How Not to Run Your First 5k or 10k Race




Introduction: How Not to Run Your First 5k or 10k Race

About: Pet (instructable) peeve: people who don't put "deal breaker" requirements in their instructables up front. There's nothing worse than getting all excited about a project, then finding out half way through ...

Running and racing are increasingly popular amateur sports and with the growth in the running industry comes lots of newbie runners.  Like you.  I'll try to walk you through the logistics and general experience of running your first 5k or 10k race without all the...y'know...running related stuff.  This instructable seeks to cover the same sorts of details many other articles over the years have covered, but with a more entertaining angle.  Enjoy!

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Step 1: Check With Your Doctor

Seriously, running is a cult inhabited by brainwashed idiots (like me) who think that hours of disgustingly hard work, misery, loneliness and general bodily destruction....are FUN.  Is that what you really want, even for a little while?  Go do something enjoyable with your life instead.  Seriously. 

Of course, if you *haven't* walked away at this warning, then its often advisable to check with your doctor before engaging in any sort of "fitness program".  This is supposed to be so he can convince you to do something else instead, but it rarely seems to work. Most likely your physician is like mine and will actually *praise* you for doing something like this.  This is because your doctor is a sick and twisted individual who stands to make cash off your impending injuries.  Oh well, better luck next time.

Step 2: Choose a Race

There's no point in training for a race if,'re not actually going to a race.  Besides, races get people do to lots of fun things, like meeting impending deadlines, making them pay money for stuff and getting up at four o'clock in the morning.  Who wouldn't want to do this?

Anyway, which race you choose will affect your needed training fit your needs for the following:

* Your ability to run the distance in good order without distress.  Let's face it, at this point in your running career there's probably no such thing.  Pick something short, (like a 5k or 10k?)
* Locale (don't make travel too arduous) 
* Cost (of entry fees, travel, equipment, etc etc.)
* Social group / family attendance, if so applicable

5k and 10k races are most popular for beginning / novice runners, since they're typically short and relatively inexpensive.  Don't even think of signing up for a full marathon without six months to a year's worth of training, and some shorter races under your belt.  Finally, make sure you sign up for your chosen race *early*.  Yes, some races still accept same-day entries, but almost all require you to enter before then, and many sell out well before that point.  Some races are even like concert tickets.  The Boston Athletic Association 5k race (run on the last 5k of the Boston Marathon route, the day before the Marathon) is presently sold out now, in September.  The race is in mid-April.  So sign up early.

Step 3: Acquire Some Running Gear

Did you know gym shorts cost fifty bucks now?  Fifty bucks.  I didn't know this at first, but I'd like to thank my local running store for clearing up for me how incredibly expensive it is to sew together a few scraps of polyester and nylon fabric.  Here's the procedure I developed for purchasing just about any gear associated with running.

1. Go to the running store.
2. Reflexively scream "HOW MUCH??" and run away screaming.
3.  Go to Wal-Mart.  They've got to have shorts for less.
4. Discover that the only shorts at Wal-Mart are made for nine foot tall high school seniors, made from five pounds of material (all of it cotton) and are totally unsuitable for anything even remotely athletic.
5. Ask your friends for advice.  Be told (by runners) to go to the running store; non-runners will shrug haplessly.
6. Check eBay.  Discover that people only ever sell shorts cheaply is if they're in size XXXL, the world's most hideous shade of puke yellow and live on a remote pacific island where packages are only shipped out once a year at so much expense you may as well (almost) just buy shorts at the running store.
7. Fume angrily and stomp around for a while.  Seriously, if you don't do this you'll pull something, and then you'll never be able to run again.  (How awful!)
8.  Go back to the running store, growl at anything that moves and....*sigh* fifty bucks for a pair of shorts.  I remember when life was so much nicer, or at least simpler.

Step 4: Get Proper Running Shoes

Yeah, I know your favorite old pair of chucks look retro-cool and neat-o and all, but they won't cut it for some reason I've never totally understood.  Get some proper running shoes.

