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5 Common Fears of Competing in Your First Race

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Later this month I will celebrate sixth anniversary of toeing the starting line of my first 5K race. Amazingly after all these years and well over 120 races under my belt, I still remember the fear I was feeling that cold March morning lining up with other runners who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They stood behind the starting line jumping and doing some light upper body stretches as I just stood and watched, praying that I was ready to run 3.1 miles.

I spent well over eight weeks preparing for this event and yet I still felt I was not ready. I was secretly hoping the race would be canceled due to some weather event, which is not uncommon for Texas in spring, but that morning it was a nice sunny, crisp spring morning in downtown Dallas. As odd as it may seem, I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember what I was wearing and more importantly how I was feeling--I was so nervous I don't remember if I even slept the night before.

Fast forward to today and I must admit I still get nervous from time to time when I make my way to starting line. To hear the race announcer call the runners to their mark, it's as though you can feel the tension build amongst the runners with each step.

Below are some common fears many runners share when competing in their first race.

1. Afraid I will be the last one to cross the finish line

If you were to take a poll amongst runners, the number one fear most runners have is finishing last. It's as though we are convinced that we are not prepared enough to complete the task at hand. I like to tell my new runners that someone has to be first and someone also has to be last but the likelihood of you doing either is slim pickings. That being said, if you are participating in an event that allows walkers, which many short races allow, trust me, you have nothing to fear. You will do just fine.

And even if you were to finish last, one of my all-time favorite quotes from C. Boyd Hunter reads: "Last is just the slowest winner"

2. Afraid others will notice that I am new a new runner

This past January as I was waiting for the 10K race to start, I started chatting with a lady who mentioned to me that this was her first race ever. She was just a few years older than me and just from looking at her I had no clue. She was sporting a nice pair of capris running pants, a nice running jacket and  sweat band. She even had a Garmin Forerunner 405 strapped to her left wrist. From all outward appearances she looked just like any other runner waiting for the horn to blow. Had she not mentioned this fact to me, I would have had no idea. We talked about her race strategy and when we met up after the race she was proud to come and tell me her time. Just knowing that she took a risk in doing what so many people fear to do and that is race, was a shining moment for her.

Reality is, no one knows who is running their first race or their 50th one. As a whole, runners are one of the most supportive group of people you will ever meet and you will be welcomed into the fraternity of fellow runners regardless of your finishing time.

3. Afraid I will be pulled into another runner's pace

This has a ring of truth to it. As a new racer I recommend that my runners line up mid-pack. Being too close to the front of the group may having you starting out much faster than you had anticipated, therefore you will be blowing through your glycogen stores too early on so that you may find it difficult to complete the last mile or so.

Likewise, if you line up too close to the back of the pack, you risk being behind walkers which in turn may cause you to become quite frustrated with the pace, therefore you find yourself zig-zagging around the walkers wasting precious energy.

If you find you are running too fast early on in the race, move to the side so that the faster more seasoned runners can use the middle section to run their event.

Even if you have to slow your pace to a walk, you are still competing. I ran many of my half-marathons using a run/walk method and not once was I ever disqualified for doing so and not once did they keep me from the well-deserved medal when I crossed the finish line.

4. Afraid I have not done enough training

Trust me when I say this, but this is a fear I still deal with from time to time especially when I am racing a distance I have not competed in for a while. Just know that as long as you were consistent with your training, you should be just fine. Remember that the first time you ever complete a distance, it  will be your PR, or personal record, for that event, so that speaks volumes.

One of the most important lessons my running coach taught me years ago was toTRUST YOUR TRAINING! It's still a lesson I carry with me before every race. As long as I did the training, I must trust that my body can do the work.

5. Afraid my time is not what I expect it to be

As a new runner, your first goal is to finish and enjoy the moment. Remember regardless of your time, you will have a time to judge all other races by, just remember though, as Coach Lee once told me, "You are only as good as you are on that particular day, at that particular time, on that particular course, under those particular circumstances."

One of the saddest scenarios is when a runner is so disappointed with his/her finishing time that he/she almost shamefully refuse  to tell her family or friends. TRUST ME when I say this, but most non-runners have no clue what a 5K distance covers much less a half-marathon. And if they do, tell them to get in their car and drive the distance. They may have a whole different appreciation for your accomplishment.

