Tips for running your first 10K race

Picture of my medal from the Clacton 10K after running my first 10K race

Running bling. It does say 10K on there somewhere.

If you’re facing running your first 10K race: good luck.

Running an actual, real, timed 10K race can be very different from just pulling on your trainers and heading out of the front door. Running in race conditions isn’t quite the same as going for a quick jog.

I’m no running expert – heck, I wouldn’t describe myself as a runner at all. However, I have just done my first ever 10K races in Chelmsford last month and in Clacton last weekend, so can describe what it’s like as a newbie. Running still seems to me to involve the least time and the least money to get fit on a budget.

Whether running 10K is a goal in itself, or preparation for a longer distance like a marathon or half-marathon, you may feel nervous, excited, terrified or all of them all at the same time. If you’re feeling cool as a cucumber, congratulations. I wasn’t.

(Find out how I ended up with a place on a half-marathon here: Get fit for less: be careful what you wish for!)

 I’ve been slogging through a training programme (with massive thanks to Ipswich Jaffa running club), but suddenly the Simply Health Great East Run isn’t eight months away, but happening in four weeks’ time. Eeeek.

So after doing some training, and signing up for a 10K, here are my tips for the day itself, and running your first 10K race.

An uneventful night before

Whatever you might have heard about carb-loading and fitness nutrition, I wouldn’t recommend eating your body weight in pasta the night before. The 10K distance might be a challenge, but you’ll only* actually be running for an hour or two, so are unlikely to starve during the race.

(*let’s just pause for reflection that I referred to running for “only” an hour or two. My January self, heck even my May self, would have laughed hysterically at that one. It is actually possible if you follow a training plan!)

Instead, the night before running your first 10K race is a time to be boringly sensible. Eat a normal healthy meal (probably best to avoid 20 beers and a kebab). If your stomach is already feeling jumpy at the prospect of your first timed 10K race, don’t start eating weird stuff and make it worse. Drink plenty of water. Get to bed on the early side.

Checklist for the night before

It’s also a good plan to double check details and find any stuff you need on the night before. This avoids running around like a headless chicken on the morning itself, trying to find wherever you put your race number and digging wet running kit out of the washing machine.

My checklist:

  • Confirm the start time for the race
  • Find the address and postcode for the starting point, especially if you’re using a sat nav to find it
  • Identify the nearest place to park
  • Estimate how long it will take to get there, and add some extra time for delays and faffing
  • Check the weather forecast, in case you need extra layers or extra water
  • Read the route description and look at a map of the course, if available (then wish you’d done more hill training)
  • Fill in the contact details and health info requested on the back of your running number
  • Charge any running watch, fitness tracker or mobile phone you’ll be running with

Stuff to take with you

I’m assuming you’re not actually leaving the house naked, and will be wearing your running kit, but here’s the extra stuff I took along when running my first 10K race. Again, it’s worth digging it all out the night before.

  • Any paperwork about the race, like where to meet
  • Running number
  • Safety pins to pin your number to your top
  • Any timing chip or wristband
  • Bottle of water to run with, and more water for afterwards
  • Any running watch or fitness tracker
  • Headphones/ear buds, if you use them
  • Mobile phone, for quick pics. I run with my mobile, so I can listen to podcasts and use the free version of the Runkeeper app to track my run
  • Arm band to hold my mobile while running
  • Power block, to charge up my mobile at the last minute
  • Sun cream
  • Blister plasters, if needed. Pains me to say it, but pricey Compeed work better than the cheaper own brand versions I’ve tried.
  • Talcum powder. I last had a visible thigh gap in the 1980s. Helps avoid chafing, OK?
  • Coins for any parking meters
  • Spare shoes or sandals to change into afterwards
  • Warm layer for afterwards

Personally, I’ve never tried energy gels. I don’t think an hour or two is long enough to really need them, if you’ve eaten sensibly beforehand.

Bear in mind that some races don’t offer anywhere to leave bags. If you leave stuff in your car instead, put any valuables or handbags out of a sight of opportunistic thieves.

The morning itself

Try to get up early enough. Much like the night before, the morning of your first 10K race is not the time to eat or drink anything odd. I stuck to staple porridge and chopped banana, and drank plenty of water well in advance.

If possible, aim to eat the same amount of time before running as you would normally – so if you normally eat a couple of hours before running, have breakfast a couple of hours before the official start time. It’s no fun running just after stuffing yourself or when you’re starving.

Get there early

A timed race is not a great occasion to show up late, only to see the other runners disappearing over the horizon.

It’s really worth allowing enough time so you can find a parking space, identify the start line and get warmed up without panicking. Your stomach may already be churning itself in knots at the prospect of running your first 10K race, without adding extra stress.

