Racing is a lot of fun and for a lot of people it is the motivation to keep training. I would say that if you are not racing then you are exercising and not training.
Races can be fun because you push yourself, or get to compare your fitness with others, or get to visit a new place, or for a reason that is all your own. I have been pretty competitive in the past and liked to push myself to achieve a new personal record (PR, sometimes called a personal best or PB), or to win an age group (rarely happened) or to beat a competitor. Yes, I could run a course and time myself, but it is very difficult to push yourself alone. The competition helps to cut seconds off your time.
But races also offer a fun environment to meet other runners and perhaps finding training partners or develop a friendly rivalry. But races can be intimidating for a first-timer. I hope that I can help alleviate some of these fears.
First, you need to find a race. You can consult websites such as Active.com or go to a local running shoe store and look at flyers for races or ask the staff. I suggest starting with the 5K as a great beginner distance. You can register for most races online on sites such as Active.com. I also suggest a local race for your first race ideally in your home city. It just alleviates lots of issues and stress.
You should be able to get a map of the course from the race website or flyer. The flyer or website should have information on parking. Pay close attention to roads that might be closed. If you really want to reduce some stress, drive to the parking area the weekend before the race to scout parking. You can also run the course to get a preview.
One of the things you will need to do is pick up your race picket one the days before the race. Some races will allow race morning pick up. I suggest avoiding this to reduce race morning stress. It is common to have race packet pickup at a local running store. For the most part, you just need to show up at the location and pick up your packet. The packet will include your runner "bib" (the paper-like thing that attaches to the front of your running shirt). It will also include any number of advertisements, coupons, free samples, and/or flyers for other races.
The night before the race, I want you to pin the bib to the shirt you are going to wear during the race. You will need to use safety pins. Ready the instructions on the bib. Many bibs have a transponder built in that will be used to time you. Follow the instructions so that you do not damage the transponder. Pin the number so that it can be seen throughout the race. Pin it to a spot on your shirt where it will not interfere with you running.
Before the day of the race, you should have figured out what, if anything, you are going to eat. Some people prefer not to eat anything while others want to eat a small something that is easily digestible. Some people stick with sport drink. You will need to figure this out in training prior to the race. Regardless of your eating plan, you should hydrate as you will have lost some water while you slept.
On race morning, get up in plenty of time to take care of "nature". Yes, we are talking about pooping. It is a good idea to get that done before you leave although you might need to visit the port-a-let at the race site.
Leave the house in plenty of time to reach the parking site. I prefer to get to the race at least 45 minutes prior to the race. This gives me some leeway for traffic (although most races are on weekends or holidays where traffic is going to be light until perhaps you get close to the race) or for parking issues. It should also give me time to warm up and make a final port-a-let visit.
Some races might have parking in an area away from the starting line and a shuttle to the start. If that is the class, build in some additional time. One option is to use the walk or run from where you park to the start as a warm up.
Keep in mind the lines to the port-a-lets can get long. Most of the time they move quickly as most people are there just to pee.
Use this time to locate the start line for the race.
Warming up will be covered in another post, but you should have worked out a warm up plan before race day. I usually aim to finish my warm up 5-10 minutes before the scheduled start of the race.
Now might be a time to talk about clothing. You are going to have the clothing that you race in. This will be weather dependent. You are also possibly going to have additional clothing that you will wear during your warm up. If you can park close enough to the race start, you can simply return to your car and drop off the clothing. If the parking is far away, you might choose to wear older clothing that you can simply discard at the start without worrying about retrieving them.
That should be enough to get your started. Next time I will address travel issues.