Did you know that "proper" running shoes cost ten-thousand dollars?  Each.  I didn't, but then the running store people clued me in.  They remembered the fiasco with the shorts earlier, but they're paid to overlook such things in the interest of customer service and with bankruptcy now inevitable, I made my purchase.

When you go to the running store, somebody will likely perform what's called a "pronation analysis".  This involves you running on a treadmill facing a wall (so you can't see people pointing and laughing at you), while the salesperson strokes their chin, stares thoughtfully at your feet and says things like "hmmm."   "Pronation" is a latin science-y term meaning "more expensive".  It tuns out that in my case I "overpronate", which is a term meaning "REALLY overly expensive".  When my final bill for the shoes came they needed one of those "ten to the power of" exponent things to express how much I'd spent.  Anybody who needs actual orthopedic shoes should probably just shoot themselves.

Anyway, just pay the running store and get out; you don't want to do the previous step all over again, do you?

Step 5: Train for Your Race

As Eric Cartman once noted, the human body is just not meant to go very fast.  My own research on the subject indicates its ecological niche--likely practiced by our ancient primordial ancestors--is laying horizontally on something soft and cushion-y while stuffing chips into one's mouth.  Running any further than to the fridge or down the driveway to one's car is inherently hazardous and should not be undertaken by anybody.  Ever.

Still, you and I really aren't that bright, are we?  And you *did* sign up for that race....

I can't help you very much with training in such a short and sweet instuctable because it's such a ridonkulously vast and complicated subject, but that's the bad news.  The good news is that just about every single other running related site on the inter-tubes *does* cover training.  A lot.  Seriously, google around a bit and you should be up to your eyeballs in talk about "quads" and "reps" and "intervals" and all that other stuff people with spandex shorts like to go on about.  Try looking for training plans that feature pictures of people with potatoes PhotoShopped over their bodies.  (like this one: )

For our purposes, just try to understand that:

* You need to prepare your body for the idiocy and abuse you're about to throw at it.  Not doing so will probably ensure that you die.  In public.  With people staring and pointing at you, while you collapse on the ground and
* Why just be miserable for one day when you can drag that misery out for weeks or even months preceding the official day of misery?

Step 6: Pick Up Your Race Packet and Go to the Run Expo, If They Have One

If you're "lucky", you've chosen  short a race attached to a larger one; some 5k runs are attached to full and half marathon events like this.  This probably means your packet pickup (see next step) will take place at a race expo, a convention where the most cultishly enchanted running devotees converge to pay way too much for massage gadgets and fridge magnets with "26.2" printed on them.  Don't worry if you don't know what "26.2" means, runners can be very obnoxious and will make a point telling you.  At length.  Maybe in the form of, say, an online tutorial website.

At some point there may be a presentation by a running "celebrity" (note: nobody outside the running world will have heard of this person.  In fact few *inside* will have, either).  One year, an advertised celebrity at the expo I attended was--no word of a lie--the guy who owned a big chain of running stores.  Sadly, I never got to witness what was no doubt his grizzly death at the hands of hundreds of people forced to pay fifty dollars for shorts.  Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it, though.

Step 7: What Your Race Packet Will Include

* Pamphlets for other races.  Hilarious.  Did you know there's people out there who actually think you'd like to do *another* one of these things?  Even before you've done this one.  Its true.  Some of them even spend buckets of money on glossy full-colour fold-out affairs promising all manner of things if you'll just continue to be idiotic and keep up the whole running thing, preferably in their direction.

* A juice box containing gunk that the juice company couldn't sell and was going to throw away anyhow.  I'm reminded of a conversation from a Douglas Adams book:

(Machine spews out a fluid that is almost, but not quite, exactly unlike tea)
Machine: Share and enjoy...
Arthur: Ughh! This tastes filthy!
Machine:  If you've enjoyed your tea, why not share it with your friends?
Arthur:   Because I want to keep them, that's why!