Even if it’s a familiar destination, it could all take longer than normal on a race day. At the Chelmsford Race for Life, there was a big queue for the car park, and then quite a walk to find the race itself.

There’s also the tricky matter of timing when you join the queue for the loos – because however many Portaloos are provided, there will be always be a lengthy queue of runners who want to use them before racing.

Warming up

I started running using the NHS Couch to 5K running programme, which recommends five minutes’ brisk walking before you start running. That’s tricky to organise right before a timed race with a whole crowd of people milling about, and others bending and stretching into all kinds of odd positions. You may find yourself doing strange stretches just to show willing. I tried to find enough space to walk about, had a brief jog, and then ended up shifting from foot to foot in front of the start line, trying to stay warmed up.

Photo of crowd of runners waiting for the start of a first 10K race

Crowds waiting for the start

Starting your first 10K race

Don’t worry about missing when and where the race starts. As it gets nearer to the off, you’ll notice everyone moving towards the start line. If you’re used to running on your own, just being surrounded by a whole bunch of other runners is a very strange experience. I felt a bit hemmed in, shuffling along with a big crowd, and was also unsure when to start actually, y’know, running. You may find you only cross the start line a few minutes after the official count down. Try to start any apps or trackers as you go over the line, rather than ages beforehand, or forgetting until you’re well underway. NB also try not to bump into all the other people fiddling with devices on their wrists or armbands as they cross the start line.

Running in a pack

If it’s your first 10K race, you’re unlikely to be the fastest runner, so be prepared for lots of other people overtaking you. Try to stick to your guns and run at a pace that feels comfortable. Otherwise, if you get swept along at the same speed as faster runners, you could exhaust yourself well before the end.

Also, if you want to move from one side to another, do check behind you first, in case there’s a faster runner coming up just behind you.

Coping with conditions

I reckon the best running conditions are a nice cool grey day, with plenty of cloud cover, and a light breeze just when you need it. However, the only two 10K races I’ve run were both in blazing sunshine. Unlucky.

It did mean I hugged any shade available. I even ran next to the railings along Clacton sea front, in an attempt to benefit from their shadow.

All I can say is don’t beat yourself up if the particular combination of sun, wind, hills, puddles, potholes or grass grabbing at your feet means you don’t run a mind-blowing time. I’ve set a low barrier for my first ever half marathon – general intention is to finish the race and not die trying. Fingers crossed.

Water stops

Don’t try running when holding a plastic cup of water, unless you actively want an impromptu shower (voice of bitter experience).

For a shorter race like a half hour 5K (who am I kidding? Nearly 40 minutes), I don’t think it’s necessary to run with a water bottle. However, when running for an hour or more in the hot sun, I do prefer to take a half bottle with me. The few water stops during the race were rarely exactly when I was dying for a drink. However, good advice from a more experienced runner was that if I wanted to carry a water bottle during a race, it’s worth carrying one during training sessions too, so you get used to it.

Keeping going

I found it strange in my first 10K race that although I was used to running continuously for quite a while, I ended up slowing into a walk break much earlier than normal.

I think the combination of more stressful running conditions and seeing other people walking meant I stopped running sooner. However, other runners can also provide an incentive. After the first flurry of overtaking, I spotted people running at a similar pace, and roughly kept up with them at different points during the distance.

Some people don’t like running with headphones, but I find the music and audio prompts helpful. I still run listening to Couch to 5K podcasts on my phone, so I’m accompanied by encouraging (if rubbish) music and the voice of Laura in my ear at 5 minute intervals. Runkeeper also chimes in with 5 minute updates on distance and pace. When the sun is bright, it’s really hard to see the display on my Fitbit or even my mobile screen, so the updates are a great way to let me know how far I’ve done. It’s not easy trying to run along squinting at a screen, shielding it with one hand or searching for shadows so you can read the damn thing.

Another difference in a measured race is that you may spot posters with kilometre markings, which can be a good incentive to keep running past them. Distance markers are particularly helpful on an unfamiliar route, if you’re trying to judge how much further you need to stagger.

I also seem to end up doing a lot of maths in my head, along the lines of “if I’ve done that many minutes and that many kilometres, then I only have so many minutes left to run, and I’ve covered a quarter/ a third / 70%, and I only have three quarters / two thirds / 30% left to survive”. Please tell me someone else does this too?

Above all, remember that if you’ve trained for the 10K, then physically you can do it, even if a little voice in your head is saying that you can’t.

Encouragement from spectators

Normally when I run, I might swap hellos when passing the occasional pedestrian or dog walker. One of the nice things about taking part in a timed race is that spectators and marshalls may clap, make encouraging comments or hold out hands for a high five. This can help put a spring in your step if you’re flagging.

