidence, especially when your inner thoughts start telling you that you can’t do it.
Even if you have to walk the whole way (and it’s totally A-Ok if you do), you’ll still get the kudos (and the bling), so tell that voice in your head to sit down and buckle up for the ride!
2. Get your friends to be in the crowd, or run with you.
If your friends really are your friends then they will want to support you 100%. So tell them you’re entering your first running event and ask them if they could come down to cheer you on.
Honestly, cheering on my friends and family at running events is even more fun than participating myself. So you’re really doing them a favour by asking them to be in the crowd!
And who knows, a couple of them may even be inspired to run it with you!
Running in an event alongside a friend makes it twice as fun!
Photograph by David Scott.
3. Choose a small, local event.
Smaller, local events can be a great way to get started without the expense of entry fees, travel and accommodation, which can really add up. Small, local events are a ‘smaller stage’ if you will, so it can be less daunting than running in an event with 10,000 other runners who all seem a bit more serious, focused and a whole lot better prepared.
I particularly love my local running events. They often have a great, friendly atmosphere — so you’ll feel welcome even if you don’t know any other participants.
Who knows? You may even make new friends you can train with!
4. Or … choose a really big event.
It might seem at odds with my point above, but larger events have two really awesome advantages.
Firstly, it’s very easy to blend into the crowd, so it feels less like you’re on display.
Secondly, big events draw big crowds of spectators, which have an infectious energy all their own. Such big, cheering crowds can really uplift participants and it’s hard not to get caught up in the fun.
5. Sign up as soon as registrations open.
Registering for an event as soon as registrations open can be a big motivational factor to overcome your fear. Having some ‘skin in the game’ makes the goal feel real, and you’re much more likely to make it to the starting line.
6. Or … wait until the last minute.
A really great running buddy of mine tends to wait until about an hour before registrations are about to close before making her decision to run in an event. While this strategy personally doesn’t work for me, it works wonders for her.
She finds that committing to an event months in advance can feel like yet another thing she needs to fit into her already full life, so it can feel overwhelming for her. Instead, she trains when she can, and if they day before (or of) the event she feels up to running, she enters.
Maybe making up your mind at the last minute will work for you, too. There’s no over-thinking it, no stressing out for months leading up to it, just a last minute dive into an event that will make you feel runderful at the end!
7. Visualise yourself crossing that finish line.
By focussing on how I feel at the end of the run, when I’ve achieved my goal, and having that awesome piece of bling hanging around my neck, can really help me push my fear and anxiety aside.
I try to visualise what it will be like — the crowd cheering, the bump of the timing mat, the weight of the bling, the elation — all of it. It might sound silly, but it really does help.
Best feeling ever! And a moment I visualised repeatedly during my training program for this particular event.
Photograph by Marathon Photos.
8. Train for it for a few months beforehand.
There really is nothing like good ol’ preparation to make you feel more confident leading up to your first event. If you’ve done most of the work then you can be confident that everything will be all right on the big day.
You’ll know the kind of paces you can maintain over your chosen distance, and you’ll know roughly what to expect. For example, I know that the first 3.5km of any of runs always feels gross and hard. But because I know that’s how it is for me, and that after that, my run will improve, then it’s much easier to stick out that tough first 3.5km and not throw in the towel.
Three or four months is the length of most training programs, so aim to start training about 3 months before your event. Both your mind and body will thank you for it!
9. Join in with your local parkrun.
Ok, so I acknowledge that parkrun could be your first running event, and I probably cheated by including it in this list. The truth is though, parkrun is a lot like a mini-event rather than a full-on massive fun run complete with road closures.
It’s a bit like the full dress rehearsal before opening night.
The atmosphere is super-supportive, it’s not competitive, and you’ll NEVER be lucky last. They actually have a volunteer whose job is to be last (they’re called the Tail Walker — and they’re usually up for a good 5km chat too 😉 )
By joining in your local parkrun for a few Saturdays before your big event, you’ll have plenty of ‘dress rehearsals’ and will feel a whole lot more confident.
10. Acknowledge your fear, and do it anyway.
To extend our comfort zone, we must step outside it. That goes for pretty much anything — life, work, travel, training — the whole lot.
Running is no different. When all is said and done, the best tip I can give is that you must acknowledge the hesitation, the fear, the anxiety and the what-ifs. Name them. Feel them. Sit with them.
And let them know they will not hold you back.
Lisa is a mad-keen runner, mad-cap mum, and still can't quite grasp that she runs marathons 'for fun'. She also believes there's no coincidence about the number 42. After all, 42 is the distance of a marathon, her current age and according to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the meaning of life!