* Safety Pins.  For holding what's left of your body together after the race.  A helpful courtesy.  In the meantime, use them to pin your "bib" (below) to the world's ugliest t-shirt (even more below).

* Your race "bib".  You know how people are increasingly concerned about their privacy and about strangers knowing too much about them?  Try running down the middle of a major avenue in your city with your name and an identifying serial number pasted to your chest; that'll fix the problem.  Oh, also I've found that these tags happily contain advertising for sponsoring companies on them, because Adidas finally got all my letters saying "I wanna be a human billboard!"  Just think, if you'd decided to enjoy life instead, the only bib you'd be wearing would be in a nice restaurant and have a picture of a lobster with a knife and fork on it. 

* The world's ugliest t-shirt.  I don't how race organizers manage to keep providing what is clearly the world's ugliest t-shirt at every single race and yet make it look different every time, but they do it.  Further, is "radioactive vomit yellow" a colour?  Because I now have three shirts in this hue, all of them stuffed in the back of a drawer, never again to see the light of day.
Somewhere in a government warehouse, there's a crate full of these things, probably next to the lost Ark of the Covenant.

Step 8: Take It Easy...ish.

This is your first ever race, so don't panic.  Whatever happens, you're going to suck at it.   Unless you know you'll never race again or plan to die right after the finish line, it'll also almost certainly not be your slowest race ever, so don't panic about doing everything absolutely perfect or setting a massive personal record time.  After all, the chance to do things well was expended the moment you decided to leave the safe, embryonic confines of the couch to follow delirious fantasies of moving quick enough that people didn't call you a 'jogger'. 

The point is, that on race day, do everything carefully, do things as right as you can, but realize that with no experience comes no responsibility.  You're going to screw this up, so just relax.

First timers at many races are typically advised to "just finish", without regard to specific times.  Its a nice way for veterans to say, "look kid, just keep your head down and try to survive.  Don't try to be a hero."  if you don't follow this advice, try making your goal time reasonable.  "Reasonable" means sucky.  If your goal isn't reasonable, at least try not to be disappointed when you fail.  Above all else, realize that this is not the biggest race of your life, that you should concentrate on enjoying the experience and that you WILL run faster races in the future.  That's the delusion, anyway.  If you plan not to race again after this one time, good for you.  Encourage others to follow your path.

That all said, run as fast as you care to, pacing yourself for the distance and go for a "challenging" but not "distressing" race.  You'll likely be familiar with these concepts from too many hours of first hand experience.  If not, you'll learn soon enough.

Step 9: Go to the Toilet

Have you ever seen fourteen thousand people all suddenly try to go to the bathroom in the exact same place at the exact same time?  I have.[*]  I've tried describing this to people, but it....its just not something one can communicate all that well.  Go and witness it for yourself--the pre-race toilet ritual at major marathons is one of nature's most wondrous events, like a sunrise or a chimpanzee on roller skates smoking a cigar.

Its hilarious.  Well, at least its hilarious until you actually have to GO to the bathroom yourself.  Then you have to line up behind fourteen thousand people (ten minutes before the race starts, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of time) and try desperately to hold it in with everybody else.  The fact that in many races one HAS to go as a matter of basic comfort and even strategy ensures the toilet is not an optional, scenic detour on your race day experience.

The lesson, clearly, is this: hitting the bathroom before a run is like voting--do it early, and do it often.  Further, go both number one and number two.  Hell, try going number three if you can, because once that gun goes off, anything left..ermm.."unsaid"....WILL decide that now is the time it would like your attention.  I hope you're enjoying the euphemisms, incidentally.

[*] Literally.  Fourteen thousand people.  Same place, same time.  I know it sounds like hyperbole but I'm actually serious!

