Racing Tips for Beginners

I ran the San Elijo Hills 5K with my daughter this past weekend.  She is nine and her previous running experience included hanging out at the track, trying to beat the neighborhood kids to the pillar at the top of the trail-head on the way to school and saying "first," and the limited amount of running they let kids do during PE (when they aren't watching movies about health). I knew it was going to be tough for her, I also knew she could do it, the girl has an amazing will, and I knew that she would finish even if she had to crawl the last mile.

The SEH 5K is billed as the toughest 5K in North County and they put together a challenging course.  A mile and a half of running downhill, then a long mile and a half climb back to the finish.  This is a neighborhood race and the neighborhood was out in full force, the moms and dads pushing strollers, whole families walking together at the back of the pack, and the high school cross country and track athletes at the front (along with their coaches).
At the start
It was a great experience for both of us, a PR for her, and one of the most memorable races I have done.  She was so nervous about the race and I tried to talk her through it, seeing the race through beginner's eyes and giving her tips to help her finish the race with a smile on her face.  I wanted to share some of these tips and I hope that they help novice runners.

  1. About the nerves. They're good, and what keep a lot of us coming back. Those pre-race butterflies, the restless sleep the night before, it's all part of a good performance come race day. Think of it as your body preparing itself to perform at its best. Look around at the start line, everyone is nervous, the 5 minute milers and the 15 minute milers clench their teeth the same way. Fear is anticipation. Once the gun goes off and you are in the moment, racing, there is no longer anything to be nervous about, you are doing it, and you will do it
  2. Control yourself. My daughter shot out of the gate, bouncing high on her feet, and after a couple of minutes of this pace, she turned to me, saying "this is so easy." There is no better way to destroy yourself in a race than taking off too quick. Go out easier than you think you can, hold back at the start, and save some energy for the dark parts. Speaking of...
  3. There will be lows. At about mile two, I could tell my daughter was struggling, saying "I can't believe I wanted to do this." I smiled and told her I think I have said that at some point during every race I have ever done. There will be dark times during a race, times where you will learn about pushing through your limits. Grit your teeth, think positive thoughts and know that this too shall pass.
  4. Efficient motion. Practice good form, train with good form, and try to hang onto that form as long as you can during the race. Sometimes it's just better to walk. Road racers don't want to hear this, and I'll see them at the back, hunched over, shuffling along in something resembling a jog. If you can walk faster than you can jog, then walk, it will save energy. I could tell that my daughter wanted to run the whole thing, and I knew it wasn't realistic, so around mile two, on some of the steeper uphills, I encouraged her to walk, but walk fast, swing her arms. It was amazing to see how much faster she could walk at that point than run. Then, after a minute or two of walking, she was ready to run again.
  5. Pass boys. Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes, and for my daughter, that motivation was passing boys that she knew from school. She wouldn't acknowledge them as she passed, but I noticed a slight smile every time she passed someone she knew. Use this, pick people off up ahead, even if you're not usually competitive. It's a race, so race.
  6. Have fun. We all go through highs and lows during a race, but most finish with a smile on their face. My daughter was beaming for the rest of the day; she didn't want to take her finisher's medal off.

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