I remember I had just completed my first half-marathon when my car broke down and I had to have it towed from my home to the dealership in the next town over. My poor husband could not understand why I had tears thinking I was upset about my car. But that wasn't why I was crying. I looked over at him and sobbed, "I ran 3 miles farther than it took to tow my car from our house to the dealership. Thirteen miles is a long way!"

Fears are a part of racing, but it is what we do with those fears and how we channel them to our advantage that allow us to move from a novice runner to a seasoned runner, ready at any moment to toe the starting line. I tell my runners, you did your homework, now all you have to do is take the test. And this test is not a test for a grade, but a test in courage to do what so many people long to do, but are too afraid to try.


Are you preparing for your first race? If so, what fears do you have?

*The photo used in this blog was from my first race I ever competed in, The Borden Uptown in downtown Dallas, March 2006

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I'm training for my first 5K on May 12th. I have a lot of these fears, so the article really helped. Thank you! Report
what great article. fantastic insight. When started running, I felt like I would be judged for being a heavier runner. nothing was further from the truth. 99% of the runners out there LOVE new runners simply because of all of the enthusiasm and energy they bring to a race. runners also love the "little engine that could" type runners because at one point or another, we have ALL been there and can relate. get out there and make it happen! Report
My mother and I both ran our first 10K on the same day, many years ago. She was the VERY last person to finish the race. She actually somehow felt bad about her accomplishment until somebody reminded her that she was emphasizing the wrong word, and that she was the very last person to FINISH the race. She'd beat every person who gave up along the way, and hadn't given herself enough credit. Finishing last should be nobody's fear. Report
I'm scared to death of my race that's going to happen at the end of April. It's mainly my speed. I run at a speed walking pace. I'll be finishing C25K the week of the race so my transition to concrete will have to be the last week. I'm more optimistic about my May and June races. Report
Great post, Nancy! Even as a seasoned runner, I sometimes have these fears! It's great to remember that the ONLY thing that matters is finishing in your own way in your own time :) Finishing = winning!!! Report
I am a walker, and have been afraid of joining my first 5K, for many reasons listed here. I walk 2-8 miles a day, so I'm not worried about finishing, but being last, or in the way, or not knowing what to do, and even afraid of the crowds of people judging the "fat girl" entering a race. I keep thinking, saying that maybe after I lose XYZ more pounds I will do it. After reading this, I don't think I want to enter one as a walker, but now wait until I can jog 3.1 miles. Report
I'm training to run my first 5k on Mother's Day morning. I've been struggling with hip pain and I'm determined to keep trying, even if I have to walk some. Report
Wow, what a well timed article. I just signed up for my first 5k run yesterday! I wasn't going to, but the support and encouragement I got from my sparkfriends was overwhelming, so I am doing it! Report
I, too, was so glad to see this post. I am running in a 5K this coming Sunday. Not my first ever, but my first in a loooonngg time (probably 30 years). I am nervous that I am going to be nervous. I hope I don't have too many butterflies in my stomach in the beginning. Like you said in the post, I am hoping not to start out too fast because I'm caught up in the moment, the excitement of it all, but I don't want to be stuck behind walkers or people too slow either.
My 13 year old daughter is going to run with me. We've been training for 6 weeks. I am hoping she won't get the terrible side-aches she's been getting when we practice. I've told her to drink more water and we've been trying to figure out what is causing her pains, but so far to no avail. I am just hoping we both have a good time and want to do it again after Sunday's race. Report
I am doing a 5K this weekend. I haven't done one of these in years and the last time I had done one I hadn't started exercising or loosing weight. I walked the whole thing and I can't even remember what my time was. I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy that I had started and completed the race. Sad because it was harder then I thought it would be.

I am lighter by 30 lbs this time around and I have been walking regularly. I feel more prepared this time around then the last time. I am still afraid of doing poorly. Report
I fear more than weather or other factors will take away all the training that I have done, like at my previous marathon.

I've run a semi-decent time in a 5K (31:xx) and been in the back 20%. That was pretty demoralizing and nothing could make me feel better about it.

As for slower people in front of you, line up in the right place, and if slower people don't know the rules, then they should watch for flying elbows. Report
fear stops us from doing so many things . we have to learn to let go and enjoy life and all it has to offer . running is just one of the ways to enjoy your body . start somewhere . just do it .. are you still here move .... go .. Report
I'm so glad you posted this article! I feel the same way, especially when I'm doing a race after taking a long hiatus from running. Report