Step 10: The Starting Corral

Corrals are what they put cattle into shortly before being slaughtered.  For hardcore idiots like me, being shoved into an enclosed box with thousands of other runners is perversely exciting.  No, not in *that* way.  Some people will be stretching, others will hop up and down expectantly, still others will explain to the first group that stretching was discredited years ago by  "studies" while others, like you, will stand around nervously, trying not to urinate themselves with fear.

Now would be a good time to explain to the random strangers around you that while you forgot to do any training for this event, you had a *reeeaaaallllly* good excuse.  Honest. 

 Race organizers might play the national anthem.  Somebody else might make a speech.  Or not.  Still others will shout things chaotically at the crowd with megaphones, but you can ignore them because by law they're required to be completely intelligible.  Anyway, all they're actually doing is giving out important last-minute instructions about how the route has been changed and you really need to *mufflemmrrmphhrmmrllll*.  So just relax, you'll be fine.  If you really *do* have to pee yourself, just go ahead and whittle....likely nobody will notice. [Note: this is actual race day advice I've seen out there.  You just can't make this stuff up]

By the way, this is your very, very last chance to quit this whole stupid running thing, go home, drink a beer and actually enjoy life.  I implore you--do the right thing.

Step 11: The Race Begins

A race official raises his starter pistol and yells:
ON YOUR MARKS....GET SET........POW! [*]

Well, now you're boned.  You've actually got to run this thing, or die trying anyway. 

If you've got this far, I'm sorry.  Really.  I've failed to convince you to do otherwise and now you're running some ungodly distance, possibly for some vaguely undefined reason to do with charity or health or because you don't want to be one of those disembodied beer guts featured on the news when another doctor (who owns stock in the running store) wants to scare people into buying $50 running shorts.  Really, I'm very sorry.  At this moment, you have my sympathies.

[*] In Detroit and certain parts of Los Angeles if the guy with the starting gun actually hits somebody, they automatically win a free game. I'm not sure what they win a free game *of* since I'm afraid to talk to people like that, but I'm sure its almost as fun as running.

Step 12: How to Run

Alright, let's get this bit out of the way:

10) Left foot
20) Right foot
30) Goto 10

Eventually your body will start to feel very dense, sluggish and above all heavy.  This is a defense mechanism meant to encourage you to roll into the gutter and die of exhaustion.  Come to think of it, I'm not sure what its a defensive mechanism against, but you've got to admit--it's really not a bad idea right now.

Step 13: Water / Aid Stations

Along the way, there will be stations filled with people who helpfully spill Gatorade on your brand new overpriced running gear.  Be sure to thank them for this because I don't know what would posses somebody to get up at an ungodly hour, travel across town and stand around for hours handing cups to thousands of sweat-covered strangers. If you ever actually get a chance to drink something, congratulations.  I once managed to get a nearly full cup of water, then sloshed it all over myself.  Not one drop in my mouth, but my outfit was soaked.  Total "Airplane" style "drinking problem" move.  Oh well.

Step 14: Your Finisher's Medal

You know how Bill Engvall says stupid people should have to wear a sign indicating they're stupid?  They've got that already.  Enjoy.  I have, like, ten of these things.

Step 15: Go Home

Go home..and stay there.  And don't ever run again if you know what's good for you.  Enjoy the lifestyle that nature really intended for you.

While you're back to enjoying life:

Considering Running a marathon?

Or maybe just doing some time on the treadmill... :

Step 16: Show Off Your Accomplishment

What's that? You're not smart enough to leave well alone and want the whole world to know what you did to yourself today? Allright, it's your funeral, buddy.  Here's how to best illustrate your pride in now calling yourself a "runner":

1) Go to the most hateful, terrible, hellishly disorganized, disgusting pit of soul-crushing horror you can find.  Why go to Ikea, you ask?  Because they've got display cases there for cheap.

2) Buy whatever's on special.  It'll be made from particle board and broken Swedish tractors but we do what we can in a recession.  Spend three weeks fighting with your significant other about what the little man in the instructions is doing with his screwdriver until there's a finished display case in the corner of your living room.  Insert medal.

