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What to expect at your first 5k race day

Posted on 2016-08-22

Running in a 5K race offers the opportunity to improve your skills and gain new experiences. The challenge of the first race is in preparation: obtaining the appropriate items and learning correct running etiquette and strategies. While your primary goal in a 5K race is finishing the run and improving your personal times, preparation allows you to relax and enjoy the entire event.

What to Bring on Race Day

The items you carry to the race play an important role in the activity. Clarifying the items you need before and during the race allows you to limit the risks to your health and well-being.

As a general rule, many of the items you carry in a race bag are used before the race rather than during the race. You may leave the items behind with a friend or family member to avoid carrying excess weight or complicating the run.

Common items to bring and use before the race include:

  • • A skin lubricant to limit blistering or chaffing
  • • Sunscreen, ideally with 15 SPF or higher protection
  • • A running watch or a GPS device you can easily carry
  • • Water
  • • An armband for your phone or a similar solution to carry your phone
  • • Band-aids
  • • Toilet paper
  • • Safety pins for the identification bibs
  • • Extra clothing, such as a jacket

While most of the items you carry to the race are left behind, certain items play an important role in the race. You do not want a sunburn, blisters or chafing to interfere with your run. Prepare in advance with appropriate items. Ideally, you want to eat a small, energy-rich snack shortly before the race; however, food items are a personal choice. You can opt for an energy bar or a similar snack if you feel hungry or need a boost in energy at the start of the 5K race.

Things to Carry During the Race

When you get to the starting line, you want specific items ready for the race. In most cases, the extra items are a personal choice; however, certain items are ideal when running a long distance. You should also consider your 5k race training schedule and practice to avoid complications during the race.

Items you generally carry during the race include:

  • • Water, a sports drink or gels if you trained with the items
  • • Extra band-aids
  • • Sunglasses
  • • A hat or visor
  • • Extra clothing in cold temperatures
  • • A GPS device
  • • Small, personal belongings, such as an ID, cash or car keys

Generally, a GPS device or running watch is only necessary if the run is not straightforward or you do not feel confident in your familiarity with the route. The GPS helps prevent you from getting lost when running on a road or through a town.

You are not required to wear sunglasses or a hat, but it is a good choice when you run a long distance. Water, sports drinks or gels are a personal choice, but you should always follow through with your normal habits. If you use a gel or sports drink during training, then carry it during the actual race. The familiarity of the drink or gel helps you stay focused, keeps you hydrated, and gives you a burst of energy.

What to Wear to the Race

Your clothing is an important part of the race. When you dress inappropriately, it may lead to injuries or excessive sweating. As a general rule, you want to wear moisture-wicking clothing. Running shorts and shirts are ideal, but you should wear clothing that feels comfortable and familiar. In cold weather, you may also add a jacket or sweatpants; however, pants may slow you down if you need to remove them because of the heat.

Wear moisture-wicking socks and running shoes to limit injuries. Inappropriate socks may result in slipping or discomfort during the run. Inappropriate shoes increase the risk of an injury. Always wear appropriate running shoes during a 5K race.


Race etiquette is just as important as the items you bring or wear to the race. Expect some variation based on the rules of the race. For example, some races may not allow you to listen to music while other races allow the use of an MP3 or similar device. Follow the rules of the race and then use appropriate etiquette for the race to avoid problems and limit the risk of injuries.

Common etiquette for any runner at any race include:

  • • Start the run in the correct corral
  • • Stay on the right during the race
  • • Move to the left to pass other runners
  • • Always look before spitting
  • • Avoid stopping at the water stops and run down the middle if you choose to keep running, or move out of the station before stopping if you decide to take a break
  • • Encourage other runners, even when passing or being passed in the race
  • • Follow through at the finish line

The key to any race etiquette is courtesy toward the other racers. Do not discourage them when you pass or accidentally spit on other racers during the race. Take the time to look around and move away from other runners if you need to spit out a sports drink or water. Run through the finish line and keep moving to gradually slow down and avoid congesting the area. Following through with the correct etiquette helps prevent accidents and injuries.

Additional Running Tips

A 5K race is a long race, so expect a few challenges throughout the process. Take measures to prepare for injuries, accidents or even just congestion at specific points in the race. Also, make sure to checkout this previous post on preventing running injuries.

The primary tip for any long race is to enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey and each step of the race. Reaching the finish line is an accomplishment, so enjoy the race and the achievement of improving your personal time, reaching the finish line, or even just getting out to the race and doing your best to complete the race.