Race Day Essentials for Your First 5K

How to prep and what you'll need for a successful race day


Tina Muir—For years you have watched runners from afar. “Crazy runners,” you thought to yourself as you saw them getting up at unknown hours of the day to go run. You wondered why anyone would do that to themselves. How could running ever be considered fun?

Yet somewhere along the line, your curiosity got the better of you, and you decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. You knew you would never actually get around to it without a goal, so you signed up for a local 5k, and started running.

Maybe you still hate running, but you can see why others love it. That runner's high afterwards makes you feel so accomplished! You are proud of how you have committed yourself to getting it done, and your race is closing in. Suddenly you are overcome with fear, “I am not ready yet,” you think to yourself. “I have no idea how to race!

Sound familiar?

This is what most of us go through before our first race, and that's where we come in to help you.

At Runners Connect, we cover all the running related topics possible, and we have a full page devoted to articles to help you run your first 5k. However, what we do not have is a 5k essentials guide to make sure you wake up that morning feeling confident and ready to go.

So, here’s what you need to know — our nine best tips for your first 5k race day.

1. No Need to Carb Load
One of the biggest benefits of running is that you can eat whatever you like right?

True… to an extent. You can eat more to fuel the running that was not in your life before, but what many new runners make a mistake with is overdoing it with carbs the night before the race. If you are running a marathon, then yes, you can carb load and eat a few extra bowls of pasta, but if you are racing a 5k, your body is going to have enough fuel already to sustain that.

You would be better off sticking to a meal that you know does not cause you any discomfort. Pasta is still a great pre-race option, but just a normal portion of it with some chicken and a portion of your usual vegetables. Enjoy the pre race meal for the social aspect as the nervous excitement of what you are about to do sinks in. Rather than stuffing your face till you feel sick, talk to your loved ones about how far you have come to get here!

2. Pack the Night Before — Bib On
Most 5k races start early in the morning, which means you’ll probably have to get up earlier than you might be used to. Pack your bag the evening before the race, so you have peace of mind and can relax in bed that night knowing you are ready. Unfortunately, most runners do not sleep very well the night before a race, but if your bag is packed, that gives you one less thing to worry about. Here are the essentials you need:

• Running Bib — Some races have you pick them up on site, others mail them. If you have yours, attach your bib to the top you intend to wear for the race with four safety pins.

• Running Outfit — What you plan to wear for the race (based on looking at the weather forecast for the morning).

• Extra Clothes — It may get colder than you expect overnight, and while waiting for the race, you will be saving energy, which could mean you might get cold. After the race, once you cool down, you will also get a little cold, so extra layers are great for keeping warm. It is better to have lots of thinner layers than one big, thick layer.

• Shoes — The shoes you have been running in during your training that are the most comfortable to you are what you should wear during the race. Bring an extra pair to put on afterwards if they rub. If the race involves a tag to put on your shoe, do this now.

A Bottle of Water — It is important to make sure you are hydrated before the race.

• Hat or Sunglasses — You will feel much more comfortable if you have something to keep the sun out of your eyes as it rises.

• Garmin/Watch — Not necessary, but most runners like to keep track of their own race time.

• Vaseline — To rub in problem areas that may chafe.

Pack all these items into a bag and leave it by the front door ready to go.

Race Day Prep


1. Wake Up Early
Most runners struggle to sleep the night before a race, and that is completely normal (don’t panic). We found that not sleeping much the night before a race has little affect on your race the next day. Do not be tempted to stay in bed until the last minute, resist the urge. Try to wake up two to three hours before the start of the race. This will give your body time to wake up and get moving, and will allow your digestive system to get working (meaning you won’t have to go during the race).

2. Eat Something You Know Works
With about two to four hours before the race, you should eat something with 300 to 500 calories as fuel for the race, especially as you have just fasted while you slept. You never want to try something new on race day, so stick to plain, simple foods like bagels, bananas, white toast or animal crackers — anything you know your body is used to.

3. Get to the Race About One Hour Before the Start
It is best to plan to get to the race course about one hour before the start. This will give you time to find a place to park, locate the bathrooms, look at the course map and feel calm as you are already there. Most race locations do not have the capacity to handle the number of cars arriving with 30 minutes to go, which leads to stressed runners who are now focusing on getting to the race on time, rather than on the race itself.

4. Don’t Forget the Vaseline
Remember that Vaseline you packed in your bag last night? Now is the time to rub it on any areas that have chaffed during your training. Some runners are more prone to chafing than others, and every runner, no matter what size, will have areas that bother them. Adding Vaseline now will prevent painful areas after.

5. Warm-Up
Depending on your training, you may want to do a short 10- to 15-minute warm up. If you do not want to run, this could just involve a five- to 10-minute walk around the starting area to get your muscles moving.

6. Plan a Post-Race Meeting Spot
Before you say goodbye to your friends and family, organize a place to meet up with them at the finish. It can get very congested at the end of a race, and can be difficult to find them. If you have a meeting point already in your mind, when you are tired after the race, you wont' have to use excess energy searching the crowds.

7. Talk to Yourself
Remember that time you watched the finish of a race, the one that inspired you to do this? Remember how happy all the runners looked as they crossed the finish line knowing they had accomplished their goal? Now is your time to experience that. Think about what you have been through to get to this point. You did not do those early morning runs, or those runs when you thought you were going to melt into a puddle for no reason. Talk to yourself and build your confidence up— tell yourself that you deserve to be here and that you will enjoy it. As you prepare for the start, relax and think positive thoughts about how great it is going to feel to finish, how strong that runners high will be.

You got this! Now go have fun out there!

More Reading:
5 Perfect Post-Run Smoothies
What Every Runner Should Do Before Race Day
The Best Workout to Increase Your Speed