3) When people ask how you managed to actually win your first race, cough nervously and mutter something about "finisher's medal".  When your friend laughs and makes a comment about "everybody gets a trophy day", disown them.  Its just easier this way.  And what the hell, you're a runner now, and don't have any time or energy left for a social life. 

4) Just in case you didn't realize it:  I told you so. G'nite everybody!  Be sure to tip your waitress!

Step 17: Comment on This Instructable

If you like what you've read (or not), consider this your encouragement to drop me a line in the comments section.

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    19 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Superb article. I read this after a tough day at the gym and almost died laughing. Not in public. And no people were staring and pointing at me. So i guess that is not fine!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great article! Gave me a good laugh as I prepare to run my first 5K tomorrow.... in the rain. Yes, we are crazy!

    That was absolutely awesome. Thanks for the chuckles! I'm stupid enough to be doing my 7th 5k since October last year, but the upside is 100#s lighter in a year and a half.


    5 years ago on Step 3

    Marshalls/Kohls/etc is really good for cheap running stuff! I have a few OMG HOW MUCH $50 shorts, but my favorite pair are one that I found for $5 at Marshalls, and my favorite sports bra is one that I got for $10 at Target...go figure. :)


    5 years ago on Step 17

    Oh my goodness! What a great read! I was stupid enough to decide to take up running, after loosing over 40kg and still going strong. In 3 weeks I have my 1st 10km race and have finished two 5km races so far. I'm extremely nervous but your article just gave me courage to be my silly self! Thank you!!


    5 years ago on Step 17

    Best race article ever. Can we please be best friends?


    I love this - funniest instructible ever!

    Going back to my recliner, beer, & remote now...

    See you in 3.1 miles or so.


    6 years ago on Step 17

    I loved the article it was hilarious!


    6 years ago

    Right on.


    8 years ago on Step 17

    Laughed all the way through, great 'ible.

    Great Wight Ninja
    Great Wight Ninja

    8 years ago on Step 3

    (Don't mean to necro, but not everyone always thinks of such things)
    It is worth stopping by athletic stores, such as a *insert sports brand name here* outlet, when ever you visit a mall and see if they have any on sale. I got a pare of $50 shorts for around $20 because they were both on sale and they had a promotion where buying a bag would get you 20% off your whole purchase.

    Similarly, if you have the money, you regularly use the cloths you already have and it really is a good sale, buy several. It's OK to buy more than one pair of shorts/tops/shoes at a time. They don't have an expiration date. (assuming you don't drastically change your wardrobe needs)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Love your description of the pre-race-pee!

    Excellent writing and information.


    8 years ago on Step 17

    Great article. Loved every bit :)


    9 years ago on Step 17

    Excellent reading. Especially the shorts n shoes section


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Forget shoes, run barefoot!! If not possible, then wear lightweight, well fitting shoes.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    You've forgotten to mention that the men's ugliest t-shirt is lined with sandpaper, leading to what is euphemistically referred to as "nipple abrasion", aka "What are those red dots on your shirt?".

    Love the 'ible!

    "they needed one of those "ten to the power of" exponent things to express how much I'd spent. Anybody who needs actual orthopedic shoes should probably just shoot themselves." i loled so hard at this because its so true.

    i was about to run a 5k when i was getting in shape to go to the army, but had a huge change in life plans. training for running is no fun, unless your doing parkour/ freerunning of course!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I actually made it through to step 3 on this before I was on the floor busting a gut. I ran my first marathon this year (OKC Memorial Marathon) and all of this is true, especially step 9. Of course I have a theory on this, it is like yawning. If one person goes, then everyone behind them has to go to.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, either that or everybody knows they'll be spending the next 1-6 hours shaking their guts around and is trying to be preventative. Still dude, glad you liked the article. Go early, go often!