How to prep for your first race



I recently created my race history, documenting all the races I have run since my first half marathon in 2011. I realized this year is the first year since I started running that I will not be running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. That was my first half and a staple on my race calendar every year for the last four years.

I became very aware of this fact when an old friend sent me a message to ask for tips in advance of this year’s race – happening this Sunday – which will be his first half marathon. While I’m certainly not an expert, I have close to 30 races under my belt, so I would like to think I know a thing or two about race day planning and execution. I quickly wrote back with some top tips and he responded that I should turn it into a blog post. An easy one to write AND great for SEO. Double win.

‘Tis the season for races, so far be it for me to hoard these tips to myself. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Lay out your clothes and shoes the night before. Prep everything so you don’t have to think in the morning. You can even pin your bib to your shirt the night before to save precious minutes in the morning.
  • It’s cold in the morning in October so plan your clothes accordingly. Consider wearing an old sweatshirt you can throw away once the race starts, or try the old garbage bag trick. Lots of people wear a garbage bag as a way to stay warm while waiting in the corral and then rip it off once they get going. You don’t need to throw away a shirt AND you get to feel like Superman. #win
  • Charge your phone, iPod, GPS watch or any other electronic device you run with the night before. Nothing sucks more than arriving at the start line with dead batteries.
  • Anyone who has Googled “race day tips” will likely find this one but it’s worth repeating: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. I mean it. Nothing. Wear old shoes, old clothes, eat the same thing you always eat. Race day is not the time to experiment.
  • Arrive early but not as early as they say. It’s chaos before a race so get there with enough time to check your bag, pee and warmup and nothing more. For me, this is about 30-40 minutes. If you can avoid bag check, do it. It’s a big time saver before and after.
  • This is a personal preference but I would say that you don’t need to run with a fuel belt or handheld water bottle even if you trained with one. Usually, there are enough water stops along the course, that you won’t need your own. It’s just dead weight holding you up. That said, I did run with a fuel belt in the full marathon, but I would say half or less, it is not necessary.
  • Smile and hold your arms up high when crossing the finish line even if you’re tired. Make your finish line photo epic. It’s the only one worth buying.
  • Contrary to popular belief, I think one drink with dinner the night before is fine. Obviously don’t overdo it but a glass of wine or a beer isn’t going to impact your performance.
  • For dinner the night before, don’t try anything new. Get some carbs and protein. I like whole wheat pasta with a chicken breast. Nomnom.
  • Pace yourself in the first 2K. It’s easy to go out too fast, especially if it’s your first race. The adrenaline of race day will make you want to sprint. Hold back in those first 2K especially, and throughout the first half of the race. If you feel good, you can pick up the pace in the second half.
  • Most people are right handed and therefore, go for water stations on the right-hand side of the road. Veer to the left and get your water near the end of the station to avoid the masses.
  • Drinking while on the move can be tough if you haven’t done it before. You end up with Gatorade on your face and in your eyes and it’s sticky and it burns. When you grab a paper cup, crease it into a V shape and drink. It helps get the liquid in your mouth instead of on your face.

Good luck Shank, and to everyone else running STWM this year. I’ll be thinking of you!



  1. April Cunningham October 16, 2015 / 11:44 am

    Hi SHANK!!
    I’m running in PEI this weekend!
    My favourite tip is your last one. LOL!

    • Miranda October 16, 2015 / 12:39 pm

      Real tip. I totally screwed that up on my first race and I’ve never forgotten. I ran the whole race with smudgy sunglasses because they were covered in sticky Gatorade!


  2. Kathy October 19, 2015 / 11:48 am

    Hey Miranda – Just did the Scotia half yesterday in Toronto (3rd time for me). I love this race! Your tips are great! One staple for me in my pre-race preparation is cup of coffee or tea, as well during the race I used Cliff blocks, as well as a couple of Awake chocolates (they contain some caffeine). Some caffeine really helps my race and I am able to tolerate it well, although I do realize it could cause stomach upset and additional stops at the infamous port-a-potties for some!

    • Miranda October 19, 2015 / 12:30 pm

      Congratulations! I was thinking of everyone yesterday! Agree totally. A small cup of coffee is an absolute must on race day, especially if you are a regular coffee drinker. I like the Cliff blocks too. They are easy to chew and taste great. Much more palatable than gels.

      • Kathy October 19, 2015 / 4:28 pm

        The first time I tried a gel, it made me feel a bit sick, it was so sweet. I was really glad to find the Cliff blocks. So many flavours and very easy to access during a run. My favourite pre-race food is actually a baked potato, with a bit of cheese on top, which I eat around 6 or 7am, plus a bagel.

        • Miranda October 19, 2015 / 4:36 pm

          Loooove a baked potato! Great suggestion.

  3. Mike October 20, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    Thanks again Miranda; your last tip was very handy….here are some other thoughts that occurred to me when completing my 1st half (that have nothing to do with training but just logistics). In no particular order:

    1) figure out a place to go to the bathroom well before you make your way to the corral. the washrooms nearby will have lines so better to do your last pit-stop a block or two away.
    2) if you’re ignoring a water station, veer to the middle of the road earlier rather than when there’s a sudden slowing down – this took me by surprise the first couple stations and i got caught;
    3) if you have trouble or are worried about your first 2km-5km pace, line up further back in the corral than you otherwise would. The sheer volume of people will force you to monitor your pace. At least it forced me too (i don’t wear a watch or anything that tells me how fast i’m going…i let me legs/lungs and some reminders like the timers on the course give me an indication…works for me).
    4) worried about upsetting your tummy – try not to overestimate the amount of food/ water you need to complete a 1/2 or shorter run, especially on cooler days.

    • Miranda October 21, 2015 / 8:23 am

      Thanks for adding your tips! Great to get them straight from a first time runner. GOOD call re: planning the washroom stop.

      I hope this is the beginning of an exciting new hobby for you!

    • John Gibbard November 1, 2015 / 4:34 am

      I’d add: avoiding anything with too much fibre the night before and definitely no onions or strawberries! ‘Gastro intestinal distress’ wrecks a race even if the concern throughout is mostly psychological, the stress of hunting the next portable toilet/bathroom/restroom (!) is miserable.

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