I wasn’t best pleased when one of the stewards at Clacton saw me walking up a steep incline, and shouted: “Come on, you’re only doing the 10K not a half marathon”. Mind you, it did motivate me to stagger slightly faster up the slope. It also took great self-restraint not to shout back “I don’t see you running anywhere at all, buster”.

Finishing the race

Oh joy, the finish line is in sight! Depending how you’re feeling, the next few minutes could fly by, or seem like the longest in your life. At an official race, there may be pounding music, a maniac with a microphone and extra people cheering you on to the end. If you can find anything extra in your legs to speed up, you may be grateful for a minimally quicker time afterwards.

Try to remember to look at the clock to see your finish time, although your Chip time will be shorter if it took a while to shuffle over the start line. Also try to remember to stop any trackers or apps like Runkeeper, or you’ll end up with any celebrations added to your run time. being obsessive, I actually ran a few steps after the end of the Clacton 10K, to make sure Runkeeper just tipped over the 10K distance.

Just over the line, be prepared for people thrusting a medal, water and even a goody bag at you. Entertainingly, the table at the end of Clacton 10K & half marathon reminded me of a kids’ party, due to the big bowls of jelly beans, jaffa cakes and bananas on offer. Finishing a 10K seemed like a great excuse to tuck in!

Photo of me with my children, right after finishing my first 10K race, the Chelmsford Race for Life

A particularly flattering photo, right after finishing my first 10K race

After the race

Take a celebratory selfie, even if you subsequently delete any memory of your tomato-red, sweaty face. Then tempting as it may be to collapse in a heap, do some stretches and a warm down if you want to avoid stiff legs (or worse) later on.

At Clacton, I waited around to see the official times pinned on a noticeboard at the end, even though I knew I’d be emailed with my finish time later. At 1 hour 15 minutes and 33 seconds, I won’t be troubling the Olympic selection committee. Some runners completed the half marathon at Clacton faster than I managed my 10K. However, one way or another, I got round, and I’m pleased with that.

We didn’t rush off too quickly, but stayed around to enjoy the atmosphere and see other people finishing (and also to prevent the children dripping their ice creams all over the car).

If you were running to support a good cause, make sure you let any sponsors know how you did, and put out a final appeal for sponsorshop. Then go home and put your feet up – if your legs will stretch that far…

Now – over to you. Any tips for running your first 10K race? I’d love to hear, so do say in the comments.

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  1. Judith
    28th August 2017 / 7:58 pm

    Definitely do not try anything new on race day especially clothes.
    For autumn races do not overdress, you will be warmed up soon enough. A bin bag or old clothes you can discard will keep you warm enough at the start. Old socks can be used as gloves and then thrown away.
    Do not set off too fast.
    If it is raining, a peaked hat mostly keeps the rain off your glasses.

    • Faith
      29th August 2017 / 6:51 am

      Great tips, thanks so much Judith. I may have to try the peaked hat as I’ve been running my glasses recently. Not helpful when they get fogged up, and I’m desperately trying to clean them mid-run, so I can actually see!

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    11th February 2019 / 7:14 am

    The checklist published by you helps to understand what it is necessary to do first of all in order to be in time and not to forget anything.

  3. 19th August 2019 / 10:57 pm

    I swear by Brooks shoes and Feetures socks. The guy at the local running store where I used to live used to hook me up with free pairs of Feetures. I know, I know. Not a big deal. But runners love swag! Haha. Thank YOU for commenting, sir!

  4. 23rd August 2021 / 12:38 pm

    Such A beautiful guide it’s really wonderful article that is so helpful to me thank you.

  5. 25th September 2021 / 8:37 pm

    Lovely to read this. Although I’ve been running 10ks for many years, I haven’t run one in some time. In fact my first ever 10k was the Great Manchester Run in 2008, I had the good fortune of being a local but the overwhelm of such a big event. It was a very emotional thing, having once been a smoker sitting watching the run on TV, thinking I would never be able to do do that and looking on in wonder… Anyway, tomorrow I am doing the Great Manchester 10k for about the 8th or 9th time, needless to say it’s been rescheduled a fair few times and I think this one is going to be emotional too. I was looking around for 10k race day tips for a refresher and came across this guide. Brought back a lot of memories, and also some great reminders. I hope you are still running! I am now a somewhat battered and bruised 51 year old compared to the late 30s newly ex smoker of my first Manchester 10k, and my only aim is to get round in one piece and be alive at the end!! Oh and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, even when I’m cursing as I see the skyscrapers in the downtown distance and start doing that maths in my head to figure out the energy/speed/etc ratios! Good read, thank you so much 🙂

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    Hi Faith,

    I’m running my first 10k (Race for Life) in a months time! I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. Still terrified but it definitely seems much more achievable now (even if it takes me 2 hours).

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