How to nail the start of your race

by Graeme Hilditch

Get off to the perfect start

After months of hard training, early morning runs, muscle twinges and probably a generous number of juicy blisters, the one thing that you owe yourself is to run as well as you can on race day.
Whether you are taking part in a 5K Race for Life event or the London Marathon, your ultimate aim come race day is to enjoy the experience and not do anything on the day which could jeopardise that enjoyment or rob you of the chance for a PB.

However, every year, runners make the same mistakes on the day of the race which either cause heartbreak at not achieving the time they were aiming for, or make the experience one they would rather than forget.

On the day of your first race, you’ll be full of nervous anticipation and excitement, which can sometimes cloud your judgement and make it easy to make a range of easy avoidable mistakes.

So, to help you avoid these mistakes here are a selection of tips which will ensure you give yourself the best chance of having a successful and thoroughly enjoyable race experience.

1 . Avoid drinking too much before the race

No matter what distance you are running, or which training guide /book you read, the importance of hydrating yourself before, during and after the race is made very clear.
As humans, we are over 70% water and it’s essential to keep the cells well hydrated to help maintain running performance and to prevent us from becoming dehydrated. The trouble is, in recent years as this message has finally got through, many runners take this advice to the extreme and drink excessive quantities of water before the race.

Not only can this potential lead to the fatal condition of hyponatremia (see #askgraeme archives) but also the dilemma of starting the race with an excessively full bladder.

There is nothing more frustrating than preparing your mind, body and soul to pound the streets for the next few hours or so, when just 400m after you start, your bladder offers you a gentle reminder that it was not designed to carry 2 litres of Volvic / Lucozade. So, you are then forced to find one of the very few port-a-loos in the first few miles to relieve yourself, after which time your rhythm and focus are difficult to get back.

So, to avoid the problems associated with over hydrating, follow these simple guidelines.

  • Start drinking small but regular sips of sports drink and water as soon as you wake up on the morning of the race.

  • STOP drinking when your urine is running clear. This shows that you are well hydrated and any more fluid in addition to this is unnecessary.

  • If in doubt, start the race with a water bottle so that you can drink in the first few miles, rather than over hydrate before the gun goes off.

2. Going off too fast

This is perhaps one of the most common tips given out to first time runners, yet I can guarantee that hundreds of people in their first race will still start the race too fast and end up tiring prematurely. It’s so easy to do but setting off at a blistering pace is the most common reason why runners are so exhausted by the halfway point and the reason why dreams are shattered.

With adrenaline coursing through your veins, coupled with a long tapering period, you often feel amazing at the beginning of a race - particularly the marathon. Combine fresh legs, nervous energy, a body full to the brim of carbohydrate as well as dozens of other runners around you making the same mistake of setting off to fast and it is very easy to be oblivious that your pace is a minute per mile or so quicker than planned.

No matter how good you feel in the early stages of the race - whatever the distance, remember what your splits should be for each mile and stick to them religiously.

It’s far better to run your first mile or two 30 seconds slower than planned than 30 seconds faster than planned.

3. Eat and drink familiar things

Nearly all the race literature you will be sent in the run up to your race, will contain a series of adverts stating the importance of sports drinks and carbohydrate gels that will keep you going through the race.
Without doubt, sports drinks such as Lucozade and carbohydrate rich gels have their place in an endurance event and help to replenish lost fluids, salts and sugars to the bloodstream. The trouble is, it’s still common that the first time some runners sample these products are on race day.

This isn’t something you want to be doing.


Despite how useful they are, these supplements are known to irritate some people’s digestive systems, particularly the gels. To further complicate matters, the formulation of gels and sports drinks will vary from brand to brand, so even if you have tried one type of sports drink/gel it doesn’t necessarily meant that your digestive system will agree with another.

With this in mind, the last thing you need on the day of your first race is to drink or sports drink or eat a gel which you have never tried before. The chances are that you’ll be fine, but if your digestive system does react negatively to a different brand, you could be throwing away months of training and PB ambitions in exchange for a porta-loo (if you can find one) half way around the course.

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